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Aperture Winter 2019

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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United States
Aperture Foundation
4 Issues

in this issue

10 min
looking for transcendence

If the spiritual, even loosely defined, is a realm beyond the actual, then photography’s relation to it is bound to be complicated. Picturing the spiritual must either go through the actual, or somehow slip around it. In this sense, photography is, like us, straddling the cold facts of immediate existence and loftier ideals. This might be why the spiritual in photography regularly teeters between the sublime and the ridiculous. Strain too hard for metaphor, symbolism, or transcendent feelings, and it can easily fall flat, humiliated for taking on ideas above its station. Forty years ago, the critic Rosalind Krauss called it photography’s “problem of fraudulence.” The most obvious fraudsters were the spirit photographers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They played the medium’s sobriety against its easy way with…

4 min
dave swindells

This is the British DJ Danny Rampling talking about the atmosphere in the early days of his nightclub Shoom, in 1988 London, at the start of the acid-house explosion that sent shock waves through U.K. youth culture, and eventually worldwide: “It was very spiritual. Some of those moments in the club were unbelievable. People literally went into trance states, including me. Not from the use of drugs, but from that music and the human energy that was going around [the room]. That’s not something that had happened in Britain for centuries. The feeling in that small space was so intense some nights.” And this is the photographer Dave Swindells talking about that same club: “It was really hot, sweaty and steamy. There was dry ice, strobe lights going off and you’re…

2 min
object lessons

On August 12, 1962, the song leader Henry Thomas led a protest meeting at St. Joseph’s African Methodist Episcopal Church in Durham, North Carolina, but his performance with a sextet, called the Freedom-tones, didn’t seem to be getting much traction. The meeting’s speakers suggested relocating to a nearby Howard Johnson’s, and that’s when the energy changed. Some five hundred demonstrators from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) bore witness. “Between each speech and prayer, Mr. Thomas started a song,” noted New York Times reporter Robert Shelton. At the segregated restaurant, the singing became more urgent, more charged. A woman named Shirley Thomas participated in the Durham rally. A photograph of her in a pristine white dress and dark beads, singing…

4 min
viewfinder images & politics

For the artist and educator John Pilson, the film director Stanley Kubrick was “the greatest twentieth-century Jewish comedian (and I’m not just talking Dr. Strangelove) and artist as Cold War psychosexual completist.” It is no surprise that Pilson, whose 1990s photographs from his time working at Merrill Lynch transformed depressed, robotic office drones into clowns of the mundane, is able to laugh with Kubrick, “even at his darkest, especially at his darkest.” The legendary filmmaker was indeed funny, not only in his 1960s comedies—Lolita, Dr. Strangelove—but also at the apex points of his crueler films: the childlike sing-along performed by HAL 9000 as it (he?) deactivates in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the standing ovation Alex DeLarge receives after enduring the Ludovico Technique in A Clockwork Orange, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman traumatically beating…

12 min
to see the unseeable

“A smoke ring framing a one-way portal to eternity” is how the New York Times described the first-ever image of a black hole, released last April. A staple more of science fiction than of reality, these bizarre objects have a gravitational force that consumes everything around them, including light. Their behavior is so unusual, so logic-defying, that even Albert Einstein doubted their existence. But last spring, a hazy picture of a glowing orange circle was viewed and shared by a billion earthlings, joining a history of epoch-defining photographs that elicit reflection on our place in the cosmos. How did scientists create an image of the strangest of celestial objects at the center of a distant galaxy, fifty-five million light-years away? Peter Galison, a Harvard physicist and historian, worked on the project.…

15 min
the darkness and the light

In October 2004, a few months after a handful of his black-and-white street photographs were presented in an exhibition of South African photography in Tokyo, Santu Mofokeng agreed to meet me at his Johannesburg home. The plan was to pick up on our conversations in Japan, as well as to talk about an image he had recently taken of his older brother Ishmael, which he was showing at a local gallery. Titled Eyes-Wide-Shut, Motouleng Cave, Clarens (2004), the head-and-shoulders portrait presents an aging man, with a graying Colonel Sanders goatee, wrapped in winter clothes. Two figures pass behind him, blurs in the murk of a cave. His eyes, too, are distorted, but it is nonetheless possible to detect a slight deviation in his sight. Ishmael’s right eye peers straight into…