Graciela Iturbide - Tate Modern

image© Graciela Iturbide, Mujer Ángel, Sonora Desert, Mexico, 1979

By Matthew Oxley

My latest review of the Graciela Iturbide retrospective at Tate Modern is featured on The Photographers Gallery website. Here’s a little preview:

"They are disturbing, gloomy, nostalgia-leaden landscapes. But they are also a thirst-quenching take on the American road trip style of imagery, which was blooming just as Iturbide was noiselessly crafting her own version. I suspect her haunting take on fleeting America won’t find a place alongside the work of Robert Frank or be bestowed any parallels with the words of Jack Kerouac when we write her into the history books. But I’d challenge any notion that suggests she couldn’t sit as equal next to either."

View the full post here. 

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Graciela Iturbide is on show at the Tate Modern in The Bryant Gallery (level 2) until 11 May 2014

World Press Photo Awards

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                               © John Stanmeyer - African migrants in Djibouti

 

By Matthew Oxley

Judging the winning image of any major photographic competition on the character of its predecessor – at least in part - is inevitable. But this year, with the announcement of the 2014 World Press Photo of the Year, the desire and need to appraise through comparison, feels stronger than ever. Last year’s winner, by Paul Hansen, showed us two Palestinian men carrying the bodies of their young nephews to their funeral through a crowded, sun drenched, dust filled alley in Gaza . The uncles share a look of anguish and anger between them. Behind them is a mob; arms are raised, mouths open in mid-shout; bodies stampede towards the foreground. The image ignited what has become a rather vicious and at times tedious debate, surrounding what does and does not constitute authenticity in photography. The image was scrutinised the moment it was announced as winner. Photo imaging experts, retouching houses, photographers and picture editors all argued the toss, with vastly contrasting opinions across the board. The original exposé was run by Extreme Tech, and began “It turns out that the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year — the largest and most prestigious press photography award — was, in actual fact, a fake.” Subsequent updates to that original piece and the flood of other blogs and articles on the matter are testament to the furore the image provoked. The British Journal of Photography’s article ‘Objectivity, manipulation and the search for truth’ is one of the more considered responses, exploring the opinions of some of the leading minds and most seasoned photographers in the industry.

Hansen’s image did more than just highlight the challenges facing professional documentary photography in a digitised, irritable 21st century. His choice as winner last year seemed to hold a spotlight on the hyper realism and perfectionism that has managed to permeate its way into almost all forms of photography in recent times. In the aforementioned BJP article, Magnum’s Chris Anderson stated:

“…facts do not exist, but truth does. And truth is paramount. Authenticity and integrity in the image is something I think we understand intuitively. When we come to grips with the fact that all photography is a lie, the question is not whether or not it is factual, the question is whether or not it is true.”

We did not need imaging experts to help us see that Hansen’s winner in 2013 had been prepared as though it were ready to grace the cover of Vogue or Vanity Fair. And, there is nothing wrong with that; photographers have been dodging and burning profusely since the medium’s invention. My issue with Hansen’s image was never really the physical process it went through, but rather the eventual product that somehow made it to the top of what is supposed to be the very best pile of press photography. Anderson’s admission of photography’s lie was refreshing in an industry which has come to expect its photographers to be the eternal hoarders of fact. His phrase that ‘truth is paramount’ is even more interesting, since the two words are so easily mistaken for one another. The facts exist in Hansen’s image; two year old Suhaib Hijazi and his three year old brother Muhammad are being carried to a mosque for their funeral after an Israeli bomb found their home, killing them and their father, and seriously injuring their mother. But the type of truth Anderson refers to - the photographer’s truth - is no where to be found. When I first saw it a year ago, I remember thinking it looked as if it had been pulled straight out of the most sophisticated video game available, or a James Cameron movie. I’ve looked at it hundreds of times since and each time, I’ve found everything but the truth. It is a shame, because Paul Hansen is an extremely talented and dedicated photographer; his colour images from Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001 are some of the most arresting, intimate and elegantly haunting that I have seen from a region that has not been short of photographers. 

