Posts tagged with landscape
The Creators of Chicago: Artist Luke Pelletier
Graphic designer Lucy Hewett was 27 when she quit her job at a marketing agency and taught herself to take photos, experimenting on friends to hone her portraiture skills. Going freelance was a struggle (stylized portraits don’t pay quite like ad campaigns for McDonald’s) but Hewett credits her success, in part, to the support of her local creative network. This would have been the first in a series of ten profiles, but life had other plans. Enjoy this first and last installment anyway, and thanks for reading with us.
At Gowanus Canal, Turning Toxic Waste Into Art
New York’s Gowanus Canal is notoriously toxic — full of dangerous chemicals, industrial waste, and yes, poop. It reeks in the summer and lives in the popular imagination as the perfect dumping ground for dead bodies. No plant or animal life can survive in it for long. This tends to inspire two kinds of images: gritty photos of the filth and pollution, and scenic landscapes that try not to dwell too long on the former.
In El Salvador, Gang Truce Can’t Stop the Violence
This story was produced in partnership with Mother Jones.
It began with a trip back home, to a small town in the country’s western valley, to visit his dying grandmother. More than a decade after El Salvador’s bloody civil war had ended, Juan Carlos, a 38-year-old photojournalist, wanted to see how life had changed. Was his country, one of the most violent in the Western Hemisphere, better off after 12 years of war? Sure, there were shiny new roads and malls, but was the country any safer?
Juan Carlos began by documenting infrastructure and families; education and health systems, traveling for long stretches between El Salvador, where he was born, and San Francisco, where he now lives. But it didn’t take long for a new focus to emerge: the gang culture, and accompanying terror, that had seeped into the fabric of everyday Salvadoran life. With an estimated 64,000 identified gang members, El Salvador’s street gangs — or maras, as they’re known to locals — operate like armies. They control traffic stops and neighborhoods. They hold press conferences. They are incestuously intertwined with the police. In other words, they call the shots — as well as fire them. In its peak, in 2009, the gangs were responsible for a homicide rate that reached 14 deaths per day.
Exploring the Crystal Desert: Antarctica Through a Photographer’s Lens
Christopher Michel doesn’t like to sit still. Despite a career that includes gigs as a Naval flight officer, tech investor, entrepreneur, journalist, and government science advisor, Michel has managed to steady his hands long enough to also hone his skills as a photographer. His pursuit of the perfect image has taken him from Mount Everest to Papua New Guinea to the Korean Demilitarized Zone — and even, in 2010, to the edge of space (inside a U-2 spy plane). His most recent journey, however, is to a place he deems most magnificent of all: the frigid waters of Antarctica’s so-called “Crystal Desert.” On board a giant ship chartered by Harvard (his alma mater), Michel photographed icebergs as they froze, melted, and refroze. We managed to slow Michel down long enough to ask him a few questions about his polar voyage.
What kind of photography equipment do you recommend for extreme environments like Antarctica?
Antarctica and camera equipment aren’t friendly. From the inevitable Zodiac sea spray of the Southern Ocean to the battery-draining deep freeze, a smart photographer needs to come prepared with backup equipment, extra power, and protective everything.
Documenting Richmond’s Decay, Building by Building
Richmond, Virginia, has seen its fair share of architectural tumult. During the Civil War, a quarter of the city’s structures were destroyed by the Great Evacuation Fire of 1865; in modern times, urban decay and economic downturn have left many more structures abandoned and forgotten. But it’s from that slow urban crumble that a group called Decayed Richmond has emerged — sneaking into old buildings and documenting their stories, in photos and words. For the past two years, the group of urban explorers has climbed, crawled, jumped, and rapelled their way into some of Richmond’s scariest locations — churches, schools, an abandoned mental institution — all in a quest for meaning. Do those old buildings mean anything? Do they have a story to tell?
Mostly artists and students who keep their identities secret, Decayed Richmond is now working on a Kickstarter-funded documentary that will follow them as they document the interiors of these derelict places. They are vigilante historians who give the decay a name and face. But they do abide by one over-arching mantra: Take only photographs. Leave only footprints. Here’s what they have to say about their mission and craft.
Why make a documentary about Richmond?
Richmond has a rich but dark history. Not to mention, abandonment is quite abundant here. There are so many little-heard secrets hidden in the tunnels and decaying buildings, waiting to be uncovered by those who wander into that darkness.
Wall Dogs: The Midair Muralists Who Paint New York
It’s 8am in Soho, the thermometer reads just above freezing, and the sky is bleak. Taxis splash down the streets; New Yorkers stride with their heads down, leaping over puddles, carelessly bumping into each other. Everyone wants to get out of the cold, out of the rain, into the warmth.
Ten stories above — on a long, skinny platform hanging from the facade of a building at Canal and Mercer in downtown Manhattan — it’s a different story. Climbers’ ropes secured around their torsos, Jason Coatney and Armando Balmaceda stand in a melange of open paint cans and brushes. These two muralists of Colossal Media, the largest hand-painted advertising company in America, are heavily layered in sweatshirts and raincoats. But in this industry, c’est la vie. Paintbrushes in their fingerless-gloved hands, earbuds in their ears — “I like to start out with Miles Davis in the morning,” Coatney smiles, his breath visible in the frigid air — they begin yet another workday in the sky.
It’s the third morning at this location, and the duo are on track, despite the rain, to complete a 30x18-foot mural — commissioned by Etsy to advertise a holiday pop-up shop — by the next evening’s deadline. Coatney carefully bends down, dipping the tip of his brush into a ruddy orange. “It’s a really weird mix of things that makes an artist like a wall dog,” he says.
Some say the origins of the term is derogatory. “Wall dogs” were the unofficial names of the men who were, almost literally, chained to outdoor facades to hand paint the enormous signs still decorating the faded exteriors of today’s landmarked buildings. But these days, the name is a sign of professional pride.
Before vinyl posters printed and hung by a couple guys and a crane became the norm, this was the way big-city advertising was done. Common practice in the decades before the Great Depression, painting these signs took days, perhaps weeks, of hard labor and skills that took years to hone.
Despite a couple updates (they now use motorized pulley systems to raise the building rigs, instead of pulling them up themselves), Colossal is carrying on the tradition, just as their predecessors did more than a century before. Paul Lindahl and Adrian Moeller cofounded the company nine years ago (a third cofounder tragically passed away in a subway accident) by pooling together their savings, a few thousand dollars, and leasing a large wall on 14th Street and 6th Avenue. “Hanging banners is faster; there are less variables. Everyone just told us to take a hike,” recalls Lindahl. Finally, months later, someone bit –- Rockstar Games, of Grand Theft Auto fame -– and they were so taken with the medium that they commissioned Colossal to paint 30 walls.
Moeller chuckles proudly as he talks about the past. “For the first few jobs, we couldn’t even afford a pounce machine,” the little contraption that burns holes into the life-size sketch they make for each job. They’ll spread this out and rub it with charcoal dust to get a faint outline when they’re on the rig, to help get the proportions right. “So Paul used a thumbtack. You can imagine, that’s a lot of holes to make for a 20x30 foot wall.”
No more thumbtacks. Today, Colossal is a $10 million company, with over 150 walls around the country and 30 wall dogs to fill them. “It takes years and years of practice,” emphasizes Coatney, still on the Etsy rig, who’s been doing this for 15 years. The rain has abated, and he’s added the finishing touches to the “always handpaint” lettering of the Colossal insignia. He pauses, his brush hovering in midair. “There are a lot of talented people waiting to get up here, you know? A lot of talented people.”