Remembering Ren Hang, a touching tribute to the Grenfell Tower fire victims, a young Amy Winehouse on the verge of success, a celebration of the gap tooth, and advice from Ryan McGinley
Emotion and photography go hand-in-hand, and there’s no denying that 2017 had us stretched across a spectrum of feels. So when putting this list together, I kept thinking: what were the stories that got under my skin?
If 2016 was the year of #realisingthings then 2017 was about listening and learning from those whose voices haven’t always had a soapbox of their own. At the beginning of the year, Campbell Addy’s exhibition at KK Outlet revealed his thoughts on dealing with, and ultimately rejecting, religion as a gay man; Benyamin Reich shared a touching documentation of the hidden LGBTQ community in Israel; and Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee published a book where photographers used their lens to crush stereotypes, and fetishisations, of Asian women.
Sadly, we also lost people along the way. Ren Hang tragically took his own life; Arlene Gottfried passed away after a battle with illness; and at least 71 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire in west London. Photography helped us pay tribute to their lives and remember their legacies.
We also celebrated – photos from Carnival in the 90s were collected by Black In The Day; Joshua Woods lensed a group of people proud of their gap tooth; we recalled Amy Winehouse running through the streets of London and NYC in her happier and healthier times; and Ryan McGinley reflected on the hedonistic 90s Polaroids that made him a star.
So while this isn’t a definitive list of “the best” of the year – these are the photo stories that made us feel.
On 24 February 2017, Ren Hang took his own life after grappling with depression for many years – experiences which he documented on his blog. To me, his work represented freedom – images not tied to any time or place. Just people, naked and amongst nature. Photographs of limbs akimbo and playing with objects such as flowers, toy dinosaurs, or another model’s body parts. Almost a year since his passing, Ren’s photographs still feel incredibly timeless – as if they could have been taken today, or, even, tomorrow.
British-Ghanaian photographer, Campbell Addy, exhibited work earlier this year that was inspired by his growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, and how the religion impacted his coming-of-age, particularly as a gay man. “I didn’t think I was worthy enough to be connected to my spirituality because I was gay and condemned,” he reflected. “Now I know it’s man who condemns the act – I’m a model citizen.”
There are few stories that I have seen published on Dazed that more people have had more of a positive reaction than that of Joshua Woods’ Gap story. Woods own gap tooth was the source of inspiration for the series – an homage to fellow gap tooth’ers everywhere. The result is playful, colourful and fun. Just what we needed this year.
Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee was tired of the stereotypes being places upon Asian women, and, she realised, so were many other photographers around her. Kicking off an ongoing project titled Xing, was a photobook of the same name full of imagery that counteracts the notion that Asian women are nothing more than, “sweet”, “submissive” and/or “cute”. On her pages, women take control of their own narrative and re-write their story through a series of powerful visuals.
Before the release of Frank, Amy Winehouse met up with Charles Moriarty for a series of photo shoots that was meant to be a test shoot for the album cover. The defining shot, of Winehouse with two dogs, passed from test to album cover, the remaining images from two shoots, one in London, and he other in New York, were packed away. Six years since her passing, Moriarty revisited his archive and published a series of them in a book titled Before Frank.
Benyamin Reich shared with us a series of incredibly intimate and personal images that uncovered the hidden LGBTQ community in one of Israel’s most Orthodox cities and explored the homo-erotic roots in Judaism.
For years there have been calls for the organisers of Nottinghill Carnival to shift the event from the streets of west London to a location such as Hyde Park because of “concerns” from local residents over incidents such as stabbings, drug taking and fights. In 2017, just months after the Grenfell Tower fire, coming together as a community on the streets of London felt more important than ever before. To show the true spirit of the event, we tapped Black In The Day to help us celebrate Nottinghill Carnival with a series of crowdsourced photographs from the 90s.
Arlene Gottfried was fascinated with New York and turned it into her life’s work to capture its true character. More focused on the person on the street corner than someone on a stage, Gottfried documented her adopted home up until her death at 66 from complications from breast cancer. In a touching tribute, her friends and art family paid tribute to her spirit.
On 14 June 2017, fire engulfed Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey tower in London. It would take over 60 hours to fully extinguish it, within which 71 people would have lost their lives and many more their homes. The government’s response was shambolic and to this day, Grenfell victims and families, alongside Londoners, don’t have the answers they need. In the days following the fire, photographer Brian David Stevens took his camera to the streets to capture the many memorials that appeared in the hopes that we will never forget this terrible, tragic moment.
Ryan McGinley’s polaroids are notorious, having captured the hedonistic essence of New York’s Downtown scene in the early 90s. Two decades on, with the release of a book and an exhibition which showed the seminal photographs that made him famous in 2003, we caught up with the photographer to reflect on his early works and gauge some advice.