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Posts by: Melissa Breyer

Portraits of Winter Swimmers Who Revel in the Icy Atlantic

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In 1903, a maverick physical fitness advocate by the name of Bernarr Macfadden founded the Coney Island Polar Bear Club. Professing that our bodies are “our most glorious possessions,” he gathered a group of swimmers to brave the icy Atlantic Ocean in his belief that a dip in the wintry waves was the key to boosting stamina, virility and immunity.

While critics at the time thought Macfadden was a charlatan, more than a century later, a group of 100 enthusiastic swimmers still take to the shore every Sunday during the Northeast’s coldest months to plunge themselves into the bitter breakers. The frigid fanfare reaches its peak annually on January 1 when revelers ring in the new year with a massive public swim.

As the photography gods would have it, NYC-based French-Venezuelan photographer Mathieu Asselin was at Coney Island one cold Sunday in January to experiment with lighting when he was presented with the opportunity to shoot the swimmers.

Heavy, Beautiful Photos Document The Love of a Dying Young Mom

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne sits in bed with EJ before reading him to sleep. Every night that Carolynne is around to read to EJ “counts for everything,” Rich said.

Preston Gannaway
© Preston Gannaway/Concord Monitor

Carolynne waves while watching EJ play at the beach on New Castle Island. Family trips inspired Carolynne to continue with her treatments in hopes of being around for another summer.

When Carolynne St. Pierre, a maternity nurse known for her keen wit, was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer, she knew how she wanted to die. According to Oakland-based documentary photographer Preston Gannaway, St. Pierre wanted to leave this world surrounded by family. And until that time came, she was able to preserve her love and life in a record for her three children, Melissa, Brian, and EJ.

Moving Photos of a Sad Neighborhood, Barrio Triste

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Aside from being a regular contributor for The New York Times and other high-profile publications, Columbia and NYC-based photographer Juan Arredondo also works on personal projects, many of which explore the bleak underbelly of South America. In the photos shown here, Arredondo’s goal was to chronicle the “hope, despair and struggles” of residents from a section of Medellín, Colombia, the city in which he was born.

Photos of Families Eating with the Dead

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Not all cemeteries are imbued with hushed reverence and a solemn demeanor. While visiting graves in America might be a somber affair, in other parts of the world, it’s a party. Case in point: Moldova, the landlocked country nestled between Romania and Ukraine. As part of their celebration of Orthodox Easter, Moldovans head to the cemeteries, laden with picnics and good cheer. After pouring a glass of wine in the ground near the tombstones of their dearly departed, they celebrate.

Striking Portraits of Muxes, Mexico’s ‘Third’ Gender

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Before Spanish colonization blanketed Mexico with Catholicism, there were cross-dressing Aztec priests and hermaphrodite Mayan gods; gender flexibility was inherent in the culture. In much of the country now, machismo prevails and attitudes toward sex remain relatively narrow. But things are different in the southern state of Oaxaca where more pliant thinking remains. In the Zapotec communities around the town of Juchitán, men who consider themselves women—called “muxes”—are not only accepted, but celebrated as symbols of good luck.

Portraits of New York City’s Pigeon Keepers

Chris ArnadeThe Bronx pigeon guys are more scattered than those in Brooklyn, but if there is a center, it’s East Tremont. That’s where I found Jesus, in front of a stand alone house nestled amongst huge bulking apartment buildings. It’s an architectural anachronism—a rural Puerto Rican home complete with chickens in the heart of the Bronx. Jesus was returning with a captured pigeon, bringing it to the coops he keeps on a nearby apartment building where he is the super.

Photographer Chris Arnade has described New York City’s pigeon keepers as “true artists, creating beauty where few expect to find it.” And indeed, with feathers and flight as their media, these men from the jagged neighborhoods of Bushwick, Bronx, and East New York create mesmerizing tableaus of birds swirling in the sky.

Available Light: Harold Feinstein’s Coney Island at Night

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Over the years, the face of Coney Island has reflected waves of immigration and shifting neighborhoods. Here Orthodox Jews, African Americans, Italians, Russians, Puerto Ricans and folks from all over the world were drawn together by the lure of the surf, sand, boardwalks, side-shows, Nathan’s hot dogs, and the permission to leave go of all inhibitions.—Harold Feinstein

Photographer Harold Feinstein was born in Coney Island, Brooklyn in 1931. His legendary street photos, shots from the Korean War, portraits, nudes, and images from nature are all the result of a distinct talent and magical eye. But it’s the portraits of his birthplace—which he photographed for six decades—that really sing.
In these photos of Coney Island shot at night, Feinstein used his Rolleiflex and the play of dark and light to capture both the thrills and wonder of Coney Island with an intimacy all too often missing in street photography. Clearly, if a place can act as a muse, Feinstein found his next to the seaside in a corner of Brooklyn.

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Photos of Divers Caught in the Act

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There is something about that moment when you stop ascending and begin to fall that fascinates me.—Brad Harris

When NYC-based photographer Brad Harris isn’t shooting for clients like Apple, Nike and Rolling Stone, he can be found plunging into his personal projects where he extracts exquisite moments of character and beauty out of otherwise mundane scenarios. From his utterly lunar images of the World Speed Trials at the Bonneville Salt Flats to his regal portraits of battered boxers, exertion and the roar of the crowd are stripped away, revealing the silent grace that remains.

Photogravure Portraits Explore the Beauty of Freckle-graced Faces

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While many people view freckles as an aberration or blemish, my response is the opposite. I find them enchanting, unique, even exotic. More than once, while photographing for this series, a model thanked me for making something beautiful out of what they often viewed as a flaw.—Fritz Liedtke

Whether capturing the awkwardness of adolescence, life on a coffee farm, or fairytale tableaus set in fire-scorched forests, the work of Portland-based photographer Fritz Liedtke tends towards a dreamy grace tinged with an unremitting gaze. For his series Astra Vellum, Liedtke sings the praises of “flawed human skin, with its freckles and scars, overlaid upon us like a thin veil of stars,” for which the series was named. Hand-printed by Liedtke, he brings the images to luminescent life by photogravure, a technique all but lost to photography since the advent of silver-gelatin printing. The complicated intaglio process of photogravure relies heavily on texture, making it the perfect ally to compliment skin swathed in stars.

Photographs of Residents of a Small German Farming Village

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It is not just about a good composition in the formal aspects, it is more about the inner strength of the photographed person. The person I’m taking photographs of is more important than me as the photographer. This is the secret.—Albrecht Tübke

That German photographer Albrecht Tübke was born to a family of accomplished painters is evident not only in the incredible way he handles color and texture in his portraits and landscapes, but in the way he captures the essence of his subjects. He seems able to bend light with the same flexibility that a painter sweeps paint across a canvas. Born in Leipzig, Germany, Tübke lived for 10 years in a small agricultural hamlet in the northeastern part of the country. After leaving the area, he found himself homesick for the denizens of Dalliendorf, and returned on a mission to photograph his former neighbors. The resulting series immortalizes them both in his memory and in print, serving as his way to say goodbye to his childhood village and the characters who inhabit it.

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