The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan

It’s just past the time of the year when everyone has posted their favorite photography books from 2012 and I thought I’d get in on the action, but because I’m very edgy I’m picking a book from 2011. Ok, actually I bought it last year intending to write about it, but my motivation left me somewhere along the way (almost didn’t do it again). My pick for for a timeless book everyone should own is The New York Times Magazine: Photographs edited by Kathy Ryan.

If you’re a fan of editorial photography, you know that The New York Times Magazine is the gold standard. This is not because they have their pick of photographers or because they publish weekly and have lots of assignments to hand out or because they’re not sold on newsstands so they don’t have to do many of the stupid things other magazines do to hit promised circulation numbers. All good reasons but no that’s not it. It’s because Kathy and crew swing for the fences with their pairings. They pair ambitious projects with ambitious photographers. They pair subject with a photographers particular experience and interest. Like a sommelier in the editorial department, they know it’s the chemistry between subject and photographer that makes incredible, memorable, home run photography.

This would be a great book if they simply picked the best photography from the last 33 years of the magazine and shipped it off to the printer. What makes it incredible and a valuable resource for anyone in the photography business is the commentary that accompanies nearly every image. The photographer, the subject, or one of the photo editors gives anecdotes about the subject, the shoot and even the circumstances surrounding the assignment. For me, it was like being in the photo department at The New York Times Magazine. An incredible treat for someone who loves magazine photography. If you’ve spent your career looking at photography like this, you will pick up the subtle difference when a great pairing is made.

Here’s a sample:

RICHARD BURBRIDGE
Author Tom Wolfe. Frome “Wolfe’s World,” published October 31, 2004.

For me, Tom Wolfe’s eccentricity is wonderfully expressed in this picture, by that crazy smile. He was charming. I thing that, above else, Tom Wolfe wis absolutely charming. And when I was equally charming, he was more charming. I like a portrait session to last ten minutes. When it goes past ten minutes, I’m in trouble, of something strange is happening. Because my photo-shoots are uncomfortable for most people. — RICARD BURBRIDGE

DAN WINTERS
Filmmaker Spike Jonze. From “Spike Jonze’s Wild Ride,” published September 2, 2009 (cover image)
I have to say, Dan was pretty patient with my back-seat driving. I definitely had opinions on what the photos should be. I think he has an ego as a photographer, in that he wants to make something he is connected to, but not so much so that he doesn’t also want the photo to represent the person. —SPIKE JONZE

NAN GOLDIN
Artist Kiki Smith. From t”The intuitionist,” published November 5, 2006.

Sometimes the slightly out-of-focus image is the one to go with. To me, this image is absolutely alive. It just breathes. And that celestial blue light brings to mind the hues and spirituality of Giotto. Goldin is a defining photographer of our time, who skips back a couple of centuries for her inspiration. — K.R.

GUEORGUI PINKHASSOV
Petlyura’s artists’s squat in Moscow. From “Young Russia’s Defiant Decadence,” published July 18, 1993

Gueorgui Pinkhassov says that he doesn’t have a particular intention when he is photographing; he is interested in something he doesn’t know. When he is shooting, he ignores the action and concentrates on the movement and intersection of purely visual elements–line, form, light. “Don’t be afraid to take bad pictures,” he says, “because good pictures are the mistakes of the bad pictures.” In this photograph, there are four separate actions that all weave together: one person lifts a cigarette, one tosses a ball, the dog looks on, and the Lenin-like figure drops the flag to the ground. For Pinkhassov, life is really like a tapestry—he’s never shooting just one thing, there are often several things happening simultaneously. –K.R.

There Are 9 Comments On This Article.

  1. scott Rex ely

    Commentary with each image is sooo over rated. I think the danger is over projecting too much fantasy on the experience between the photographer and their subjects. They are just still images, they should stand on their own shouldn’t they? It’s like watching foreign films without sub-titiles, you should be able to figure out what is going on without the dialog. Stills don’t need no stinkin dialog.That’s why when confronted between this book and Mario Testino’s “In You face” at Barnes & Nobles’ this past xmas I picked the latter, both drip beyond, but one with hot images and the other with boring inflated hokum.

    • I want to agree with you but I think the context of this makes the commentary special and therefore makes this a must have book for serious photography lovers. It’s not a coffee table book, this is Kathy Ryan’s legacy as well as a reference for photographers and aspiring professionals in the image-making world to get insight into what it takes to make these images under The NYT Mag’s unique pressures. I purchased it after recommendations from a couple friends and it’s my favorite book to pull from the shelf since Photo-Wisdom by Lewis Blackwell.

      It’s not about watching a film without subtitles it’s about watching the behind the scenes featurette.

    • You are such an old sourpuss. Many of these are iconic editorial images taken 10, 20 even 30 years ago… without commentary. A little background now just adds to to fun. Take your meds.

  2. I received this book for Christmas (by request) and have had a wonderful time looking over so many familiar photographs, reading the blurbs that accompany them and also seeing how one of our great photo editors has chosen to put together and present her lifes work. I’m halfway through and have been enjoying it immensely.

  3. The other day I was walking uptown to make an appointment and found myself taking shelter from the rain underneath the enormous overhang in front of Port Authority across the street from The New York Times Building. That’s one imposing and magnificent structure. The NYT silver letters (in their own font mind you) stood guard above the entrance, and the top of the building was lost in mist. While looking up, I couldn’t resist the impulse to picture Kathy Ryan with her cadre of photo editors and designers gathered around a huge black marble conference room table deciding which photos would appear in the upcoming Sunday magazine edition. From there I went on to imagine people all over New York and elsewhere being entertained and influenced by those photos. Who knows, maybe there is no huge marble table, and everything is done by e-mail. Thankfully, I don’t have to imagine what’s going on behind the scenes — well almost — because I can read Kathy’s book. Which I plan to.

    I love the colors in Nan Goldin’s photo and the fact that they went with an out-of-focus photo. I’ve been thinking about the merits of this lately.

    I also love Pinkhassov’s photo and commentary about the multiple actions (I call groupings) within his photo. Knowing his thought process adds a lot to my appreciation for this photo. I see it as 3 groupings — or 3 “decisive” moments — one is lucky to get even 1 moment in a photo — but this photo you slice up in thirds — almost rule of thirds — and get 3 separate valid photos — that’s cool. And each photo would have it’s own white painted tree trunk — that’s kismet. Plus each subject is wearing red — that’s stacking the deck. I wish APE could show every page.

  4. Great choice! This is not only one of my favorite photography books of 2012, but it’s one of my favorite photo books of editorial photography of all time.

    “The New York Times Magazine: Photographs” is on my list of must reads for every photographer. Kudos to Chris Boot of Aperture for all the great books this year!