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What We Learned This Week: The Other, Bigger Pandemic Hitting Photography

By David Schonauer   Friday April 9, 2021


There’s been crisis in photography in the past year.

And not just the one caused by covid-19.

The World Health Organization says approximately 450 million people currently suffer from mental health and neurological disorders. That’s over three-and-a-half times the number that have have had covid-19. Within the photographic industry, noted UK photographer Ivor Rackham at Fstoppers recently, the rates of mental illness are higher than in society as a whole.

“One in four people will experience mental health problems of some kind each year. Yet, two thirds of people won’t get help, despite their being (varying levels of) help available,” Rackham wrote. “Here in the UK, mental health services are massively underfunded, and support organizations are stretched to breaking points.”

The mental health crisis in photography was spotlighted during this year’s online Photography Show in the UK by pet photographer Jessica McGovern, who spoke about the issue during a talk. “Because Jessica is so open about her own mental health challenges, she has become an unofficial helpline, listening and giving support to photographers who contact her,” noted Rackham. McGovern, he noted, conducted an informal survey among her photographic community and found that more than 50 percent of those questioned were affected and struggling with their mental health, more than double the rate of the general population. This had increased by 4 percent during 2020.

She also spoke about strategies to help those suffering from mental health issues. “[S]he finds that having a challenging, non-photographic offline social activity is important,” notes Rackham, who followed up with by interviewing McGovern in an interview.

Here are some of the other photo stores we spotlighted this week:
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1. Annie Leibovitz Shoots Amanda Gorman for Vogue

Amanda Gorman, who gained international notoriety after delivering a poem during the inauguration of Joe Biden as president in January, has cemented he status as a style icon by appearing on dual covers of Vogue, noted Today. The two cover photos and others images were shot by Annie Leibovitz, further cementing Gorman’s cultural significance: She’s the first-ever poet to be featured on the fashion magazine’s cover, noted the Independent. The Cut fashion blog had more.


2. The Subject Is Roses

Often, photographers will carefully light the petals of flowers, avoiding harsh bright spots. But for Xuebing Du, the bright spots are what she’s looking for. Du, whose “Mother of Pearl” series explores what happens when roses are in full bloom and fully illuminated, prefers to photograph them midday when the sun is at its brightest, allowing her to capture their petals in crude detail and raw beauty, noted The Washington Post. “Roses may seem delicate and soft from the outside, but they are actually the strongest” flowers, Du said.


3. A Disaster Photographer Covers Covid in LA

The first time 32-year-old Stuart Palley photographed the aftermath of a disaster was when he was 16 and in Thailand just a few months after the 2004 tsunami took 228,000 lives. More recently he’s become noted for covering climate change-related wildfires in California. To cover the invisible covid-19 crisis in Los Angeles, Palley rented a helicopter and documented the effect of the pandemic from above the city. “[A] lot of my work revolves around things that are a suspension of society,” he told Los Angeles Magazine.


4. Radiant Girls of the African Diaspora

According to an American Black folktale, enslaved people once possessed magical, ancient words that gave them the ability to fly away to freedom. It’s a story made famous by The People Could Fly, a 1985 collection of tales by the children’s book author Virginia Hamilton, told and retold by many. Today, feathers and wings once again become a recurring motif in the resplendent work of Tokie Rome-Taylor, an American photography-based artist living in Atlanta, noted Feature Shoot’s Ellyn Kail.


5. The Incredible Life and Art of Lee Miller

She was a war photographer, fashion model and Surrealist muse. And hers has become one of the most famous names in the history of photography. But, as we noted recently, when Lee Miller died at the age of 70 in 1977, her name was known to a select few experts in the art world. That all changed when Miller's son, Anthony Penrose, uncovered a vast archive of his late mother's work in an attic. Since then, interest in Miller's art has grown vastly, and this July, the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, will stage a show focused on her contributions to the Surrealist art movement.
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At top: From Xuebing Du

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