Seven Seriously Gripping Photos from Helen Levi’s Portfolio

This potter’s a master behind the lens, too.

Before Helen Levi started making ceramics—that kind that make us want to replace every cup and dish in our cupboards—she was a photographer who spent her time trailing volunteer firemen and breaking into abandoned mansions. “I learned photography in a wet darkroom, and I always worked with it that way—I never had a digital camera,” Helen explains. “I always appreciated the craft of it, and that’s what I love about ceramics, too. It’s a total craft.” Dive into some of her most stunning photos below. —caitlin petreycik

Civil Servants

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“This is from one of the buildings of the law department of the City of New York. When you think about cubicles, they’re very generic and nondescript. The way that people set them up to feel like home, or to feel a little more familiar, I find really intriguing.”

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“This looks like it could be from any decade. The tear in the panel on the cubicle—why wouldn’t anyone have repaired that? I found the pink and the green and the blue so striking.”

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“This is almost like an unfinished task. Like someone was about to bring that plant home, and put it up there and forgot about it. I like photographs that lead you to a narrative where maybe you’re not sure what happens.”

Mr. Bender’s Machines

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“Mr. Bender was my neighbor when I lived in Queens after college. We grew very close because our buildings were right next to each other. He had this sweater-knitting factory that he inherited from his dad, and it’s been sitting there unused for like 10 or 15 years. He still—because it’s his routine—goes in, sweeps up, fusses around.”

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“I met Mr. Bender because I was curious about the space, and he was like, ‘Do you know how to use computers? Do you know how to use eBay?’ He was trying to sell his machines. So I sold like 11 machines for him. This series documents our relationship and the process of moving out these big machines.”

The Mansion

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“I had heard stories that Mike Tyson had a house in Ohio. I had read about it on different blogs, and I thought it was a great excuse to go break into a celebrity’s mansion. It was 2010 or 2011 when I was photographing it—the height of the housing-bubble collapse.  There were all of these ridiculous opulent things just sitting there. It looks like there are live green plants by the indoor pool, but they’re actually fake. They’re all wilted, but they’re still bright green.”

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“This room had a gold-paneled ceiling and matching gold curtains. That roll of toilet paper is not staged. I think there was a squatter living at the house.”

Helen made a mug for your soup and tea—check it out!

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AILI

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Monica Ruzansky knows that good things take time—it’s why there was a whole eight-year gap between when she crafted her first piece and when she founded AILI, her line of wear-every-day fine jewelry. “It was definitely not instantaneous,” she recalls. “The idea for the business grew slowly.” It also necessitated a career change.

A professional photographer since the early 2000s, Monica couldn’t quite shake a growing desire to move beyond behind-the-lens observation. Hoping to satisfy her curiosity, the Mexico City native enrolled in a series of jewelry-making classes. And while her intention had been to make only a few delicate creations to wear herself, friends, family members, and a slew of strangers kept asking after her pieces. When the compliments followed Monica to New York—where she moved in 2005—the designer eventually snapped up a vacant spot in a shared studio in Red Hook and, in 2011, decided to commit herself to the trade full-time, making teensy rings, necklaces, and earrings studded with itty-bitty, gleaming gems. “AILI means light in Gaelic. As a photographer, light has always been a source of inspiration,” explains Monica, shedding some, er, light on how her past life still influences her work now. “I feel very much that my job is to reveal what is already so precious in nature. Light is how the world reveals itself to us. It illuminates what we might otherwise miss.” —mattie kahn

ailijewelry.com

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Katie King Keeps Things in the Family

It’s all relative.

Katie King didn’t just name her lighthearted line of sweatshirts Family—she also decided to put the word to work, capturing each of the label’s groupings (families, if you will) on real-live blood relations with the help of her super-creative photog Dan McMahon. And though the line currently only spotlights siblings, Katie hopes to eventually tackle fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, babies, and—brace yourself—pups, too. Here, Katie introduces us to a few of her favorite kindred combos. —alisha prakash


“Eliza and Henry were so fun to shoot because they grew up in Manhattan, so we got to shoot in their parents’ backyard with their family’s cat. There is something about this picture that really captures the feeling of family—or their family, at least.”


