Foot Soldiers: the story behind our Photo Annual cover images

The front and back covers of our December Photo Annual issue feature the bound hands of New York’s shoe shiners, photographed by Christopher Griffith

The original idea for the series came from Stacey Baker, a photo editor at the New York Times magazine. As she told The Daily Edit, Baker was getting her boots cleaned at a stand outside the city’s Port Authority building and noticed the way that the shoe shiner, Lenny, wrapped his hands in cloth. “His hands were beautiful – the way he wrapped the cloth around his long, lean wrinkled fingers. They looked like sculptures,” she said. “I asked him if I could take a picture. He showed me the various cloths he uses to shine shoes, and some of them looked like works of art. I wondered if there was a photo essay there.”

From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015

Baker pitched the idea to NYT Magazine photography director Kathy Ryan and editor-in-chief Jake Silverstein who gave the go ahead.

She then approached Christopher Griffith to do the series, with Irving Penn’s famous shot of Miles Davis’s hand as a visual reference.

Griffith and team created the shots in situ using a portable studio. As he told The Daily Edit, “We developed a very small transportable studio that we brought with us to shoot in arguably the most cramped environment ever. Some of these places are quite small, so finding enough space proved challenging.”

From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015

All the shiners had their own technique and choice of cloth, making each image a unique document of a trade that is symbolic of New York.

The essay was published in print and online in April. The web version is available here.

From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
From Foot Soldiers by Christopher Griffith for The New York Times Magazine, featured in the CR Photography Annual 2015
The New York Times Magazine's piece on Foot Soldiers
The New York Times Magazine’s piece on Foot Soldiers
The New York Times Magazine's piece on Foot Soldiers
The New York Times Magazine’s piece on Foot Soldiers

Credits
Photographer: Christopher Griffith
Director Of Photography: Kathy Ryan. Photo Editor: Stacey Baker. Design Director: Gail Bichler. Art Director: Matt Willey. Producer: Riely Clough. Colour Grading: Rebecca Manson

CR’s December issue / Photography Annual 2015 is available on newsstands now. To guarantee your copy, subscribe here.

All the winning work from the CR Photography Annual 2015 can also be seen online here

What's the story?

The Storytelling issue, Oct/Nov 2017, is out now.
We invited writers to respond to our cover image
this month: read their stories inside.
PLUS: Tom Gauld, Oliver Jeffers, Giphy & S-Town

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