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Lewis Morley (1925 – 2013)

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Lewis Morley, one half of an iconic spread, is dead, aged 88.

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It is often said that the pill and Lady Chatterley’s Love made the permissive society. Alas, the sexual revolution also got its fair share of help from indiscretions of John Profumo, a Tory government minister, for no matter what unflappable judges declared over the previous decade, the Profumo Affair proved otherwise with its steamy reveals about the lives of stiff-upper-lipped establishment types.

While it was a more forgiving age where even the most public of individuals — from Edward VIII to John Kennedy to Labour’s own leader Hugh Gaitskell — could rely on the press to overlook their indiscretions, it was Profumo’s misfortune to become entangled with a call girl named Christine Keeler, who might be also seeing a Russian spy. Revealed alongside were salacious tales of demimondaine brothels, lavish parties, two-way mirrors, and rumors about a naked, masked, and illustrious male “host” whose identity was never revealed. It was a watershed moment for both the British politics and British political reporting.

Ms. Keeler posed famously for Lewis Morley, a famed chronicler of the Swinging Sixties. Morley cleared the studio and turned his back so that Keeler could undress, suggesting she sit astride the chair so the back would shield her. As the 30-minute shoot which burnt up 120 rolls of film was coming to end, Morley turned away, only to notice Keeler “in a perfect position”. The most amours photo was literally the last shot

Morley did not have fond memories of the day. “I never found her sexy,” he said. “She reminded me too much of Vera Lynn!” And as he came to resent its overshadowing of his other work, he called it “that fucking Keeler shot” and parodied it by photographing himself in the same pose with a millstone around his neck. He however signed the chair — a thinly-masked Arne Jacobsen copy — and sold it to the V&A while the National Portrait Gallery bought all original photos.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

California Trip | Dennis Stock

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Past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. From my stuffy desk, no past seems more foreign and different than the one lived by my parents and many of their compatriots: counter-culture of the 1960s, cobblestone-hurling revolts that rocked many Western democracies, hippies hitchhiking from Europe to India, across places like Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan. Alien lands indeed.

In 1968, Dennis Stock made an equally surreal journey. Stock, an esteemed photographer of jazz music scene, travelled across California at the height of hippie culture and free love. The resulting book, knowingly named California Trip, was “an ode to liberty”, and no photo encapsulated this zeitgeist more than the above photo taken at Venice Beach Rock Festival, which graced the cover of Reporters Without Borders’ 25th anniversary book.

In his contact sheets, you can see the spontaneity. When an unknown girl, her hands lilting and writhing, jumped in front of Stock’s lens, he took only four photos, but the moment’s lyrical energy and joie de vivre shine through the negatives. Stock remembers his trip: “I was attracted by the hippie movement, that was defined by two main principles: caring about others, and a taste for adventure. My pictures of hippies are about the search of a better life. I was drawn by what they tried to achieve. The hippy instinct was countercultural, it said ‘Let’s try to go back to basics’. Hippydom, in a sense, is a return of teenage rebellion, a new, stronger rebellion. Each one of us has a period of rebellion at a certain moment of their lives.”

In a later interview, he added: “Every idea that Western man explores in his pursuit of the best of all possible worlds will be searched at the head lab -California. Technological and spiritual quests vibrate throughout the state, intermingling, often creating the ethereal. It is from this freewheeling potpourri of search that the momentary ensembles in space spring, presenting to the photographer his surrealistic image. However, to the Californians it is all so ordinary, almost mundane. The sensibility of these conditioned victims is where it is all at, right, left, up and down. Our future is being determined in the lab out West. There, a recent trip blew my mind across this state of being, as I collected images along the way to remember the transient quality of the Big Trip.”

[Interviews are transcipted from the Independent].

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 31, 2013 at 6:21 pm

A Llama in Times Square | Inge Morath

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It was one of the more playful spreads in Life magazine. In its December 2, 1957 issue, the magazine featured a one-page story, humorously titled ‘High-paid llama in big city’. The story covered different television animals—from dogs and cats to a kangaroo and a miniature bull—but its highlight was Linda the Llama, as photographed by Inge Morath.

The caption read the llama was enroute to make a television appearance, but Morath recalled differently in her notes: “Linda, the Lama [sic] rides home via Broadway. She is just coming home from a television show in New York’s A.B.C. studios and now takes a relaxed and long-necked look at the lights of one of the world’s most famous streets.” Her contact sheets showed that Morath was already photographing the llama inside the studio, and the Inge Morath Foundation suggests the photographer might have acquainted herself with the llama and the trainer at least a year ahead of their photo-session.

The photo is undoubtedly one of the most famous photos by Inge Morath, one of the greatest photographers of her generation, and a typical one for her too. Her photographs were often surreal – Chinese soldiers climbing a large statue of Buddha, a driver with a poodle on his passenger seat, frantically dancing girls from Iraq to Iberia – a whimsy shaped by her experiences growing up in Austria during and after the Second World War: “Everyone was dead or half dead. I walked by dead horses, women with dead babies in their arms. I can’t photograph war for this reason.”

