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10 Photography Projects That Will Change the Way You See

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Hey, happy Spirit Day! Last year we showed you how to make a rich gold and purple look in Adobe Photoshop.

This time you'll meet ten photographers who see in unique and important ways—ten photographers who invite you to look differently. How do I know? These photographers changed my life. I hope they change your life too.

1. Samantha Box: INVISIBLE

Samantha Box is committed: she returned to the same shelter over and over for years to create her INVISIBLE multimedia project, a look at the lives of homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. Her pictures have the same relentless spirit: unflinching, real, and present.

Box had this to say about her project:

"The young people that I photograph are some of the most resilient people that I have ever met: despite facing the societal animosity of homo- and transphobia, and the burden of a broken system that conspires to keep them homeless, they continuously work for a future where their talents and intellect can be used, where they have a home, a family and a life of stability.”

2. Gabriela Herman: The Kids

"Judges, academics, and activists keep wondering how children are impacted by having gay parents. Maybe it's time to ask the kids." That's how Gabriela Herman's The Kids starts. Herman pairs luminous portraits with short quotes to build a moving testimony to the humanity of life with LGBTQ parents.

3. Pedro Isztin: In Situ

I think photographing people in nature creates an amazing potential to connect. Pedro Isztin gave me that idea, a gift. He showed me the pictures from his In Situ series and we have been friends ever since. He is excellent. And he has a course about environmental portrait photography right here on Envato Tuts+.

Environmental portrait made using open shadeEnvironmental portrait made using open shadeEnvironmental portrait made using open shade
Portrait by Pedro Isztin

4. Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency

I always feel a bit off-axis when I look at Nan Goldin's book, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency.

There's such a particular tension in her pictures. Maybe it's the gut feeling I get, of intimacy and detachment at the same time. Or maybe it's in the way Goldin shows life's pleasures and pain so mixed together. The way each photo is both perfect and imperfect, small and momentous. The joy of love and sorrow, a portrait of a chosen family. Whatever it is, these pictures had a way of worming their way into my head the first time I saw them.

"I want the people in my pictures to stare back."—Nan Goldin

 Ballad is also a "visual diary" of a particular time and place: New York, in the 1980s, when AIDS and drugs were ravaging the LGBTQ communities. Discovering that you could photograph this way, present pictures like this, it opened a whole new way of thinking about photography for me. Scary, and inspiring.

5. Samra Habib: Just Me and Allah

Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Photo Project asks "what's it like to be queer and Muslim?" Like Goldin above and Muholi below, the people she photographs look right at the camera. They smile. They are real. Like Herman, Habib includes interviews with her pictures. Together, these elements weave a tapestry of experience and identity that dissolves (I hope) prejudice and closed-mindedness. A transformative and inspiring project.

Says Habib: "What I didn’t realize at the time was that through listening to other queer Muslims’ stories and asking questions, I was trying to find the courage to share my own. I saw parts of myself in my subjects’ stories, whether they were refugees from Iran or kids from Brooklyn who just enjoyed skateboarding after Jumu'ah, like other kids their age"

6. Wolfgang Tillmans

I once saw a presentation by Wolfgang Tillmans. He showed his pictures in chronological order, from the first pictures he made to the latest pictures he was making. It was brilliant, funny, beautiful and diverse. A wild mixture of interests and techniques.

The experience shifted something in me. It helped me realize that photography can be dark and light at the same time, and that it morphs and develops as you grow and your relationship to the world and yourself changes. That, in fact, you need to grow, and keep growing, as long as you are taking pictures.

I didn't pick a project of Tillmans' because I think you should look at all of his work. People in the UK and Europe, however, might already be familiar with the moving series of posters he produced pleading against separation from the European Union.

7. Vivian Meyer

Have you heard the story of Vivian Meyer? A large and intriguing archive of a Chicago street photographer, a woman who was very private her whole life, turned up in an auction. A marvelous body of work—must see, they said. I waited a while, I don't know why. Now I am convinced. A fascinating, eccentric story, with a terrific and mercurial photographer, and, I think, an essential perspective on life in America. Enough to inspire anyone to take up street photography (and live their life as artfully as they see fit).

8. Zanele Muholi: Faces and Phases

Zanele Muholi's Faces and Phases projects presents seemingly easy portraits of lesbians in South Africa. These pictures appear simple, but they are not: the subjects face the camera, and engage. They have volume; here are nuanced portrayals, loaded with subtle information. The pictures, like the faces they show, are undeniable.

Muholi said: I’m reclaiming photography as a black female being. I’m calling myself a visual activist, whether I am included in a show or not, whether I am published or not. That’s my stance as a person, before anything else, before my sexuality and gender, because photography doesn’t have a gender.

9. Tabita Rezaire: Malaxa

What is this? Is it the future? What is happening? So says the artist:

"Tabita’s practices unearth the possibilities of decolonial healing through the politics of technology. Navigating architectures of power—online and offline—her work tackles the pervasive matrix of coloniality and its affects on technology, sexuality, health and spirituality.

Through screen interfaces and energy streams, her digital healing activism offers substitute readings to dominant narratives decentering occidental authority and preaches to dismantle our oppressive white-supremacist-patriarchal-cis-hetero-globalized world screen.

Yes, please.

Screenshot of Tabita Rezaires Tumblr PageScreenshot of Tabita Rezaires Tumblr PageScreenshot of Tabita Rezaires Tumblr Page
Tabita Rezaire's Tumblr Page

10. Mike Fernandez: CHANGELINGS

Mike Fernandez was my classmate, and I have had the privilege of watching his work grow. I love his ephemeral CHANGELINGS series. It's electric, ecstatic. But then, I like all of his pictures: he's the only photographer with an instagram feed I check regularly. You've got interesting birds, interesting people, and interesting pictures. What more could a person want?

Mike Fernandezs instagram feedMike Fernandezs instagram feedMike Fernandezs instagram feed
Mike Fernandez's instagram is my favourite.

Look Different

Each of the projects above changed my photography (and my life) by showing me the world in a new way. I hope you like these artists as much as I do.

Of course, there are many, many more photographers making eye-opening work that challenges our assumptions, shows us new ways to understand ourselves, and delights. Do you have a favourite project? How come?

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