New Yorker Article: On Photography and Loneliness

...if love belongs to the poet, and fear to the novelist, then loneliness belongs to the photographer. To be a photographer is to willingly enter the world of the lonely, because it is an artistic exercise in invisibility. In the course of its relatively brief history, photography (and, by extension, those who take photographs) has been accused repeatedly of constituting an act of predation, as if the street is a savannah and the person with a camera a large cat, silent and hungry, ready to sprint after its next meal. In reality, though, the person with the camera is not hiding but receding. She is willfully removing herself from the slipstream of life; she is making herself into a constant witness, someone who lives to see the lives of others, not to be seen herself. Writing is often assumed to be the loneliest profession, but solitude should not be confused for loneliness: one is a condition we choose, the other is a condition that is forced upon us. A writer creates a world, and she is the ruler of it; the photographer moves through the world, our world, hoping for anonymity, hoping she is able to humble herself enough to see and record what the rest of us—in our noisy perambulations, in our requests to be heard—are too present to our own selves to ever see. To practice this art requires first a commitment to self-erasure.
— Hanya Yanagihara, The New Yorker

Part 3: What I Learned So Far...

I learned to pay attention when a wake up call arises in my life. It simply means that either the mind, the body or the spirit is in need of healing. The old ways are no longer working and the universe is saying choose another path. A friend of mine once told me "life is about making choices and you make the choice." These powerful words have stayed with me and I have applied it in all aspects of my life. The path is long, untrodden and downright scary but I've learned that committing to a choice and taking those small steps make all the difference in the world. Once healing occurs, I've learned that I no longer have the desire to go back to the way I once was and the only direction to take is forward.

Part I

Part II

Monument Peak at Ed Levin County Park. Milpitas, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Monument Peak at Ed Levin County Park. Milpitas, CA/©Stella Kalaw

Chasing Bubbles

I was fascinated with this kid chasing bubbles at the Treasure Island Flea market this morning. I could certainly learn from him. This past three weeks, my mind has been pre-occupied with thoughts of the past or the future that I neglect to focus on the now. I captured these images to remind me of this lesson.

Treasure Island Flea Market. Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Treasure Island Flea Market. Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA/©Stella Kalaw

Treasure Island Flea Market. Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA/ ©Stella Kalaw

Treasure Island Flea Market. Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA/©Stella Kalaw

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art Commencement Speech

I love listening to good commencement speeches. They inspire me and it nudges me to keep going with my photography. This afternoon, a friend posted this on her Facebook feed. It is by Neil Gaiman who was the Keynote speaker at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA last year. The entire speech is phenomenal. The particular quote below begins at the 9:40 mark.

And remember that whatever discipline you are in, whether you are a musician or a photographer, a fine artist or a cartoonist, a writer, a dancer, a designer, whatever you do you have one thing that's unique. You have the ability to make art.

And for me, and for so many of the people I have known, that's been a lifesaver. The ultimate lifesaver. It gets you through good times and it gets you through the other ones.

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

Make good art.

I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.

Make it on the good days too.

Inspiration: Joel Meyerowitz

I first heard Joel Meyerowitz speak at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism a few years ago. He was in town promoting his book Aftermath: World Center Archive. I was struck by how eloquently he spoke about the process of documenting the clean up and the manner in which he described his thoughts and feelings while he went through his pictures. Since then, I've discovered his street photographs and the landscapes series taken in Cape Cod with an 8x10 camera.

Phaidon has just published a limited edition of his retrospective book Taking my Time. It is out of my price range but I am looking forward to the trade edition when it comes out.

Inspiration: NYTimes’ One in 8 Million series

I can’t believe I only discovered this project from the New York Times yesterday! It made me fall back in love with black and white images again. Paired with a simple audio track of the subject telling his/her story, Photographer Todd Heisler captures the essence of everyday life -- his photographs are emotionally sensitive and compositionally acute. Congratulations as well to the entire production team and thank you for bringing these stories to life.

From the NYTimes website:

One in Eight Million: New York Characters in Sound and Images

New York is a city of characters. The Green Thumb, whose community garden in a Brooklyn housing project shows children that eggs don't come from eggplant. The Dictaphone Doctor, last of a dying breed. The Jury Clerk, who says ‘Good Morning’ 200 times a day, and means it. The Teenage Mother. The Tabloid Photographer. the Iraq Veteran. The Walking Miracle. Throughout 2009, the Times introduced 54 such individuals in sound and images, ordinary people telling extraordinary stories- of passions and problems, relationships and routines, vocations and obsessions.

Ira Glass: On Good Taste

A good piece of advice when you reach a plateau in your creative work. Forge on and don't give up. Ira says:

It's going to take you a while. It's normal to take a while and you just have to fight your way through that. OK? You will be fierce, you will be a warrior, and you will make things that aren't as good as you know in your heart you want them to be. And you will just make one after another.

Ira Glass, Host and Producer of This American Life.