More than ever then, the 2014 winner of the World Press Photo awards was always going to be a defining one in its history. Another controversy, another winner who was found to be heavy handed in the digital darkroom, and the awards would have plunged into its own type of darkness. Many will criticise the choice of John Stanmeyer’s image of African migrants in Djibouti raising their glaring phones to the sky, in an attempt to steal whatever signal they can from neighbouring Somalia, as safe. It won’t satisfy a large base of the photography world - and the public - whose cravings for hyper real, 3D-esque visual experiences seems insatiable. Some will say the choice was cowardly. Thankfully, those people will be quickly drowned out by the unassailable integrity of Stanmeyer’s image. In a wonderful recording released by World Press, we got to hear the moment Stanmeyer was informed of his win by Managing Director Michiel Munneke and jury chair Gary Knight. In a mark of the man’s rectitude toward the importance of his work, his reaction when told which of his images had won the top prize was not one of personal satisfaction or gratification, but one of immediate concern and connection with the message of his photograph. Without hesitation, and almost interrupting Munneke, he launched into a deft explanation of an image that obviously means so much to him: “It is an important moment in our collective humanity, not only related to migration, but how we are so desperate to connect back home.” Far from being safe, the choice of Stanmeyer as winner was ballsy, especially by a judging panel that must have felt the weight of Hansen’s image hanging around their necks, just as the 2010 Wildlife Photographer of the Year panel must have felt after the stripping of José Luis Rodriguez of his title in 2009.

It will take more than one photo for the world of documentary and press photography to solve its problems; almost immediately after the winners were announced, the British Journal of Photography reported that 8% of the images that reached the final round of judging had to be disqualified due to manipulation. But Stanmeyer’s gloriously simple, unembellished scene of human beings raising their mobile phones to the light of the moon, will go along way to finding its cure.

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To view all of the 2014 World Press Photo award winners click here . 

William S Burroughs: Taking Shots, The Photographers Gallery

image                          William Burroughs - Car Crash, New York City, 1965

 By Matthew Oxley

The Americans are here. Warhol, Lynch, Burroughs; a long overdue collision in these Isles of the raw and - however much we stoic Brits like to deny it - often unrivalled talent born across the pond. Don’t expect these three to work together though, in any way. This is not a collaborative, succinct display of American photography; it is, like I said, a collision. But I don’t think any of them would have minded that at all.

In Andy Warhol - perhaps the name most likely to draw in the crowds - we see a relentless, obsessive desire to record his everyday, long before it became fashionable to do so. With The Factory Photographs, we get a heavy dose of Lynchian magic. We are reminded why David Lynch, insuppressible, widely talented painter, photographer, musician, actor and director, and at 67 years old, the only one still alive and very much kicking (his album, The Big Dream and a short film documenting the lithographic process, Idem Paris, were both released last year), was once referred to as ‘the first popular Surrealist’. His unrelenting, unnerving black & white studies of industrial spaces scattered around the world, in Poland, Germany, New York, New Jersey and here in England, are strikingly moreish. But, it’s our third visitor that comes out head and shoulders above his compatriots.

William Seward Burroughs II would have been 100 years old on February 5th. A number of cities around the world, most where Burroughs resided at one point or another during his nomadic life, will pay homage to this milestone. The Lawrence Arts Center in Kansas City, where Burroughs played out his finals years, will host 50 of his artistic works, most made in the last 16 years of his life. Paris, Morocco, Berlin and New York (which will hold a month’s worth of activities) all feature centenary exhibitions in his honour.

Most famous for his novels Junkie and The Naked Lunch, both brutally honest explorations of the life of a drug addict and for his cultural status as ‘the godfather of the Beats’, his association with photography - at least within the mainstream - is far less known. But it is not his role in history as the famous drug addict, bohemian and homosexual that defines this exhibition, despite its rather unimaginative and predictable title, which hangs greedily onto that addiction, as much as his love for the gun. It is Burroughs’ extraordinary capacity for creativity that is on display. Whereas Warhol’s snapshot photography feels, well, like nothing more than snapshot photography, the spontaneity in Burroughs’ imagery screams the same type of brilliance that deafens the readers of his prevalent and rampant novels and essays. In his defense, the exceptions for Warhol are his stitched pieces, which should really have been the entire focus of his photographic work here. They ooze Warhol’s unmistakable, classic pop-art style, whilst retaining the edgy truth of 70s and 80s black & white photography. But they are scarce, which is a shame, and they only add to the dismay when viewing his endlessly dull diaristic images.