“Ruth and Emily in matching tights and boots! I always style the sweatshirts with whatever the siblings come wearing because I want the differences in their style and personality to come through. I thought the fact that they planned their outfits was really cute and telling.”

“Crystal and Maria were the first siblings we shot. They are friends of ours. I knew they would be perfect and that their sweet dynamic would set the tone for the ‘family portraits.’”


“I met Aine and Katrina through a coworker at JF & Son, and I knew their beautiful red hair would be perfect with the colors in the Landscape family. I thought Dan, the photographer, did an amazing job with the location and the colors.”

Katie’s edition comes out tomorrow! (Buying a matching set is optional.) 

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Alyson Fox’s Book of Portraiture

The jewelry designer-slash-photographer makes a case for seeing red.

It could have been a cheesy idea: The Austin-based jewelry designer and overall creative powerhouse wanted to shoot a series of portraits of women wearing red lipstick. But the first 20 thoughtful, subtle, and intimate photographs quickly sold her (and her husband, who told her she was onto something) and eventually led to a book deal from Chronicle Books—the results of which, A Shade of Red, came out last September. Here, a look at the process and some of the images that have made the biggest impression on Alyson.


“I photographed three of my friends [including Amanda, pictured above] just to see what it was going to be like. From there, it spread like wildfire. My friends would get me in touch with their friends, or their grandmas or aunts, and they would lead me to more people. I started this project to become a better photographer. I hadn’t done portraits that much, and most of these women never had their portraits taken. I had a little rule that I didn’t spend longer than an hour and fifteen minutes with every woman.”


“I photographed a hundred and thirty women, and a hundred are in the book. My very favorite is Joy. I think I’m mostly drawn to older women’s portraits in general because there are so many stories to them. You can make an older woman look interesting without even having to try, because they just look so awesome.”


“After the first dozen or so, I really got to thinking about the connotations of lipstick—the way we view identity. That’s where the book took shape. I got a little worried that maybe the book wouldn’t be that interesting. I really wanted just the women’s first names. I wanted it to be pretty mysterious for people. This is Ruby. You can’t tell if she’s about to squeeze that fake bird or not. And that look of hers—it’s silly.”

Alyson’s newest edition would look stellar on any of these women. Score this duo of necklaces while you can.

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The Five Photography Books That ORA Thinks You Should Own

Prepare to make some shelf (or coffee-table?) space for these finds.

Just because she’s busy sourcing metals, custom-casting beads, and hand-braiding her rad bracelets doesn’t mean ORA designer Lanya Snyder has completely forgotten her photography—she studied the art as an undergrad at Bard and took pics for a living before launching her line. To I.D. her aesthetic, Lanya is giving us a tour of the five photobooks that mean the most to her (ones that also happen to pretty up her apartment). Behold, her almost encyclopedic knowledge of them. —jiayi ying

The Last Picture Show by Douglas Fogle: “This is a catalogue for a show that, in my opinion, is one of the most important shows in the past decade or two. Douglas Fogle, who worked at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis at the time, organized this show. He included some early artists who weren’t necessarily known for their photography—they incorporated it into their work. It’s just one of those shows that was really important to me. It encompassed a lot more than just a single artist.”

Double Game by Sophie Calle: Sophie Calle is a French conceptual artist who uses photography as part of her art. A lot of her work is based on fictional characters whose persona she sort of takes on. For this book, she collaborated with this writer named Paul Auster, and took on a character, Maria, from one of his novels. It’s such a beautiful book—but it isn’t just a straight book of photos. It’s a combination of fiction, and she uses photos as evidence for this whole narrative that she’s created. I remember going to a show of her work once and just being completely mesmerized—thinking, ‘Who is this artist? And how much of this is based on her own reality and how much of it is made up?’ I think that’s part of the fun with this book, too, and why it’s called Double Game. There’re so many layers to it.”

