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photography

Photo by Eman Helal

Power Jam

Nouran Elkabbany’s family wasn’t thrilled about the idea of her joining a roller derby team. They worried about all the ways she might damage her body. 

 Photo by Christopher Gregory

Street Fighters

On a hot June afternoon, driven by an anxiety that seems to track with the viciousness of the national mood, I visit an arcade to see if it still has the analgesic effect I craved as a lonely teenager, when I felt especially embattled because, as a black person, I’d begun to realize what America might have in store for me.

Illustration by Jen Renninger

Kodak Moments

The summer I turned twenty-six, I stopped taking pictures. This wasn’t just out of character—this was abnegation of character, so foundational was my belief in a photographic clenched fist around the past. I have always been a writer, but I’ve never been a competent diarist; until that summer, I had measured out my life with photo sleeves.

Photo by Sarah Rice

Richard Blanco’s Notes to Self

When Two Ponds Press, a fine-art press that produces limited-edition monographs, approached poet Richard Blanco and photographer Jacob Hessler in early 2014 for a theme on which to collaborate, it didn’t take them long to agree on a purpose. Blanco had spent the previous year working on several commissioned occasional poems and had been exploring the role of poetry in public discourse, “the idea of the civic-minded poet—the poet as the village voice, a poetry of social conscience.” Hessler, who uses large-scale landscapes to explore similar ideas of artistic responsibility, shared Blanco’s values and concerns. In light of recent schisms in American political life—eruptions over marriage quality, racial strife, and police violence, for instance—they landed on the idea of boundaries and borders. As Blanco puts it, they sought to examine, through image and verse, “narratives that are manipulated to separate—to divide and conquer. We wanted to investigate and expose those narratives that run counter to the idea of our shared humanity.”

Tokyo Parrots by Yoshinori Mizutani

Tokyo Parrots

Tokyo is a photographer’s dream, a city overflowing with potent imagery. But this sensory input can also be overpowering, making it tough to find a single focus. Photographer Yoshinori Mizutani, though, knew he found a great new subject when he noticed bright, greenish-yellow birds zipping past his house, perching in a large zelkova tree just a stone’s throw away. Not long after that, he spotted a large roost of them on the campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology—hundreds and hundreds of them banding together. The birds turned out to be rose-ringed parakeets, a nonnative type of parrot that had been imported to Japan over the years as pets, many of which had either escaped or been released and were now thriving in the dense urban environment of the city.


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Angler Fish by Lori Nix

Unnatural History

“I hope you don’t find tight spaces overwhelming,” artist Lori Nix said by way of apology as she led me into her apartment. Narrow crates halved the width of the hallways; metal towers, filled with everything from fake moss and tiny trees to cunningly crafted figurines, lined the walls. Mushrooming out from the center of the living room were the beginnings of large-scale models on worktables: hints of a city square; landscapes; the outlines of mouse-sized domiciles. The room was dominated by a meter-tall wedge that resembled a chasm in the Earth, that would eventually become a sinkhole within a nondescript metropolis. To the side, Nix’s partner and collaborator, Kathleen Gerber, molded figurines in clay. Nix and Gerber craft these meticulous dioramas for both their personal work, under Nix’s name, and less-involved versions for commercial projects as Nix + Gerber. But for all the time they spend crafting (up to fifteen months per diorama), these intricate models are rarely the endgame. Rather, they exist as sets for Nix’s mesmerizing photographs, which open up into imagined scenes that are startling in their lushness and detail.

Though Nix is best known for small-scale dioramas on themes of disaster—her first series in this vein, Accidentally Kansas, imagined desolate scenes ranging from commonplace (train wrecks, plane crashes) to biblical (plagues of insects, thunderstorms, diseased livestock)—her ongoing Unnatural History turns to a lighter subject, natural-history museums. “Unnatural lets Kathleen’s humor really come out,” Nix said with a grin, gesturing to an image of a scuba diver painting coral underwater, paint tubes tethered to his body with chains. The series offers a meta read of sorts—model makers applying their miniaturizing approach to depicting institutions built on the art of model making. But it also sprang from necessity. “There was a can of black-and-white film that had expired in 1999 sitting in our refrigerator, and I wanted that section of our refrigerator back,” Nix said. “We could use all our expired house paint as well, because it was all black and white. These models are hideous in real life from all the color.”


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