Below we take a look back at some of our most popular photography stories from this year, including a chat with Jeffrey Henson Scales about his work with the New York Times, a look back at our regular Exposure column highlighting new photographers, and a portrait of motherhood, created for Save The Children and GSK.
Inside the Polaroid Originals factory
In September, Rachael Steven visited the revived Polaroid instant film factory in Enschede in the Netherlands. At its peak, the Enschede factory assembled 50 million packs of film each year and employed 1.5% of the local population. When Polaroid announced plans to close the factor in 2008, Andre Bosman, Marwan Saba and Florian Kaps stepped in to save it. Kaps, a Polaroid obsessive who had founded online fan group Polanoid, Bosman, the former manager at the factory and Saba, an entrepreneur, founded a company and raised enough money to take over the lease to the building and Polaroid’s equipment. After years struggling to get the idea off the ground, in 2017, the group acquired the rights to the Polaroid brand and rebranded as Polaroid Originals, launching two new instant cameras based on the classic OneStep model.
Each month, our columnist Gem Fletcher, reports on exciting new photographers and photographic work from around the world. As well as her new talent picks, this year she has brought us news of the New African Photography celebrated by media platform Nataal and American A B C D, an intriguing four-part photobook which mixes images from the archives of local and regional US newspapers from the 50s and 60s with new work from contemporary photographers produced in response to it.
Among the photographers Gem profiled for us this year are Indian documentary photographer Prarthna Singh, Brooklyn-based Zora Sicher, Taylor Wessing prize-winner Alice Mann and Oli Kellett, who recently made the difficult transition from commercial photographer to artist.
Ami Vitale on the secret lives of Pandas
For our How I Got Here series, Salonee Gadgil spoke to National Geographic Magazine photographer Ami Vitale in March. Among other things, Vitale told us how studying international relations at university prepared her for life as a photographer in some of the world’s most challenging war zones; how to cope with being away from home for 330 days a year and her faith in the power of photography. “As a young woman, I was painfully shy, gawky and introverted,” she told us. “When I picked up a camera, it gave me a reason to interact with people and take the attention away from myself. It empowered me and, later, it became my passport to engaging with the world around me. I realised that photography is not about the camera and not even about the beautiful images we create. It is about telling powerful stories. It is a tool for creating awareness and understanding across cultures, communities, and countries; a tool to make sense of our commonalities in the world we share. I deeply believe in the power of stories and images to change people’s minds. It does and can have a positive impact on the world. I did not know if I could succeed, but I knew that I had to try.”
A portrait of motherhood
In March, Salonee Gadgil reported on how Save the Children and GSK had partnered on a project to document childbirth, as experienced by five women around the world. Ivy Lahon, Creative Lead at STC, told us about the challenges and ethical considerations needed. “We wanted to create something authentic and I had the idea of pairing female photographers with five expectant mothers from different parts of the world.” One of the biggest challenges, Lahon says, was to make sure it didn’t become about highlighting poor conditions in some parts of the world or make a statement about how giving birth in some countries is ‘better’ than others. “Our objective was to highlight that, irrespective of how and where your child is born, there is a universality to the concerns that a mother has about giving birth.”
Shooting for the New York Times
In May, New York Times Picture Editor Jeffrey Henson Scales spoke to Eliza Williams. Henson Scales began photographing at age 11, had work published in the Black Panther newspaper in 1968 when still a teenager, and in Time magazine when he was just 14. He told us about how his image-based op-ed New York Times column Exposures works and why photography is “a practice of failure”. “I tell my students: if you’re really committed to it, you should be making pictures all the time, you should be going over your work all the time and seeing what you’re drawn to and how you can better make those moments happen. And how you can better frame and make well-constructed photographs. Because photography is a practice of failure. They used to say with film if you get one shot out of 36, you’re doing great, but that means there’s 35 failures. And with digital, that’s even more.”
Black humour and creeping anxiety
With the opening of her major retrospective at the Photographer’s Gallery in June, Alex Prager talked to Eliza Williams about her cinematic images, which always hint at a wider narrative taking place just out of sight. On how her works are created, she told us: “I cast everyone myself. They’re actors, people I know, people I found on the street. I tell them what character to be, and work with the hair and make-up. I send them pictures referencing how I want them to look. We work with everyone to make each person look like a character. I’m usually referencing street photography – characters that I’ve seen that Bruce Gilden shot, or Martin Parr … just all the photography and art that I love…. Just everything goes into making these characters.”