Uncommon Places by Stephen Shore: Stephen Shore is one of the most important photographers to me. He lived in New York all his life, and, when he was 23, he drove cross-country with a friend. So while he was in the car, as a passenger, he took pictures of the country with his 8x10 camera. It’s just a really inspirational, seminal work. He’s one of those photographers whose use of composition and colors can make the most banal subject matter—things people would overlook, a building or a mailbox—into a beautiful photograph and work of art. I have the first edition of this book, and every time I look at it, I see something different in his images. It’s one of those books that’s like a Bible to so many young photographers and even to photographers of his generation.”

The Book of 101 Books by various authors: “This was one of the first books dedicated to the history of photobooks in the 20th century. If you go through it, you find all these different photo historians talking about why Robert Frank and Irving Penn, among others, were so important—they cover everything from Richard Avedon, who people in fashion are super into, to pop culture and war photography. It’s filled with really thoughtful essays and compelling arguments, and it shows why photography is a super-dynamic medium.”

Jens F. by Collier Schorr: Collier Schorr is an incredible artist who’s also a photographer. She makes all these beautiful collages of her contact sheets, photos, and drawings. It’s one of those books where it doesn’t feel like you’re flipping through a book of pictures—it feels like every picture is a work of art by itself. But the entire thing is an art in itself, too—every page has handwriting on it in pencil or pen. You feel like you’re working with her. The books are out of an edition of 1000, and every one comes with her signature. I have number 783. It just feels very special.”

See the amazing bracelet set the designer made us. With their tiny gold beads, they are pretty photogenic, if we do say so ourselves.

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ORA

When Lanya Snyder was a teenager, she had a thing for friendship bracelets. But all that braiding and knotting fell by the wayside when, after visiting Arthur Elgort’s studio at sixteen, the Pittsburgh native scored herself a job for the Vogue photographer—and, so enamored with the art, decided to head to Bard to develop her own skills behind the lens. After a few post-college years spent shooting in the fashion and editorial realms, Lanya found herself between projects and back in New York after some time in California. So she reached for the thread and beads again—and, just like in high school, she couldn’t put them down.

Though commercial photography is behind her now, Lanya credits those years of working in dark rooms, dipping prints in chemical after chemical, with showing her the stoichiometry behind creating a product: loading up on the technical first, and mixing it with your own aesthetics later. Most of the bracelets for her line ORA are woven from silk because, unlike cotton, it doesn’t fray, and they feature custom-cast beads in a variety of precious metals because, well, that’s how Lanya likes ‘em. “The idea is that you can share them with your friends, wear them by themselves or as a stack,” she says. “We’re going to do different stones and different shapes soon.” Which is basically just an excuse to pile on a dozen. —jiayi ying

ora-ny.com

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The Photo Genius of Lindsey Thornburg

She can take a pretty picture…and then transform it into something you can wear.

On top of designing rad ponchos and bohemian maxi dresses, Lindsey Thornburg is a rather accomplished photographer. The psychedelic print on the scarf she created for us is actually based on a snapshot she took while on vacation in 2006. This is the story of how it became the ultra-luxe scarf you’ll want to envelop yourself in year-round. —raquel laneri

Get your hands on the stunning and unbelievably soft finished product right over here.


“I took this photo in Idaho, I think. It was a brushfire—they happen a lot in places where there are droughts. But I actually found the photo years later going through a box. I was just doing my second ready-to-wear collection, and it made sense to use it as a print.”


“We scanned the photo into Photoshop and distorted it so you could see the texture—so it would look more pixelated. We then put it into a digital printer and blew it up. Once we started messing around with it, it really looked like heaven and hell, fire meets sky. It looked like a dark angel or something. We made mirror images on either side to make the image more colossal so the fire was in the middle and the sky was on the side.”


“I found this cashmere-modal fabric from an Italian company that makes digital prints. We sent them the blown-up image, and then they printed it onto the cashmere for us. They were awesome—but a little slow. They gave me a little bit of anxiety!”

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Meet Garnett Jewelry

How a big move gave birth to a whole line.