With his own documentation of the every day - a car crash outside his New York home in 1965 for example, seemingly shot from every conceivable angle - Burroughs shows us his unflinching curiosity; a potent desire to uncover and unearth, not just plainly record. You can imagine the scene: chaos, panic, anger and William Burroughs, camera in hand, silent as a cat, scampering in between hurried figures and torn wreckage, his own world unfolding through the viewfinder. This little series is one of the most intriguing of the entire show and perhaps sums up best, the Burroughs mentality.

In 1989 he told critic A.D. Coleman ‘I never take pictures just for the taking of pictures. I want the end product… That’s what I’m really interested in.’ Within the infinite world of his cut-ups, a technique he fathered and perfected with friend and fellow artist Brion Gysin we get, paradoxically, as close to final as the mind of such an unremitting thinker could possibly let us. Sporadic and often nonsensical, but utterly consuming, his experiments with folding and cutting, folding and cutting and then folding and cutting some more was to be a constant theme throughout his life, engulfing not only his photography, but his writings and later on, his paintings too.

Burroughs was meticulous; his photography, just like his writing, was ultimately a wonderfully deft rearrangement and reimagining of reality. He once famously stated that ‘All writing is in fact cut-ups.” You could say, that for Burroughs, all of life was a cut-up. In the end, what this show proves is that he was a man constantly in artistic and creative debate with the world around him. There are few in our history with the credentials and the constitution strong enough to have joined William Burroughs in that debate.

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Taking Shots: The Photography of William S Burroughs is on at The Photographers Gallery until 30th March 2014

Daido Moriyama: Silkscreens

image                                 KARIUDO (Hunter), 1972 © Daido Moriyama

 

By Matthew Oxley

Almost twelve months have passed since Daido Moriyama and William Klein took the photography world by storm with their gritty, extensive and muscular collaboration at Tate Modern. It was a brave and emotional retrospective, the likes of which we will be lucky to see again soon. However, what that show provided was dangerous; it gave us a giant shot of genius. Almost too much. And, London has had to wait a whole year for another fix of either artist. It has felt like a lifetime.

The setting is a little different to say the least, and this time it is Moriyama alone who takes center stage. Hamiltons Gallery, with its oppressive lighting and cave-like dwellings is a far cry from the giant, pristine-white walls of Tate Modern. This is a completely different show, and any memory of that sprawling exhibition on the South Bank twelve months ago will be immediately quashed as you step into the thunderous silence that greets you in the small Mayfair gallery.

Thirteen prints, that’s all. Thirteen prints to represent the photography of Daido Moriyama. Hamilton’s director Tim Jeffries, who personally selected the prints, must have had a substantial task ahead of him when choosing from the Japanese masters gargantuan portfolio. To curate a show of Daido Moriyama’s photography is to curate a show of one of the most stylistic photographers of the 20th century. Stylistic yes, but also unpredictable. That is the beauty which hides behind the candid vehemency Moriyama prints present us with; his images could never be brushed with the allegation of complacency. In that regard, the final 13 prints, which hang with authority at Hamiltons, are both concise and shrewd choices.

Conspicuous in their absence are a number of Moriyama classics - the images that have come to define his unique aesthetic. Stray Dog - perhaps his most iconic, certainly one of his most haunting, Provoke no 2 - the voyeuristic and strangely erotic hotel scene, in which a naked women sits smoking on a bed, and the images from his most sumptuous and delicate series, Tights & Lips - are all missing in action. With such limited space to play with, selecting the more well known images in Moriyama’s repertoire would have been tempting. It also would have been a mistake.

What we are presented with in Silkscreens is a subtle insight into the mind of one of the great photographers of our time. Aside from black & white, there is no particular theme or idea that immediately unites the prints, which is where the evidence of his virtuosity lies. One moment we will be in Buenos Aires in 2005, watching as a couple commands the dance floor and the next we will be on the shadowy streets of Tokyo in the 1970s. No matter the subject matter, be it Pepsi bottles or the inside of a woman’s thighs, or it’s location, a Moriyama composure will always accomplish one thing: it will provoke more questions than it provides answers.