After the war, she worked for the Picture Post in London and Magnum in Paris, where she was an assistant to ever-demanding Henri Cartier-Bresson. She travelled to Iran for Holiday magazine sporting the traditional chador and traversing the vast country alone most of the time. In 1956 – a year before she took the llama photo – Morath came to New York for the first time, although her arrival did not go smoothly. At the height of the Red Scare, she was detained at the airport for carrying a book published by a leftish bookshop. Later, she settled in America, marrying the playwright Arthur Miller, whom she met on the set of The Misfits, whilst she was covering his first wife, Marilyn Monroe.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Contact Sheets, Culture

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24 Years After Tiananmen

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Iconic Photos’ annual look-back at a nasty and brutish affair.

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June 5th is upon us again. In 1989, the Communist government in Beijing marred the date with a brutal and bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters gathered on Tiananmen Square.

Last year, I marked the occasion by an interview with Charlie Cole, the photographer who took one of the iconic Tank Man photos. The year before, I remarked upon the Zeligian appearance of a former Chinese prime minister in one of the photos taken on the square. In 2009, I covered various versions of the Tank Man photos. In between, we saw the defacing of the Mao portrait during the protests and a defiant Ai Wei Wei. A profound irony is they cannot access WordPress from China, so I remain, as always, preaching to the choir.

Above is the contact sheet from Stuart Franklin’s version of the Tank Man photos.  His photos nearly risked confiscation by the Chinese police, but Franklin had left moments earlier to cover events at the Beijing University before the police came knocking on the journalists’ hotel. Afterwards his negatives were smuggled out in a packet of tea by a French student who later delivered it to Franklin’s Parisian office. Franklin, working then for Time, won the World Press Photo Award for his coverage.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm

On Photos and Politics in Pakistan

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The photo seems innocuous enough. For the Gerald Ford Presidential Library, it is not important enough even to have a larger picture than this contact sheet by Bill Fitz-Patrick, the White House photographer. But a world away, it was big news; on the streets of Pakistan it fueled protests.

It showed Nusrat Bhutto, the wife of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, wearing a sleeveless blouse and dancing with President Ford during a White House state dinner in 1975. On the streets of Lahore and Karachi, the anti-Bhutto demonstrators waved the photocopies of American magazines bearing the photos to prove that the Bhuttos were not “good Muslims”. In Lahore and Karachi, the crowds chanted, “Bhutto is a Hindu, Bhutto is a Jew.”

In the hindsight, a disturbingly volatile country was in the making even then. Amidst the accusations and counter-accusations of vote-rigging were the attempts to incite religious and racial divisions. The women policemen were labelled prostitutes in a series of protests marked by virulent anti-woman propaganda, also targeted towards Zulfikar’s wife and later his daughter Benazir. He was finally deposed in a military coup in 1977 and hanged after a show trial two years later.

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On 16 December 1977, when Nusrat showed up to a test match at Lahore’s Gaddafi stadium, her supporters cried: “Long live Bhutto!”. In the ensuing uproar between pro- and anti-Bhutto fractions, the military police severely beat her; her head injuries required tweleve stitches and the photo of her injured face was headlines news again. From this moment on, the military government had kept her under house arrest for the remainder of Zulfikar’s trial, and secretly hanged him hours before the scheduled time, so that Nusrat would not be present at the execution. She lived on to see a Bhutto return to the premiership in the person of her daughter Benazir, but also saw Benazir’s assassination in 2007.

Pakistan is a different place now; the fast-growing country briefly seen in the 60s and the 70s as India and China languished had disappeared under a series of economic mismanagement and military coups. Even Benezir Bhutto seems to reject those urbane days now. In an interview with the Guardian’s Ian Jack, the late politician confidently proclaimed, “Good Muslim girls don’t dance with foreign men,” and explained that the President had breached the diplomatic protocol, and put her mother in a difficult position by asking for a dance. Her father did not ask Betty Ford’s hand for the dance, she noted.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 4, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Posted in Contact Sheets, Politics

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Boy Destroying Piano | Phillip Jones Griffiths

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A good photo is always a visual feast, but it often takes a great photo to make you hear the music, smell the scents, and live the events. One such photo is featured above. Taken in 1961, Phillip Jones Griffiths’ photo draws you in, inviting you to a place where you can see the immediate future and almost hear one final discordant groan of that destroyed piano as the rock hits it. Jones Griffiths remembers:

This young boy epitomizes our Welsh ambivalent love for both rugby and music. This place, Pant-y-Waen, was once, in the 1930s, voted the most Beautiful Village in South Wales, but it has long since been obliterated by opencast mining. When I asked what he was doing, he replied, “My mother gave it to me to mend”.

Jones Griffiths perhaps saw in this wanton act of destruction a metaphor for what had happened to his Welsh homeland. Born in 1936, in a rural Northern Welsh town of Rhuddan, he was imbued with a deep love for Wales, but grew up in an era of shattered dreams in Wales and abroad; by the time he started taking photos for local weddings, Picture Post was publishing gritty, gloomy photos of post-war, post-depression England, courtesy of Bill Brandt, Bert Hardy, and George Rodger. Jones Griffiths signed up to show a changed Wales. He would eventually make his name in Vietnam, depicting war in an equally gritty and humane way.

