The Year That Was: A Selection of PPD Highlights from 2019

By David Schonauer   Thursday December 26, 2019

What does it mean to wave the flag?

Who does it mean you are?

Those questions are raised in a personal portrait project from New York-based photographer Steve Prezant in a series called simply “Americans,” which we spotlighted in September, when Prezant presented his work at ThePhotoCloser “Projections” series.

Given the deep political and social divisions in today’s America, Prezant’s work is particularly meaningful, we noted.

“In these turbulent times, we have diverse opinions and beliefs, now amplified by media and social networks,” Prezant writes of his personal project. Divided by values we hold dear and politicians who amplify divisions for their own ends, we nonetheless all metaphorically wave the same flag, notes Prezant.

“Over the course of doing this, I found that while people may be on opposite extremes, they all care about America,” Prezant told us.

We revisit the work today as we we continue looking back at Pro Photo Daily highlights from 2019.

1. Steve Prezant’s Flag-Waving Americans

In his series “Americans,” Prezant presents a variety of people holding a small, cheap American flag — one made in China, he noted. We are left to look at these people and wonder: On which side of great American divide do they reside? What kind of better America do they want? “Most people have some sort of inner belief as to where they think they fit in on the political spectrum. It’s important, but very often, going to work, paying the rent or getting pizza take precedence,” he notes.

2. Ed Kashi Recontextualizes Photojournalism In the "Enigma Room"

Is coding the future of photojournalism? "Ever since digital cameras, and particularly ever since Hipstamatic and Instagram, photography is coding — it's pixels and zeros and ones," said photojournalist Ed Kashi in an interview with PPD in September.  About two years ago, Kashi and his studio staff began looking through his archive with the idea of producing a book. Instead, they created an experimental film that used coding to recontextualize his. work. The work was featured at this year’s Photoville festival in Brooklyn.

3. How Flat Earthers Nearly Derailed a Photographer's Space Book

Nine years ago, British photographer Benedict Redrgrove set out to document NASA's most iconic objects and spaces, from moon rocks collected on Apollo missions and assembly rooms where spacecraft are constructed to a suit for spacewalks and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. This past summer, Redgrove launched a Kickstarter campaign to create a book titled NASA: Past and Present Dreams of the Future. But, we noted in September, a group of conspiracy theorists nearly ended Redgrove's dream.

4. Street Photographer Demonized For Shooting at a County Fair

For street photographers, a county fair holds the promise of visual rewards — color, motion, and a variety people enjoying themselves in a variety of ways. That is why photographer Joshua Rosenthal went to the Ventura County Fair in Ventura, California, last summer. Rosenthal wandered through the fairgrounds shooting candid pictures of people, then went home. The next day he awoke to find that he'd become the target of social-media rage, with some people condemning him as a pedophile. Rosenthal's story, we noted in August, points to the trouble that can be caused by online vigilantes. Sadly, it's also a sign of the insecurity of our time.

5.  Historic Beyonce Portrait Goes to the National Portrait Gallery

In August we learned that photographer Tyler Mitchell's groundbreaking portrait of Beyonce Knowles — one of several Mitchell created with the music star for American Vogue's September issue last year — would be going to the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. When the photograph appeared, Mitchell became the first African-American photographer and one of the youngest to shoot a cover for Vogue. The media was nearly as ecstatic as the museum about the acquisition.

6. Geoffrey Hiller Stokes The Art of Recovery in Portland

What does recovery look like? That is the question at the center of a project organized by documentary photographer Geoffrey Hiller in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. In 2018, Hiller, who has photographed extensively in Myanmar and elsewhere around the world and also founded the Verve photojournalism website, attended a U.S. government-sponsored conference focusing on the opioid crisis. With grant money from the conference, he launched a photo workshop in Portland for people in recovery. "They really got into it, and you could see their self-confidence grow," he told us in July.

7. To The Moon and Back, a History in Photographs

At 6:45 am on July 24, 1969, the astronauts of Apollo 11 — Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, and Michael Collins — awoke and began preparing for the final phase of their historic moon mission. Hours later the trio splashed down in the Pacific Ocean some 950 miles southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii. The world greeted them as heroes, but in many ways what came after — for the astronauts and for NASA — was an afterthought. Fifty years later, we noted, America and the rest of the world was retelling their story in words and pictures that brought history alive.

8. Paula Bronstein Examines the Vulnerable Elderly of Ukraine

Photojournalist Paula Bronstein spent 15 years covering the war in Afghanistan, documenting both tranquil moments of everyday life in the country along with shocking views of the dead and injured, the stricken and the desperate. Her newest project, "Elderly Lives Frozen By Conflict: Ukraine'a War," does the same, we noted in July. The country's conflict with Russia, which has dragged on for over five years and claimed 13,000 lives, has left its vulnerable, older population "impoverished, and abandoned to survive in dilapidated homes," Bronstein noted in her artist's statement.

9. Chester Higgins Captures the Spirit of the Nile River

Photographer Chester Higgins sees the Nile — the longest river in the world — as a cord connecting past and present. For the past four decades, Higgins, a staff photographer for the New York Times from 1974 to 2014 and an esteemed figure in the New York photography world, he has been documenting Blue Nile cultures and seeking connections between the ancient people who made up the empires of Aksum (modern Ethiopia), Kush (Sudan) and Kemet (Egypt)." In July he told us that his project "River Spirit” is the story of humanity's journey of “sacred imagination.”

10. Daniel Ramos Captures the "Muy Hermosa" of Northern Mexico

Donald Trump warned Americans of "bad hombres" from Mexico. And, we noted in July, photographer Daniel Ramos went looking for them. Ramos, who grew up in a Mexican-American neighborhood of Chicago, spent summers near Monterrey, Mexico, with his grandmother. In 2012, he moved to Monterrey, and while there he began a project titled "Eres Muy Hermosa," a series of portraits of the working-class people of Northern Mexico. "They are what many imagine a bad hombre looks like," he says. "But things are not always what they seem." The work was a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 7 contest.


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