In perhaps the most nostalgic and enchanting of the prints, One More Peek, 1966, a young boy relieves himself against an old building. As a dark pool of urine gathers at his feet, he looks up at the poster of a naked woman above him. She is trapped in a perpetual state of tease; her leg flicked out behind her and her long flowing hair caressing her back. The car hiding around the corner from the boy and the slight angular composition of the photograph work together to evoke a strange kind of disquieting comfort. The image encapsulates both Moriyama’s forbidding aesthetic and his seemingly endless ability to place vastly different human emotions and needs side by side, and make them work together.

This show may lack some of the bravado and swagger that it’s Tate Modern counterpart hemorrhaged a year ago, but what it lacks in brawn, it makes up for with suave agility. Each silkscreen canvas, printed especially for the exhibition, glistens in an oil-like state, the dark and murky nature of Moriyama’s world a perfect match for the inky beauty silkscreens offer. They also lend a little cultivation to the rather seedy and noxious picture that his work can sometimes paint. All this contradiction is indicative of the work of Daido Moriyama, a photographer who quite openly once tried to “destroy photography”. Thankfully he didn’t succeed.

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Daido Moriyama: Silkscreens is on at Hamiltons Gallery until December 20th 2013. www.hamiltonsgallery.com

Darin Mickey: Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget

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By Matthew Oxley

Darin Mickey’s Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget takes its name from a bulletin board. We get to see this bulletin board within the series; the words in question tucked between a picture of a catholic priest praying and Ziggy the comic strip character affirmatively pointing their way. In a series full of images that you just want to stare at, whilst not immediately understanding why, this picture is one of the most intriguing. But I was determined to understand it. I had to figure out its lure. Then it hit me. It wasn’t the priest, or Ziggy, it was the notes; each one with a different scribbled reminder, a different task that couldn’t, apparently, be forgotten. “Finish taking up carpet floor”, “Add polymer sealant to Chrysler”, “Pick up trash”, “Cut down trees”. All such mundane, everyday undertakings, but that is precisely the reason this image - which at first feels numb and subdued - becomes so compelling in its delivery. It’s the image that sums up the series, a series, which is endowed with that most seldom of photographic qualities: the ability to connect with each and every one of us.

Presented to us in Mickey’s inimitable, deadpan, comatosed style, Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget takes us into the world of his father, Ken Mickey. Behind each image lives an intimacy which feels within our grasp, but which is ultimately never quite reachable. It’s a feeling that will be an established presence within many father and son relationships and is converted into a visual aesthetic with both a run-of-the-mill comfortability, but also an edge which keeps us guessing.

We meet Ken stooped over a black briefcase in a sun drenched street, his silver striped tie hanging vertically from his throat, his body forming an almost crippled figure in the harsh shadow cast beneath him. From this seemingly inadvertent encounter, his world is slowly, if not ever fully, unveiled to us. We see his suits hung tightly together, we see him at work in a cave-like warehouse that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie, and we see him at home, doing the dishes, relaxing in the garden. The point here, is that Ken Mickey could be anyone’s dad; that in itself, mixed with a style of photography that is both personal and imaginative, creates an open door for the viewer to walk through.

The need for artists to turn their craft towards their own family is not a new phenomenon, and it’s not a surprising one either. Salvador Dali, aged just 21, painted numerous portraits (arguably his best) of his sister Ana María Dali. In more recent times, Christopher Anderson’s ‘Son' eloquently scrutinises not only his journey as a new father, but also his role as a son himself. Virginia Beahan’s ‘Photographs from Home’, a poetic and delicate observation of her family in New Hampshire, USA, must be one of the most visually stunning series that explores the relationships between different generations of a family. Then we have Phillip Toledano’s emotional and at times heart wrenching ‘Days with my father’, an examination of his time spent with his ageing father after the death of his mother. Turning our artistic sights on a family member or friend or lover then, seems like a natural step in the on-going fight to understand our lives.

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All images © Darin Mickey

Darinmickey.com

Stuff I Gotta Remember Not To Forget is published as a hardback full colour book by J&L Books. Available from Photo-Eye.

