We covered a wide range of photography on Behold in 2013, and our most viral posts of the year are evidence of this. The posts that made the top 10 included sleeping pregnant couples, white women with “black” hairdos, the Ku Klux Klan, brothels, gender nonconforming children, twins, and stolen computers—just some of the stories we featured that our readers loved. We caught up with some of the photographers to find out more about the reactions they received after having their work featured on Behold.
In September, Jana Romanova’s beautiful, touching photos of sleeping pregnant couples took the Web by storm, making it one of Slate’s most popular posts of the year. “I think people are naturally curious about how other people live, especially when it comes to something private,” Romanova said via email. “The photos also give people an opportunity to investigate the surroundings—what all these things in their bedroom tell about how they live. But maybe the strongest reason is that sleeping people look really beautiful and vulnerable.”
After Romanova’s photos appeared on Slate, she said she received a flood of responses from all over the world. “I was surprised by a huge amount of negative feedback,” Romanova said. “I don’t really know why it happens. Maybe it’s something special about the Internet, but most of the public comments were rude, aggressive, saying that the people in the photographs are ugly, that you never can photograph anybody sleeping, that it is staged, and so on. And people who liked it preferred to write me personally.”
Romanova has translated all that Internet energy into a new project by printing all the interesting (and mostly negative) comments on business cards. She’s now looking to fund a book featuring the photos.
Endia Beal’s series “Can I Touch It?” was shown online for the first time on Behold and quickly went viral. Beal worked on the series during a residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock in New York, where she asked middle-aged white women to go with her to a salon where she gave them “black” hairstyles.
Beal said the work “created a platform for discussion that transcended the traditional gallery walls. As a result, I’ve received hundreds of emails and Facebook messages from women and men all over the world sharing their testimonies and thoughts about my project and it’s impact on their lives.” She’s since continued the development of the project, and the images will be shown in March at the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, N.C.
Anthony Karen’s series on the Ku Klux Klan kept the photographer busy for a solid few months with interviews from other media outlets following the appearance on Behold.
“Typically, many viewers feel the need to express themselves by making derogatory remarks or with malicious intent towards those depicted within this particular project, but this was one of the few times that it was all about the images themselves and the appreciation for a humanistic approach over a perspective which is often sensationalized,” Karen wrote about response to his series. “I received hundreds of emails from people supporting my work, and who respected my ethical standard … it was validating, refreshing and appreciated.”
After her photo series “You Are You” about a camp for gender variant boys appeared on Behold, Lindsay Morris said it prompted tons of responses worldwide. Morris is currently working on a book based on the series, with a publishing date tentatively set for November. She will begin a Kickstarter campaign in February to try to make the book a reality.
Maja Daniels’ photos of identical French twins Monette and Mady fascinated Behold readers this May. “I think that the beautiful and playful way that Mady and Monette have chosen to express their identity, through their identical outfits and synchronized corporal language, projects a similar childlike excitement in the viewer and this is probably what makes people respond to the series,” Daniels said recently via email.
This summer, Daniels was commissioned by New York magazine to take new photos of Monette and Mady. In September, Daniels’ project won the Contour by Getty Images Portrait Prize, which earned her a solo exhibition at Polka Galerie in Paris. Daniels continues to work on the series with the aim of eventually publishing a book. She is also working on a short experimental film on the twins.
Melanie Willhide’s fascinating images and story about a stolen computer and the corrupted images that were an improvement over the originals resulted in one of the best making-lemonade-out-of-lemons story. Wilhide received emails from people “sharing their stories of their home being broken into and items taken. Some of the best emails were the ones where people talked about the surprising freedom of loss,” she wrote.
Photographer Olivia Arthur got incredible access to a world mostly closed to foreigners. Arthur’s time teaching a photography workshop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, helped her get intimate, candid photos of the women there. In an ultraconservative country, Arthur had to tread carefully to get the images she needed without violating cultural taboos or offending her subjects. “The photos give a glimpse into a world that people know very little about and also have a lot of preconceptions about. And they might contradict what people would have expected to find,” Arthur said via email recently.
The photos touched off a lively discussion in the comments section about what life is really like for women in Saudi Arabia. “Of course, with a subject such as this, there are always people who have a strong opinion. I try to be clear that I am only showing my experiences, what I have seen, and that there are of course others,” Arthur said. “Photography is a window into the world, not a definition of it, and sometimes people forget that.”
Other posts that made the top 10 list:
David Keochkerian’s gorgeous, surreal landscapes taken with infrared photography.
Phillip Toledano shot portraits of people who have undergone radical reconstructive plastic surgery for his series “A New Kind of Beauty.”
Marc McAndrews went inside 33 of Nevada’s legal brothels for his series “Nevada Rose: Inside the American Brothel.”