12 of the most compelling photo stories we’ve had the pleasure of publishing in 2019
- TextMiss Rosen
It’s no small wonder that photography has become the lifeblood of digital culture. Some may bemoan democracy cheapens the form, but let’s be real – visual literacy only improves the art. The fact is, we don’t know what will stand the test of time until the moment has passed. As these stories attest, our deepest fascination lies in photography’s ability to preserve the integrity of subcultures that few would otherwise be able to access. Photography has the singular ability to transport to a time and place we may never otherwise know, transforming the ephemeral into the eternal.
Back in the late 80s, when RuPaul was an underground phenomenon setting New York’s East Village ablaze, photographer John Simone documented the drag legend for Details magazine. Here, Simone reminisces on the club scene that elevated RuPaul to superstardom in the years just before he introduced Supermodel to the world.
Photographer Michael Joseph first crossed paths with Travellers, a community of Americans living off the grid, by chance in Las Vegas in 2011. Destiny once again intervened as he reconnected with them in Chicago and New York. Recognising the time had come, Joseph embarked on a series of portraits of young men and women who live free, travelling the nation hopping trains and hitchhiking.
Lost and Found by Michael Joseph
Hailing from China, photographer Yan Wang Preston arrived in Yorkshire in 2005 at the age of 19, and was soon exposed to discussions of gender, something that didn’t happen in her native land. For the series He, Preston asked male Chinese students, “What makes you a man?” and explores their responses alongside a series of portraits set amid British landscapes.
He by Yan Wang Preston
When Gavin Watson left school at the age of 16, he had amassed over 10,000 photographs of his friends: skinheads living at a council estate in High Wycombe. As an insider, Watson’s photographs contradict the mainstream media’s erroneous conflation of skinheads with the National Front, revealing the tough and tender sides of marginalised kids trying to make good.
In the heart of Manhattan’s Financial District, Merry Alpern came upon a room with a view into the bathroom window of an illegal strip club. For months, Alpern sat in the dark, waiting patiently for action to occur for the 1994 series Dirty Windows. Her photographs soon became a cause célèbre in the Culture Wars when her NEA grant was awarded then immediately rescinded by the US government.
Merry Alpern: Dirty Windows
In 1975, Tom Bianchi received a Polaroid SX-70 camera during a corporate conference after taking a job as in-house counsel at Columbia Pictures. He quickly began to document the lives of his friends and lovers in his new Greenwich Village digs, creating a vibrant portrait of the early years of Gay Liberation before the advent of Aids.
Lloyd Ziff photographed Pratt classmate Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith in 1968 and 69, then put the photographs away until Smith asked to publish them for the illustrated edition of Just Kids. Ziff went back into his archive and created an intimate book revealing the young icons on the precipice of fame and stardom.
In the summer of 1975, Hugh Holland noticed an emerging phenomenon: teen boys skateboarding around Los Angeles. He had just taken up photography and decided to document the DIY culture and sport just as it began to capture the imagination of kids all around the world.
South African photographer Pieter Hugo travelled to Mexico to create a portrait of sex and death for his new series La Cucaracha (‘The Cockroach’), which weaves these themes together using narrative elements of magic realism and Mexican muralism. Hugo’s work reveals the way we shape our environment and how it shapes us.
La Cucaracha by Pieter Hugo
After being dumped by his girlfriend, American photographer Henry Horenstein packed his bags and headed to Havana to spend Christmas in 2000 on the beach. He walked El Malecón, Havana’s sparkling eight-kilometre coastal seawall, creating a series of timeless black and white photographs of Cuban life at the turn of the millennium.
In 2018, French photographer Vincent Desailly travelled to East Atlanta to document the epicentre of trap music. His rich, vivid portraits of young men and women capture the spirit of a people who not only persevere, but have continuously innovated the style and sound of American culture for generations.
The Trap by Vincent Desailly
Rhys Frampton headed to South Central to photograph the Compton Cowboys, a collective started by childhood friends that offers young people the opportunity to live the equestrian life in inner-city Los Angeles. His photographs offer a vibrant look at yeehaw culture as it became a transformative force in music and fashion in 2019.