 

Tragedy of the Commons

“Technology to wipe out truth is now available. Not everybody can afford it but it’s available. When the cost comes down, look out!” ― Bob Dylan

 

By Samuel Jay

When faced with the recent onslaught of street view art, the path of least resistance is to put on our dystopia appreciation hat and reflect upon the social wasteland in all its unexpected, quiet and tragic beauty. This street view presentation of moments never meant to be captured stands too often as a conduit for a universal malcontent with the world. What we are constantly reminded of is the unbiased, indiscriminate nature of the image capturing process, carried out by the roaming eye on the road. In truth, this notion is instantly undermined the moment anyone starts altering these images or acting selectively when sharing them, fatally so when presenting them back to the previously protectively pixelated non-person, as art.

Despite efforts to rectify it, the fact remains that any moment captured, any hiding child, kissing couple, car crash victim or shitting dog is nothing more than collateral damage, fleeting scenes, literally left at the wayside of photographic mapping. The real poignancy of perhaps all of these non-sights, when we are presented them in this new context becomes something other than malcontent with the world; it becomes a malcontent with ourselves. We look upon our places and we are uneasy. This pseudo-genre is more of a hall of mirrors than it is a window unto the world. Due to the very nature of what street view accumulates, the roaming eye goes only along the roads we have made and the places we have already been. It seems impossible that any of this could generate anything within its viewer other than an oddly vacuous feeling of déjà vu.  

The very act of looking at oneself in a mirror is self-contained; it relies on the expectation of the ‘looker’ in order for the process to complete itself (hence the constant feeling of déjà vu.) As long as the artist insists on operating under this guise of neutrality, shrewdly placing themselves within a political or social context, they will forever be running in circles. The viewer will feel as though they have seen it all before, largely because they have. The insinuation that this visual form could grow to be just as prevalent as ‘traditional’ photography is not only dubious; it is flawed. To discover what we are not yet aware of, to really use this newfound accessibility to millions of images, indiscriminately captured, requires inspiration and (maybe) just the smallest glimmer of original thought. This conflict is the foundation for our dysfunctional relationship with technology and the Internet, especially when art is involved. This then becomes more a question of the artist in the post-internet age, rather than the art itself. People can be shaped and moulded; their art stands victim to that.

In Rhetoric of the Image, Barthes refers to technology developing the ‘diffusion of information.’ The Internet is a catalyst for this diffusion increasing exponentially into the great unknown. Either these artists are actively deceitful and exploit this level of information saturation, presenting us a relentlessly polished turd, or they are simply hopeful creatives sifting for specks of gold in muddied waters of apparent meaning.

Walter Benjamin ‘s infamous Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction highlighted the shifting paradigms in art as a consequence of reproduction outside of initial context to a mass of viewers. It is imperative that we now question how the Internet shifts the paradigms again, presently and in the future. One can’t help but feel that a state of critical mass, or more accurately critical velocity is approaching fast. Whether they are photographers, researchers, con men or computer geeks, these street view artists seem to have already reached their critical state. The cracks in the dam holding the Internet back from violently drowning the unique and the original are widening.

Perhaps it is time we took off our dystopia appreciation hat and begin to address this online tragedy of the commons.

Anthony Gerace: There Must Be More To Life Than This

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"Every act of creation, is first an act of destruction." - Pablo Picasso

By Matthew Oxley

Art has carved out many long and winding paths throughout its history, but perhaps none more so than the one collage has trodden down. From its beginnings following the invention of paper in China over 2000 years ago, to its extensive use by contemporary legends such as Braque, Picasso, Matisse and more recently, Hamilton & Hockney, collage has made sure it has a seat at the table alongside the most important artistic mediums.

But as a genre in the 21st century, collage is in danger of becoming dated; like having one of those hideous mud-orange sofas from the 70s in your modern apartment just for the sake of making a statement. The problem with collage is that it’s long past the point in its existence where it can be used solely to just make a statement. When art borrows from other sources, when it compiles already made material, it enters a dangerous realm. It is a realm where some of the most influential works of art ever produced exist; Duchamp’s urinal, Schwitter’s Merz collages and Heartfield’s photo-montages to name just a few, but to continually push the boundaries of such a field is a tough ask.