“I’m so lucky this is my job, I can’t believe it”
In June, Eliza Williams spoke to Sølve Sundsbø ahead of the publication of GilesSølveKatie, a new book celebrating his work with designer Giles Deacon and stylist Katie Grand. On the differences between working on still images and in film, he told us “A still image is a moment captured where you have to fill in what’s before and what’s after. That’s what the strength of the still image is: it leaves so much more for you to do yourself, which means that you have more of an ownership of a still image. Because it happens in your head as well as on the paper in front of you or on the screen in front of you. While for film, it kind of can over-explain it a little bit. Obviously when it’s good, it doesn’t … but it leaves less to the imagination, you have less blanks to fill in yourself.” And on working for clients: “The best work comes from strong clients…. The worst situation is when they say, ‘just do whatever you want’…. Because ultimately in a client relationship, I’m there to solve their problems and to present them with my vision. If I can’t do that, based on the fact that they don’t know what they want, it’s a difficult relationship.”
That looks delicious!
Food styling can be a messy, fun and physically demanding job. In November, Lucy-Ruth Hathaway, who has worked on shoots for Kinfolk and the Sunday Times Magazine, talked Rachael Steven through her creative process. “It’s a really unusual combination of skills that you have to bring together to do this job,” she told us. “One on the one hand, you’re a technician – you’re looking at how to achieve something with food, either as a product or as something you’re creatively working with, so you need to have a level of technical ability – but then you also need a lot of food knowledge. Different types of food stylists will have different areas of expertise … but you have to have culinary confidence and a knowledge of different ingredients and cooking skills. And then there’s the taste aspect of it, not in a culinary sense but an art and design sense. You’re bringing together all three of those things all the time.” Hathaway studied photography, then spent time working as an art director on feature films before discovering food styling. To boost her cooking skills, she took a cordon bleu diploma before working in kitchens in New York and on a food magazine. “When I came back to the creative industries, this time from a food angle, everything I’d learned from working in film, making models and props and sets came in really useful.”
He shot the pregnant man
In July, we spoke to renowned advertising photographer Alan Brooking whose adventures, first as an art director at CDP in its heyday, and then as a photographer shooting some of advertising’s most famous images, are recounted in a new book. As the title of his book reveals, it was Brooking who took the photo of a ‘pregnant man’ that made Cramer Saatchi’s Health Education ad the stuff of adland legend. It was all in the casting: “Facial expressions are ever-elusive but capturing one for an ad is so very different from classic portrait photography. A portrait must convey true personality, but here we needed a convincing imitation of emotion. It’s always fleeting. You talk quietly as you shoot – through frame after frame, gently coaxing the subject’s reactions towards that nuance of expression that says it all. You can go on, but never beyond that all too obvious watershed – when the face just drains and it’s time to stop. But it’s so exciting when you’re sure you’ve seen it go through your lens, and you pray that everything else about that frame will be OK. I knew we’d got what we were after. It’s only ever in the eyes that a shot like this can be convincing and for this, Dennis seemed perfect.”
Photographing the World Cup
Laurence Griffiths has been shooting football for over two decades. In June, he spoke to Salonee Gadgil about what makes the World Cup special, the challenges of the job, his favourite footballers to photograph and more. Shooting a football match, not unlike the game itself, is a carefully improvised team effort, he told us. At each World Cup game Getty has five teams of six photographers each, four of which are editorial photographers and two are FIFA photographers. The photographers take different positions around the field, with some in elevated positions for clear sight of the action. “Football is a phenomenally hard sport to photograph. It’s one of the fastest and most unpredictable sports [and] the action can happen on any point on the pitch, so you have to rely on the experience of the team.” Now, the competition isn’t just with the other professional photographers and broadcasters, it’s also with the fans themselves. “Everyone [at the game] has a camera and everyone is sending video out now,” Griffiths says. But he doesn’t see this as a bad thing. “I think that it just generates more interest. People want to see content right away, whether it’s good or bad. I think it all just complements each other. And when someone likes my pictures, regardless of the platform they appear on, it’s hugely rewarding.”