Aimee Munford has a lot on her plate. Besides a full-time job as a buyer at way-cool retailer Need Supply Co. and a bun in the oven, the designer behind Garnett Jewelry has another preoccupation: a massive demand for her delicate, antique-inspired wares.

The former photographer got her jewelry start after she moved to Richmond, Virginia, and found herself at an artistic crossroads. “I didn’t really have access to a darkroom and needed some sort of creative outlet—something that I could do at home at night after work,” she recalls. After making pins out of repurposed items, her need for a hands-on hobby gradually turned into a full-fledged business. And though her designs have evolved, a vintage sensibility still drives Aimee’s aesthetic. “I’ll try to find old stuff so I don’t end up seeing the same exact thing on someone else. I try to keep it as unique as possible,” she shares. But her pieces also have a certain slickness that many retro-centric lines lack. It comes down to a “keep it simple, stupid” approach: “Sometimes I’ll get inspiration from a particular color on a particular fabric—sometimes it’s as raw and simple as that.” —carlye wisel

Score Aimee’s super-rad Of a Kind edition: a trio of painted bracelets so you don’t have to choose a color.

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The Photos that Get Sarah Frances Kuhn Going

These five images make her want to give her camera straps a workout.

With just a few basic classes under her belt, Sarah Frances Kuhn calls herself an amateur photographer. We’re going to go ahead and call her humble. The multi-talented designer behind the line of way-cool camera straps, SFK, has an eye for aesthetics that sometimes earns her gigs as music-video director, and that sensibility, combined with a magpie-like attraction to renaissance men and women like herself, gives her high-functioning accessories an added zing. These are the works and the artists she pays tribute to with her creations. —tamar anitai

These photos make you want to snap some winners yourself? The paisley camera straps that Sarah made just for us will further your mission.


“I love how this photograph, ‘Dancer I’ by Stan Douglas, manages somehow to capture the impossible—the beauty in movement and dance.”


Freddie Mercury is an inspiration, and this shot by Mick Rock emphasizes his mastery of drama.”


“This shows the photographer, Ruth Gruber, herself—I chose it because she looks so stylish! Her own work was incredible. She was the first journalist to travel to the Soviet
Arctic and Siberian Gulag in 1935.”


Maya Deren is best known as a filmmaker, but she was also a choreographer, dancer, poet, writer, and photographer. Her vision was impeccable and forward-thinking. This is a still from her surrealist film, At Land.”


“This image—‘Danseuse-Cancan, Moulin Rouge, Paris, 1931’ by Ilse Bing—truly captures a moment…the polka-dot dress, the spinning. You can hear the music just looking at it.”

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Meet SFK

Sarah Frances Kuhn’s line of utilitarian-but-stylin’ camera straps is picture-perfect.

Before landing a gig as the accessories editor at Teen Vogue, Sarah Frances Kuhn worked as a stylist, a manager at the beloved New York vintage institution Amarcord, and a London correspondent for W. To log pieces that might find their way into upcoming issues, she had a camera on her at all times, and when its strap broke, she crafted her own, crocheting some spare bits of fabric onto a chain for a charmingly loud replacement that had more in common with a statement necklace than the standard-issue nylon camera strap that’s about as nice to look at as a seat belt. Less than two years later, what started as a DIY quick-fix has turned into a living: Now Sarah is at it full-time, and some of the components of SFK, her line of made-by-hand leather, fabric, and chain camera straps, are named for the sorts of people who use them, like Tommy Ton, Susie Bubble, Garance Doré, and Taylor Tomasi Hill.

Given that Sarah lived in Nashville, Boston, Jerusalem, and London before settling down in Brooklyn, it’s only fitting that she weaves together a serendipitously sourced kaleidoscope of found fabrics and trim—some camo here, say, and some metallic rainbow leather there. And it’s even more appropriate that the girl who says she lives a little like a gypsy and feels more than a little comfortable bopping from place to place has seen her handmade creations pop up everywhere from South America to Kuwait on photographers with wanderlust of their own. —tamar anitai

You’re going to want to get a load of Sarah’s edition: These paisley camera straps are chic as all hell.

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