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Luckily, we have artists such as Anthony Gerace fighting collage’s corner. There Must Be More To Life Than This, his extensive and thought-provoking new series provides us with a refreshing take on the photo-montage, and in turn, helps to haul collage into the contemporary world in which it exists, whether it likes it or not. Each image in the series is made from the cuttings of newspapers and magazines taken from the 1950s to the 70s, and whilst they do have an unmistakable air of the vintage about them, they feel new, they feel like they belong today.

Most images in the series are portraits, albeit not in any traditional sense, but there are some which are just patterns or colours and some which show an obscured hand or a mountainscape. It is this deployment of the seemingly random and abstract that keeps us looking; each image is intriguing, never giving too much away, but always providing us with something of worth. It is the portraits however, which take command of the series.

There has been a lot said about the portrait, but if you had to take one piece of writing to sum up the capturing of a person, it must surely be this statement by the French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire, who in 1859 said: “A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound?” Each portrait in There Must Be More To Life Than This carries these words at its heart. Each one has a lucid elegance, a simplicity which is then shaken by the pernicious stare or despairing glance of a model or housewife or by a tile out of place or just by an indecipherable scribble. Man Ray achieved this effect so wonderfully in his portraits; he played with his viewer’s mind through his own obscure, surreal thoughts and created recreations of his sitters. There is a similar feeling that lives within There Must Be More To Life Than This; each collage has a sinister, worrying element, but there is something within this darkness which is true, which speaks to us, and that in turn, makes it all ok.

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All images © Anthony Gerace

Visit Anthony’s website to see an extended version of the series.

There Must Be More To Life Than This runs as a solo show at the Coningsby Gallery, London until 24th August 2013. Private view from 6pm on Thurs 15th.

Kathy Ryan: Office Romance

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” - Anton Chekhov

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By Matthew Oxley

As Director of Photography for the New York Times Magazine, Kathy Ryan is arguably one of the most important figures in the photography world. Her carefully formed editorial decisions help shape and mould how the most pressing stories of our time are visually represented. But we don’t generally consider the photo-editors of prominent magazines or newspapers as being ‘photographers’, do we? It would be interesting to see how many actually classed themselves as such. Office Romance though, which you sense has become Ryan’s on-the-job creative pilgrimage, taking her on those much needed psychological road trips away from the predictable and the scheduled, has most definitely been produced by a photographer’smind.

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It is no wonder the surroundings of her day-to-day office life have inspired her to capture them. Completed in 2007, The New York Times building, designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano, is all about light. With floor-to-ceiling ultra-clear windows and white ceramic rods to help scatter the sunlight, the building is designed to extract and use as much natural light as possible. Office Romance then, is the seizing of this light and the beauty it induces.

‘Romance’ is the key word here. Ryan could have titled this series ‘Office Beauty’ or ‘Office Light’, but thankfully she resisted those very transparent words and so we have ‘romance’ to swill around inside our heads as we search the images. Romance is a wonderful word, but it’s a word, a feeling, that we generally only associate between two humans. Her images convey another type of romance; the excitement and mystery that so often accompanies light, and the perpetual shapes, forms, patterns and silhouettes that are fashioned by it.

This series also plunges into the debate surrounding whether Instragram can, or is, reaching any kind of respected level of creative output. The ranks of those who are firmly in the yes column regarding this often contentious dispute will be very pleased they are being represented by such a powerful name in the world of photography. And for those who see Instragram as a photographic disease, propelling a contemporary degrading of the medium as whole, well they should look at Office Romance as an antidote to that disease, and look harder for others.

In Ryan’s description of the series, she talks of being “…drawn to the extraordinarily beautiful things that happened when those bars of light raked across a table in my corner and danced up a wall.” It is with this type of poetic, lyrical introspection that Office Romance is best digested, because these images are not about accompanying any thread of our human lives or augmenting any words that we might place next to them; you get the feeling that Ryan has enough of that to be getting on with each and every day. No, these images are an escape, a creative way of maintaining a healthy level of visual sanity in a job where such a trait is perhaps the most imperative.

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All Images © Kathy Ryan/The New York Times

To see more of Office Romance, follow Kathy’s Instagram feed.

I also highly recommend the brilliant 6thFloorBlog, which gives a unique insight into some of the most important decisions and general day-to-day happenings at The New York Times Magazine.