When things are tough at home, I sometimes search Instagram for street photographers abroad. It’s not that I’m looking for happy scenes, necessarily. It’s just reassuring to be reminded that the world is so much larger than our national news cycle. (Scrolling through digital feeds is also the safest way to travel these days, not to mention the most eco-friendly.) These are the five accounts that I’ve been turning to lately for quick little doses of our common humanity; other New York Times critics will be posting their own favorites regularly.
The engineer Ali Shokouhandeh started Streetphoto Iran four years ago as an independent forum for views of the country’s daily life. Surprised by the interest it generated, both at home and abroad, he recruited Hamed Mousavi and David Shokouhbeen, both fine street photographers in their own right, to help him edit the feed and find new work. Now it offers an extraordinary curated trip through Iran both historical and contemporary, from a handball game in the ancient city of Yazd to a sea of intricately patterned hijabs, from a fashion shoot beside the pink waters of Lake Maharloo to the very contemporary problem of adjusting Islamic burial practices to Covid-19 deaths.
The photojournalist Ley Uwera’s portrait subjects often have quizzical expressions, as if she’s catching them in the act of sizing her up. It’s a refreshingly forthright approach, one that takes into account both the disrupting fact of her own presence and the difficulty of capturing the complexity of any given locale, whether it’s a displaced persons’ camp or just backstage at a fashion show. That’s not to suggest that she’ll turn down a smile. She’s captured more than a few dazzling grins. But even then, a discreetly foreboding background — like the low, cloudy sky and glittering green heath of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo — keeps the fundamental mystery of the human condition close at hand.
One thing I like about the Hong Kong photographer Jimi Tsang, whose bio line describes him as “obsessed with 35 mm film,” is that he doesn’t abide by Instagram’s format. Full of tilted lines, receding streets, and men turning their backs, his photographs are defiantly rectangular. Apart from the occasional gaggle of orange traffic barriers, they also tend to be black and white. (My favorite shows a solitary man crossing an empty soccer pitch surrounded by soulless office buildings.) To display his rectangles within Instagram’s unbending square, he mounts the images on solid color backgrounds of black or gray or hot pink. It’s an apt aesthetic detail for an artist mourning his uncommon city as it is rocked by turbulent political change.
I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly is so beguiling about Seunggu Kim’s 2017 photo of a swimming pool. There’s the pool itself, of course, with its whimsical mix of premodern Korean architecture and bright blue water, and there’s the photo’s elevated vantage point, which turns pink and yellow flotation devices into so many rainbow sprinkles on a neon ice cream cake. But I think what really does it is the way the building’s design and the photograph’s framing combine to flatten and enclose the whole enormous, crowded rectangle: Like the map in a fantasy novel or a Richard Scarry picture book, the resulting image offers freedom and containment at the same time, a sensation of activity anchored by a feeling of perfect safety.
Shooting mostly in and around Addis Ababa, the photographer and fashion designer Eyerusalem Jiregna bundles simple details like a bright orange hard hat, a patterned skirt, or daisy-shaped barrettes into bouquets of irresistible color. Coca-Cola red, Heineken green, face-paint white, a coral blue wall, or Ethiopia’s own national colors can all be equally alluring if you know how to capture them. Sometimes she lets her colors melt a little, too, as in a striking pair of views of candlelit parishioners celebrating Orthodox Epiphany in Lalibela. Reflecting the flickering yellow light, their white robes glow like molten wax. Either way, though, what she arrives at is an apparently endless series of exceptional moments.