Photo Essays That Tell a Story | The Sun Magazine
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Photo Essays That Tell a Story

Selections from the Archive

By Derek Askey • April 29, 2024

It wasn’t long after we chose “Yard Sales” as a Readers Write topic that our photo editor, Rachel J. Elliott, began talking excitedly—she talks excitedly about lots of things, but this especially so—about the perfect photo essay to accompany the section: Gloria Baker Feinstein’s “Estate Sale.” Feinstein photographed visitors to her family’s estate sale with the items they’d purchased: an oversized deck of playing cards, a smiley-face cookie jar, a goose-shaped lamp. At least, I think it’s a lamp. The chosen objects tell a story, but for me the bemused and sometimes joyful expressions on the faces of their new owners are the real draw.

We’re always happy when a photo pairs nicely with a piece of writing, and particularly when a whole photo essay can complement other work in the magazine. We’ve printed quite a few over the years. Below is a selection of photo essays to scroll through after you’ve read some of the pieces in our April issue.

Take care and read well,
Derek Askey, Associate Editor

Technology and The Sun have always been somewhat uneasy partners, and “Down in the Valley,” Finn Cohen’s interview with author and programmer Wendy Liu is no exception. Once you’ve finished their conversation about the tech industry’s power to divide us, you might also appreciate Gianpaolo La Paglia’s photo essay “Our Own Devices.” (I bet you can guess the devices to which the title is referring.)

Four people stand near a storefront on a city sidewalk and each one is looking down and interacting with their phone.

© Gianpaolo La Paglia


Our Own Devices

After a few failed attempts to have conversations with friends who could not keep their eyes off their screens for more than ten minutes, I began taking photographs of people lost inside their phones. They weren’t hard to find, whether I was in New York City or Amsterdam, Dublin or New Delhi. Wherever I traveled, the devices were a consistent presence, a tool people use in nearly every aspect of their lives. I felt as if I was witnessing a global addiction.

—Gianpaolo La Paglia

Photographer Gianpaolo La PagliaMarch 2019

Reading Leath Tonino’s “The Peaceful Circle—Year in a Wild Marsh,” a collection of viewer comments on a YouTube video, might leave you wishing you could feast your eyes on such a pristine piece of nature. Since the video was made up for the piece, however, you might try Marc Toso’s “Ancient Skies” photo essay, “the result of countless hours he has spent roaming the desert after dark with only a headlamp or the moon to light his way.”

The photo titled “Ancient Nights: Night Hunt” shows Anasazi petroglyphs on the side of a cliff in the foreground against a starry night sky. The petroglyphs are of hunters with bows and arrows surrounded by a herd of large animals.

© Marc Toso


Ancient Skies

Photographer Marc Toso has been exploring remote areas of the Southwest ever since he left Pennsylvania to go to college in New Mexico more than two decades ago. Toso uses long camera exposures to capture his spectacular images of nocturnal skies, often doing push-ups or squats to stay warm as he waits. Ruins and petroglyphs—mysterious images left in stone by early human cultures—are visible in the foreground of many of his images. The combination of ancient art, elemental desert landscapes, and star-filled skies helps create the sense that, as Toso says, “we are but momentary flashes of awareness on a tiny ball in a vast universe.”


Photographer Marc TosoJune 2016

In her essay “Surrogates,” Jennifer Bowen describes adopting a “skinny, despondent dog with the face of a greyhound, the body of a Lab, and the neck of a giraffe” from an animal shelter. Practically every staff member at The Sun is an animal lover—if you ever see me in person, be sure to ask me about my dog, Bosco, the apple of my eye—and it’s a subject we’ve covered with some frequency in the magazine. Part of that coverage included Mark Ross’s photo essay “Animal Shelter,” in which he “wanted to convey [the animals’] unique personalities as well as their loneliness and fear.”

A black cat stares at the camera through the bars of its cage at a shelter. The cat is lying down and its two front white paws are sticking out through the bars and crossed.

© Mark Ross


Animal Shelter

I have always admired companion animals, and several years ago I decided to volunteer at a shelter in New York City. By law the animals there had to be killed if they were not adopted within a short period of time. So I started taking photographs of the animals and posting them on social media. Almost immediately the adoption rate at the shelter increased. These beautiful, abandoned creatures deserve to live out their lives in loving homes.

—Mark Ross

Photographer Mark RossMay 2017

Chelsea Bowlby’s short story “Bridge Kid” describes a chaotic scene at a new acquaintance’s house, where a “group of kids lounged in the living room, and in the corner a couple under a blanket appeared to be having vigorous sex” and apparently unaccompanied children are told to “get some bread and go the fuck back to bed.” The story reminded me of the reaction to Alain Laboile’s photo essay of his children, “Where the Wild Things Are,” in which “schedules are flexible, rules are few, and clothing is optional.” One reader wrote “the conditions they live in are alarming.” Take a look and judge for yourself.

A young boy with his eyes closed and hands behind his head is stretched across an inner tube floating on the water and tethered to a rope his laughing younger sister has hold of. Another sister is stretched on top of him face down and crosswise.

© Alain Laboile


Where the Wild Things Are

Trained as a sculptor, Alain Laboile first picked up a camera to take pictures of his whimsical sculptures of animals and insects, but after the birth of his fifth child, he began to focus the lens on his growing family at home. He and his wife, Anne, now have six children—four girls and two boys—and are raising them in a remote region of France. Laboile says his desire to document his children’s daily lives may have been inspired by the fact that he possesses only a single photo of himself from his own childhood. Many of his pictures show the children at play in the surrounding countryside, which they are encouraged to explore unsupervised. There isn’t a television to be found on the property, but there are plenty of wild creatures.



Photographer Alain LaboileFebruary 2016
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