Photographer Jason Eskenazi talks about his day job

A few months ago, I came across Jason Eskenazi's images at the New York Times Lens blog. The entry mentioned his day job as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city. I was completely intrigued by it and looked online for more information. I came across this 5 minute audio interview:

1:01: Broke and uninsured, self-taught photographer Jason Eskenazi moved back to his mother's home in Queens, NY and talks about his experience working as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Source: Studio 360

His story inspires me. I am particularly struck by his optimistic mindset in spite of the mundane rigors of his job. He clearly depicted the sacrifices he needed to do in order to live his photographic life.

On November 18, 2009, he wrote a note to his photographer friend, Daniel Sheehan:

Dear Dan,

As you know I worked at the MET for almost 2 years as a security guard. In the last months I guarded the Robert Frank show almost everyday. Ive been asking famed photogs what photo of the 83 images in the Americans really does it for them or that they can say they were ‘born’ out of, is their hands down favorite. I’m trying to get 83 photographers to respond to this survey question.

I finally quit and I'm on my way to Turkey.

Hope all is well.


Good luck to you Jason and we look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!


Ryan Lobo on compassionate storytelling

Sometimes focusing on what is heroic and beautiful and dignified, regardless of the context, can help magnify these intangibles in three ways: in the protagonist of the story, in the audience and also the storyteller. And that is the power of storytelling: Focus on what's dignified, beautiful and courageous and it grows.

Ryan Lobo has achieved worldwide visibility through his photography, films, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. For the last 10 years, Ryan has traveled extensively all over the world to make pictures and films that reflect a high degree of humanism, empathy and sensitivity. He is recognized as one of India’s most respected and well-known photographers.

Mitch Epstein talks about two photographs from the Family Business project


I wanted to share this clip because it was such a delight listening to Mitch Epstein speak last night at PhotoAlliance. Not only do I admire his work, Mr. Epstein was articulate when he spoke about his creative process. I especially noticed how confident he was with silence. He made several pauses during his presentation for the audience to take in his images as he spoke. There was this cadence to his presentation that left me wanting to hear more. He was quite inspiring-- someone I would like to listen to on a long afternoon over a cup of coffee.

Adam Magyar: Squares

From Hungarian photographer, Adam Magyar's website:

The squares you see are non-existent. Each square is assembled from dozens of photos I took of people from a height of 3 to 4 meters. The distance, or rather, closeness allows me to create extremely high-resolution images, thus allowing the viewer to survey each person close-up. Yet, observing the image at close range makes it impossible for us to see it as a whole, while looking at it from a distance results in losing all the details.

Source: The Black Snapper

Inspiration: Alessandra Sanguinetti

I first saw Alessandra Sanguinetti's images in Lightwork's Contact Sheet magazine issue 120 back in January 2003. Every since then I've read and followed her career. I am drawn to her work because her photographs carry an emotional sensitivity-- something that I rarely come across when I look at contemporary work. She joined Magnum as a nominee in 2007 and just last week, PDN News reported that she won $50,000 grant from Robert Gardner Fellow in Photography given by the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnolography at Harvard University. Also this month, she garnered a National Geographic Magazine grant for another $50, 000. Congratulations, Alessandra!

Alessandra Sanguinetti Website

Negatives are to be Stored: Photographs by Stefania Gurdowa

Photographs by Stefania Gurdowa

Eleven years ago, at the attic of a tenement-house in the town of Dębica, there were discovered over a thousand of damaged glass negative plates. Most of them depicted expressive portraits of anonymous individuals living in the neighborhood in the ’20s and ’30s.

One could tell hardly anything about an author of the plates at the first look, although there was her name on them. Yet deepened research of the group of photographers gathered in and Imago Mundi Foundation shed more light upon the person which appeared to be unusual: an independent, consequent, gifted woman whose workshop remained far away from grand cultural capitols and who performed her art while taking ordered portraits of her neighbors: shopkeepers, craftsmen, peasants, priests and Jews.

Gurdowa, the distinguished artist, died in 1968. The flat was cleaned after she had passed. The immense photographic archive was disposed and wasted. Only a fracture of her art lasted, together with a question without an answer: who hid a collection of glass plates behind a wall in the attic of her workshop in Dębica? Perhaps was it her own decision to preserve them this way. As a responsible professional she must have obviously been aware of the rule that “negatives are to be stored”.

The “Stefania Gurdowa: Negatives are to be stored” project website:

The book is available for purchase at


Inspiration: Pete Souza

Photographs by Pete Souza/White House

Head over to the White House official website and take a look at the photographs by Pete Souza. He always brings a fresh perspective to photographing meetings on a daily basis. When I look at his images, I always notice the subtle elements he incorporates when he frames his pictures: the bag in the corner, the coke can left behind on the table, the synchronized gestures of his subjects and the way he spaces them from each other. I am always excited to open my reader whenever I get an update on the slideshows. I learn by observing what he sees.