Aperture Winter 2020

Founded in 1952, Aperture is an essential guide to the world of contemporary photography that combines the finest writing with inspiring photographic portfolios. Each issue examines one theme explored in “Words,” focused on the best writing surrounding contemporary photography, and “Pictures,” featuring immersive portfolios and artist projects.

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in this issue

1 min
the parameters of our cage

I imagine society is entering a mourning phase confronting the fact that things will never be the same. First the pandemic, then the deconstruction of how we’ve always viewed the criminal justice system and the systemic racism embedded in everything. There is a very real correlation between losing someone and entering a new paradigm while processing through grief stages. It took me at least five years to even begin to grasp the reality of my imprisonment. You get the “rules” have changed. Physically you adapt. For me it would manifest in lack: sex, concrete money, phones, physical touch, visits — watching loved ones disappear through the doors, then getting used to strip search after every visit, standing in line for a 15-minute phone call. Shit, even ten years in I’d…

3 min

Gregory Halpern Gregory Halpern’s latest solo exhibition and photobook take their title, Let the Sun Beheaded Be, from the 1948 collection of surrealist poems Soleil cou coupé by the Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire. A poetic thread is woven throughout the series, which was made during a 2019 residency in Guadeloupe and presented in 2020 at the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris. In images taken over the course of three trips to the islands, Halpern plumbs the violent resonances of French imperialism and the slave trade by turning his eye to Guadeloupe’s residents, landscapes, and commemorative structures. He does not explicate the region’s history but rather photographs it askance, catching the fading details of a wall engraving or a soot-stained marble bust. Throughout, Halpern’s dreamy, verdant color palette is contrasted…

3 min
day jobs

In the early 1980s, when Koto Bolofo made his first pictures for British Vogue, he worked night shifts at a West London supermarket. On set, he kept mum about his day job. “You had to have this pretense—‘Daddy’s quite rich,’” Bolofo says, wryly. “To say you worked in a supermarket would be unheard of. It would still be unheard of.” Bolofo arrived in the United Kingdom in October 1970, aged eleven, a refugee from South Africa, and found himself living in a rough London council estate, full of “skinheads and racism.” At Ealing College of Higher Education, where a few years later Bolofo began studying art, resources were scant, so students passed a camera around as a group, trying to remember whose frame was whose. He spent all his time in…

5 min

“Mary Ellen would never have made this book,” Martin Bell, Mary Ellen Mark’s husband and collaborator of more than thirty years, writes in an essay accompanying The Book of Everything, the three-volume collection of the photographer’s life’s work recently published by Steidl. After Mark died at age seventy-five, in 2015, Bell imagined a book that would truly encompass the “everything” of her tremendous output, including her photographs of children in China, Chicago, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, and North Carolina; of circus performers and teenage runaways; of sex workers in Mumbai; and of film sets and drag queens and coal-mining families and twins and celebrities. The result is an affecting testament to the vast scope of Mark’s vision and to the immersive devotion with which she approached the people she photographed. “It was a mystery…

5 min

“The difficult thing about photography,” Paul Graham remarked in a 2015 interview, “is you have no idea where your photographs are. You’ve carved out time and space to do the work, but you just don’t know when or where pictures will arrive.” Over the course of four decades, Graham has found his images in English cafés, in housing developments, in unemployment offices, and, after relocating to New York in 2002, within the vast contradictions of the American landscape. His multivolume opus, A Shimmer of Possibility (2007), now considered a landmark photobook, presents nuanced sequences of daily life that Graham described as “visual haikus.” Recently, he has begun reissuing his earliest books, starting with A1 – The Great North Road (1983), a document of the U.K. during its industrial decline, now…

2 min

The year 2020—that number suggests a kind of harmonious symmetry, promising clarity of sight. Yet this year has been numbingly askew. A sense of dystopian madness emerged on multiple fronts: a pandemic that preyed on the most vulnerable, a historic economic crisis that followed in its wake, a drumbeat of violence that painfully reminded us of the racism and inequality that undergird daily life, an election in the United States that posed divergent understandings of reality. Commentators fumble to reference history’s loudest ruptures: Have we experienced a parallel to 1918 or to 1968? What will this transformative time portend for the future? If 2020 has resembled a disquieting sci-fi plot, a sinister speculative work, a cautionary tale from which we might extract some lessons on what to avoid, on how to…