What We Learned This Week: Photo History and Monkey Business

By David Schonauer   Friday August 19, 2016

Is photo history trending?

This summer we’ve been noticing a number of book and exhibitions exploring various aspects of photography’s past, so we decided to start a series focusing on the history of the medium. You’ll be seeing more of our features throughout August and beyond. Over the past week we spotlighted an exhibition about emancipated slave Sojourner Truth  and her shrewd use of photos to further her abolitionist campaign in what was the viral marketing of her time. We also looked at a book and exhibition focusing on the largely-ignored history of cameraless photography  —  a story that starts with French photo pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s 1816 experiments with paper soaked in silver chloride. Then we featured a two-volume book from Taschen collecting together the “brilliantly brazen” photographs taken by Bob Mizer, founder of America’s first recognizably gay magazine. And yesterday we looked into another Taschen book, this one a history of the Farm Security Administration’s depression-era photography.

Meanwhile, over at Motion Art’s Pro, we featured photo history packaged in a different form: Looking for a new way to cover this summer’s Olympic Games, the New York Times raided its own photo morgue to create an eight-minute virtual-reality film  about the past 100 years of the Olympics.

Finally, on the legal front, we reported on a new development in the case of Naruto, the Indonesian crested macaque who picked up an unattended camera and snapped some selfies. The camera’s owner, photographer David Slater, later posted the images online, where they went viral. Then animal-rights group PETA sued him for copyright infringement on behalf of the monkey. A federal judge sided with Slater, but PETA announced  this week that it would appeal the ruling.

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:

1. Hard Times in Venezuela Breed Malaria

Venezuela was the first nation in the world to be certified by the World Health Organization for eradicating malaria in its most populated areas, beating the United States and other developed countries to that milestone in 1961. But the country’s recent economic turmoil has brought malaria back, noted the New York Times  in a report with photographs from Caracas-based photojournalist Meridith Kohut. People are leaving cities to work in watery jungle mines, perfect breeding places for mosquitoes.

2. Vice Mag Focuses on Women Photographers

“Women have been fundamental to the art of photography since, well, there were photographs,” notes Vice photo editor Elizabeth Renstrom in her introduction to the magazine’s 15th annual photo issue. This year’s edition focuses solely on the work of women photographers — 38 of them, to be precise, including Carolyn Drake, who chronicles life in the city of Vallejo, California; Ethiopian photographer Tamara Abdul Hadi; and fine-art photographer Catherine Opie, who shows her images from an Oregon rodeo.

3. Seeing More than the Bag Lady Next Door

In 2003, photographer Jessica Eve Rattner moved into a house in Berkeley, California, around the corner from an old woman named Lee, the neighborhood bag lady. A one-time department-store model, Lee had become an unnoticed part of what the New Yorker  called “the local patina.” Rattner didn’t overlook her: Her series “House of Charm,” named after a school where Lee studied modeling, was awarded the annual Documentary Essay Prize from Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies.

4. Looking at Vietnam’s Obsession for White Skin

To shoot her series “White Skin,” Italian photographer Monia Lippi would wait as street lights in Ho Chi Minh City turned red; she then had 120 seconds to photograph parked motorcyclists and scooter drivers covered head to toe to protect themselves from the sun’s rays. “‘Dark skin…. No good!’ was a recurrent warning on Lippi’s travels throughout Vietnam,” noted Feature Shoot. As Lippi found out, the “cover-up style” of the scooter drivers is not unfashionable. “Woman and teenagers especially were incredibly colorful,” she said.

5. Why Tube Socks Are Erotic

Last year we spotlighted photographer Polly Brown’s book Little Deaths, a study of places where people had experienced “a little self-induced sexual relief.”  Recently, AnOther  featured her newest project, a meditation on mundane objects — tube socks, olives, Babybel cheese, and tripods among them — that she finds remarkably erotic. "I wanted to explore how sexuality can be so ordinary with cheap thrills and a dirty mind," Brown said.

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