Shooting New York
A decade photography at The New Yorker
2004
By Ben Greenman
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

For nearly seventy years, The New Yorker had no photography; its stories were told solely through words and illustrations. Then, in 1992, the magazine underwent a substantial redesign, Richard Avedon was hired as the first staff photographer in its history, and photographs began to appear in the magazine’s pages with increasing prominence and frequency. With the addition of more photographers, both staffers and contributors, photographs became and integral part of the magazine. Here, as we approach the end of the magazine’s eight decade, we present some memorable examples of photographs from The New Yorker.

From the start, the magazine’s photographers explored a range of subjects – from politics to the arts to daily life – as broad as that covered by the magazine’s writers. One of the main topics, of course, was New York City. Some photographers turned their cameras on the city’s structures; such as the approach of Robert Polidori, as evidenced by his image of Grand Central Terminal. Polidori made his reputation with pictures of decaying urban landscapes such as Havana and Cairo, but his photographs of New York’s skyscrapers, train stations, and public squares evoke rebirth as they illustrate, with striking color and composition, the vitality of the city.

The New Yorker’s photographers have also focused on the city by looking at its people. Sometimes they have immortalized ordinary citizens in tragic circumstances, as in  Gilles Peress’s images of New Yorkers in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. Peres is famous for his photographs of war zones, and he has covered Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq for the magazine; on the morning of September 11th, Peress had only to cross the Brooklyn Bridge to document horrific loss and destruction. At other times, New Yorker photographers have concerned themselves with particular people.  Richard Avedon, who began his long career in 1945, helped to define modern magazine and fashion photography while still in his twenties; he went on to capture in his portraits – to document, really – the souls of thousands of individuals, from Presidents to movie stars to coal miners. For The New Yorker, Avedon has photographed numerous figures in the arts, including those seen here; the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and the actors Kevin Kline and Fiona Shaw. Ruven Afanador, who contributed his first picture to the magazine in 1994, photographed the chef Mario Batali aboard a Vespa to accompany a Profile of him. Martin Schoeller has shot several signature portraits for the magazine, including images of Bill Clinton, the hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow, and the Singer Mary J. Blige. Finally, the magazine’s photographers have trained their lenses on ordinary citizens in ordinary circumstances. Even before she joined The New Yorker, Mary Ellen Mark as well known for her pictures of the city’s various ethnic communities and neighborhoods; in a 1967 image, she showed New York children at play in Central Park.

In just over a decade, these and other photographers have helped The New Yorker develop a new visual identity, one that complements and extends the magazine’s reporting and writing.


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“Central Park, 1967,” from “Mary Ellen Mark: American Odyssey,” a collection of the photographer’s work, published in 1999, that also includes pictures of white supremacists and Mark’s series and Seatlle street children.

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