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Molly Landreth’s Stunning Portraits of Queer America Obliterate Familiar Narratives

By | June 8, 2016

In classic gay coming-of-age stories, the small-town misfit escapes to the big city—the bigger the better. Robert Mapplethorpe left his home in Floral Park, Queens for art school in Brooklyn and then New York City, where he fell in with a group of artists and eccentrics, most notably Patti Smith, Sam Wagstaff, and George Dureau. “I come from suburban America,” he once remarked. “It was …

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I Defended Mapplethorpe in the Trial That Drew the Line Between Art and Obscenity

By | June 7, 2016

On the Friday in 1990 when the collection of 175 photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, called “The Perfect Moment,” previewed at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in Cincinnati, 8,000 people showed up to see them.
The CAC was seven blocks from my law office. On the Saturday morning that the exhibit opened to the public we heard that the Hamilton County prosecutor had empaneled a grand jury …

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Got a Pothole? This Witty Artist Wants to Put a Mosaic On It.

By | May 23, 2016

Back in 2013, Jim Bachor had the idea of bringing art to bear on a particularly non-artsy problem—potholes.
Outside his Chicago studio, the pavement was marred with pits and divots. Inside, his tables were full of in-process mosaics. Mosaics build images by assembling small bits of stone and glass fixed with mortar. But they’re not just gorgeous (and painstaking). They’re also as durable as any …

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Ansel Adams Took Artistic Liberties to Project a More Perfect Union

By | May 5, 2016

Ansel Adams’ Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, is a classic landscape photograph, one that draws upon decades of dramatic imagery touting the far West as the ultimate expression of an expanding American empire.
It is also a textbook example of what Adams famously referred to as the “Zone System,” a technique that transforms the photographic surface into a study in contrasts. By …

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Elizabeth Taylor’s Most Intimate Portrait Is a Photo of Her Kitchen Table

By | March 21, 2016

When they hear the word “portrait,” most people assume they’ll see an image of a human figure. Catherine Opie’s new collection of photographs, 700 Nimes Road, doesn’t quite answer that expectation. The volume brings together over 100 pictures of Elizabeth Taylor’s home at the Los Angeles address of its title, where the movie star resided for some three decades, but Opie never turned her camera …

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From Mug Shots to Crime Scene Photos, How Cameras Cast Suspicion [PHOTOS]

By | March 15, 2016

Paris, 1888: An eccentric police officer named Alphonse Bertillon creates a new way of looking at criminals or suspected criminals. Law enforcement has already been dabbling with the relatively new medium of photography. Some police departments collect “rogues galleries” of portraits. But Bertillon wants to systematize. He proposes a single procedure. One front view, one side. Standard lighting and angles. His method catches on—in France, …

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Beneath the Noir, L.A. Is Primal and Glamorous [PHOTOS]

By | January 26, 2016

In 2013, wildlife photographer Steve Winter captured an arresting scene for National Geographic: a burly male mountain lion, ambling across a dirt trail in the mountains at night, with the white letters of Los Angeles’ Hollywood sign illuminated in the background.
By then, the “Hollywood cougar” already was a fabled celebrity, having previously popped up in front of remote cameras around Griffith Park. But Winter’s …

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Are India’s Elephants Blessed Creatures or Indentured Servants? [PHOTOS]

By | December 15, 2015

In 2011, I visited the magnificent Amber Fort in Jaipur, in the Rajasthan region of India. The beautiful Hindu-style architecture of the fort is adorned with large ramparts and cobbled paths that overlook Maota Lake, where elephants give tourists rides. I was enchanted watching these majestic animals as they slowly and meticulously walked among people and cars without a glance sideways. They were dignified and …

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Ansel Adams Captures the Struggle and Beauty of a Japanese-American Internment Camp

By | December 2, 2015

Any list of renowned 20th-century American photographers has to include Ansel Adams. His black-and-white landscapes of the American West are instantly recognizable, thanks in part to all those posters and calendars. What’s less well-known about Adams is that he tried his hand at documentary photography during World War II, when he focused his camera on scenes of life in the Japanese- American internment camp in …