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Photograph by Katie Orlinsky

Honest Dogs [private]

As a dogsledder, I can forget the fact that my sport, my world, is visually striking. Anyone whose camera battery lasts long enough in the cold can capture the blue light of deep winter, the halo of breath rising before a headlamp, the manic power of a dog team churning snow. There are those photographers who project their own associations onto wilderness, whiteness, chained dogs looking either adorable or powerful or miserable; old stuff in new frames. Then there are those photographers, mushing groupies, who stay up all night at every dogsled race, crouched beside the trail for hours to capture a dog’s-eye view of passing teams, as much a part of the community as the mushers and handlers and veterinarians who, their faces covered, know one another by their trucks and parkas. Outsiders telling stories for outsiders, insiders telling stories for insiders, about a sport that is equal parts proud and defensive of its position on the outskirts of culture.

Photographer Katie Orlinsky is neither of these; she seems gloriously incapable of noticing the obvious from any perspective. “My intro to mushing came from a place of wonder and total ignorance,” Orlinsky told me. In Alaska, while photographing indigenous hunting in the face of climate change, she found that hanging out with sled dogs was a reinvigorating break from documenting environmental devastation (“These are X-Men dogs. Superhero dogs!”). And on some level, she related to the mushers she met: “I’ve photographed victims of trafficking in Nepal, and post-conflict Mali. These are people facing life or death against their will, but you guys are choosing it. Why? That question is really what this project is all about.” As someone who constantly took on difficult projects, it was something she wondered about herself, too.

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Photograph by Annie Appel

Going Back [private]

In the fall of 1993, in a village near the US–Mexico border, an American photographer named Annie met a Mexican woman named María. María was eight months pregnant at the time, and walking up a steep hill in the noon heat—with two young daughters at her side—to take lunch to her husband, Jaime. He was digging clay to make bricks. The girls had just found an empty sketchpad. Annie gave them her pencils. 

Because Annie was a photographer, she asked if she could take some photos. Because she felt drawn to María’s warmth—and to her family, and to the land where she lived—she asked if she could come back and take some more. María said yes. Annie ended up coming back more than twenty times over the course of the next twenty years. 

These were two decades of flea bites and bellyaches and fevers; two decades spent sleeping on floors and napping with babies and learning slingshot strategy from four-foot experts; two decades of road trips and plane flights and time off her day job; two decades of counseling María through two abusive relationships, taking her sons to street festivals, registering her kids for schools that said they had no room. These were two decades of finding the right moment, the right dusk light, the right gaze between mother and child; or else not finding the right moment, or not being sure, and releasing the shutter anyway. 

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VQR Online

Consider the Lobstermen

December 31, 2011

The Maine lobster industry has a reputation as one of the best managed fisheries in the world—but few have considered how this ethic is enforced.