A selection of stories from The New Yorker’s archive. Photography

The New Yorker
A selection of stories from The New Yorker’s archive


There’s an inherent mystery to the art of photography. We often think of artists as controlling their materials directly: using their hands, they shape stone, trace ink, or apply paint. But photographers seem to work in a more oblique and indirect way, by capturing, staging, or framing reality. In the best photographs, real life merges with the world of art.
How is that magic accomplished? This week, we take you behind the lens with a collection of pieces about the art and craft of photography. There are profiles of Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Cindy Sherman, and Edward Steichen. Susan Sontag writes on how photography shapes our view of war; Janet Malcolm explores the question of how “realistic” a photograph can (or should) be. We hope you enjoy these glimpses of the photographer’s quest to, as Malcolm puts it, uncover a “work of art in the mess and flux of life.”
—Erin Overbey and Joshua Rothman, archivists

Looking at War

Images of the sufferings endured in war are so widely disseminated now that it is easy to forget that, historically, photographers have offered mostly positive images of the warrior’s trade, and of the satisfactions of starting a war or continuing to fight one.


A Woman Entering a Taxi in the Rain

About twelve years ago, the traditional approach to fashion photography began to be subtly undermined by a sprightly and ingenious photographer forHarper’s Bazaar named Richard Avedon. As far as he was concerned, the statues and mummies went out the window. The model became pretty, rather than austerely aloof.


Her Secret Identities

Cindy Sherman reclaimed the oldest trick in the book, storytelling, and gave it new life in visual art. An amazing number of younger artists have followed her lead; the galleries are full of what has come to be called setup photography, in which complex and often highly enigmatic scenarios are plotted, constructed, and photographed.



It took Diane Arbus approximately a decade to become Diane Arbus, the photographer whose signature subject matter was the freaks, lowlifes, and other fringe groups against which most people define themselves as “normal.”


White and Black

Minor White’s career is the well-behaved precursor of Robert Mapplethorpe’s. White is not so loaded, because he fits a stereotype that many people are comfortable with—the homosexual artist who feels rotten about his sexuality and agrees not to thrust it in people’s faces.


The View from Plato’s Cave

One of the chief paradoxes of photography is that though it seems to be uniquely empowered to function as a medium of realism, it does so only rarely and under special circumstances, often behaving as if reality were something to be avoided at all costs. If “the camera can’t lie,” neither is it inclined to tell the truth.


Shadows and Fog

You could argue that Edward Steichen lagged a generation behind the modernists he so admired; that his canon of low-lit portraits, far from looking forward, peers back to Sargent and Whistler, offering nothing new. But scrutinize his shot of J. P. Morgan, and you find none of Sargent’s flattering languor; Steichen went at Morgan with an unblinking toughness to match his subject.


A Fine Rawness

Nan Goldin is two people—a needy sentimentalist and an adamantine aesthete, who unite to make her one of the best art photographers of the last twenty years.