Social Justice Artist


Tonika confronts The New York Times

On September 5, 2020, The New York Times published “The Great Divide” – the latest entry in their “The America We Need” Times Opinion series – which examined neighborhoods on Chicago’s North Side and South Side and the enormous disparities in wealth and health that have emerged between them as a result of racist policies like redlining that began in the early 20th century. They hired well-known and highly regarded Magnum Photos’ photographer, Alec Soth to photograph the assignment. Also on September 5th, Tonika Johnson was notified by several people on social media about NYT times photo essay and how they initially thought it was an article about her Folded Map project but it appreared to them and Tonika to be plaigairsm. Tonika went to Twitter to call NYT & Alec Soth out for infringement and journalistic negligence. Social Media criticism from Tonika’s supporters and others prompted Alec Soth to post an apology to Tonika on Instagram saying, “Her work is an example of long-term committed work that is precisely what the world needs right now. What it doesn’t need is photographers parachuting into complex situations.” Soth further donated his assignment fee of $1500 to The Folded Map.

In Tonika’s public response to Soth, she wrote, “I would never accept a job to document segregation in another location WITHOUT researching to find related work about and/or by the locals. It’s evident you nor @nytimes did neither otherwise Alec, you would have easily found out about my work with one google search…” Further, Johnson stated, “Hopefully, this can be transformed into a teachable moment, an example of what’s required to begin rectifying inequity and unfairness in our country.”

The NYT added an editor’s note to its piece, stating, “After publication of this photo essay, Times Opinion photo editors were alerted to Tonika Lewis Johnson’s work, which also addresses segregation and inequality in Chicago. We encourage readers to learn more about Ms. Johnson’s Folded Map project here.”

The following are links to the NYT article, Tonika’s Twitter post, Alec Soth’s IG post :


Sept. 5, 2020 - The New York TImes' photo essay by Alec Soth.

Sept. 9. 2020 - The Art Newspaper published the first article covering The New York Times and Alec Soth controvery. Here is the link to the full article:

Sept. 9, 2020 - PhotoShelter Photography blog discusses Tonika's accusation that The New York Times stole her Folded Map project for their photo essay. Click to listen. The following is a link to their post:

Sept. 15, 2020 - The Gateway Journalism Review wrote a detailed piece about Tonika's controversy with The New York Times & Alec Soth. Click the following link to read the full story:

Sept. 5, 2020 - Tonika's Twitter Response about the NYT article.
Link to tweet here:

Sept. 6, 2020 -Alec Soth's Instagram apology to Tonika.
Clink link to see Alec's post :

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