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 [His contact sheets show the playground, the several shots of kids walking towards the piano, and the aftermath.]

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 26, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Follow-Up: Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bathtub

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To recap: Lee Miller was covering WWII for Vogue, and working alongside David E. Scherman, a Life staffer. Scherman took the above photo of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s house in Munich — the house where Mr. Chamberlain signed away Czechoslovakia six long years earlier. The photo was taken on the night after the duo visited Dachau, on April 30, 1945 — earlier in the day, Hitler had committed suicide in Berlin.

As far as contact sheets are concerned, there isn’t any. There is also a missing shot from this series, which allegedly shows Miller undressing/getting into the tub, and which was burnt in the darkroom. [Anthony Spencer has tried to recreate it in “It cries itself to sleep” (1973)]. Scherman slept in Hitler’s bed; Miller had her picture taken at the Führer’s desk. It is believed that there was also a similar photograph with the roles reversed: Scherman as the subject, and Miller as the photographer.

Now there is a new better Lee Miller online archive. These new unpublished shots at Hitler’s house do not clear any of the mysteries above, but some of these archival images were never before seen. Termed NSBs (Never Seen Befores) on the website, they are all very interesting though. Go and check them out.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Contact Sheets, War

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Nicaragua | Susan Meiselas

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In 1978, as violence and revolution gripped Nicaragua, Susan Meiselas traveled there to document the fall of the stifling Somoza regime there. She took many powerful images of the Sandinistas revolt, including the photo later came to be known as ‘The Molotov Man’. Unlike her other photos from Nicaragua, the photo above was not published anywhere at the time, but only reproduced in her book, emphatically named, “Nicaragua: June, 1978-July, 1979″, which is considered to be one of the best photojournalistic works.

The photo was taken on July 16, 1979, the day before Anastasio Somoza Debayle, the last of the Somozas who had ruled Nicaragua since 1936; a Sandinistas rebel — later revealed to be a man named Pablo Arauz) was throwing a bomb at a Somoza national guard garrison — an image made all the more ironic by the pepsi-cola bottle he had appropriated to hurl at the nepotist regime long-supported by the United States. In the end, the Somoza-Sandinistas conflict left 40,000 people dead (1.5 percent of the population); 40,000 children orphaned; and over 200,000 families (one fifth of the population) homeless. Another hauntingly beautiful Meiselas photo show the smoke rising from the city of Esteli as a Somaza bomber departs the scene like some silhouetted cormorant.

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As for The Molotov Man, it would later play a crucial role in a copyrights debate. In 2004, Joy Garnett, an appropriation artist based one of her paintings on the photo. Meiselas issued a cease and desist letter and demanded rights to the painting. Viral internet outrage followed; and two years later, two artists reached a compromise, appearing jointly at a fair-use symposium and penning together an article on the whole controversy in Harper’s (pdf).

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 3, 2013 at 8:53 am

Dany le Rouge | Gilles Caron

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The upheavals of 1968, which at its peak sent eleven million Frenchmen and women into the streets began quite mundanely in Nanterre, the dreary Parisian suburb which was slowly evolving into a demimonde of student radicals, drug-sellers, and squatters.

The demonstrations began after an eviction of a squatter and disciplinary measures against a student Daniel Cohn-Bendit that January. The latter had provoked a minister visiting to open a new sports hall by asking why the Education Ministry was doing nothing to address “‘sexual problems” in the universities (his demand was that boys and girls should be able to sleep together).  The Minister suggested that if Cohn-Bendit had sexual problems, he should jump into the new swimming pool. ‘That is what the Hitler Youth used to pay’, replied the part-German Cohn-Bendit.

Gradually, with further demonstrations, attacks, and arrests, a movement was formed with Cohn-Bendit among its its leaders. When the Nantrerre campus was finally closed down, the movement shifted to the central Paris, a revolution unfolded through the historic boulevards of Left Bank. Here, in front of the Sorbonne, Dany le Rouge as he became known, more for his flaming hair than for his politics which were more anarchist than communist was photographed confronted the riot police with an elfin grin.

The photo by Gilles Caron (who had just returned from Biafra) was just one among many iconic photos from that May. Enormously telegenic, politically-savvy, and articulate were the student leaders, all conspicuously male. In photos and newsreels, girls could be seen on the shoulders of their boyfriends, but as historian Tony Judt put it, ‘they were at best the auxiliary foot soldiers of the student army’.

For all psychological impact it would later claim, the events of May 1968 were far from pivotal. The movement mimicked the style and the props of revolutions past, but their demands never strayed from their parochial beginnings, and unlike earlier tumults, no senior official of the state nor its institutions were assaulted or denounced.  No students were killed, perhaps telling sign in a country where its army mainly composed of provincial lads was all too happy to crack a few heads in such a Club Med affair. The French Communists, which awaited its moment from the sidelines, delivered the movement’s eulogy, “This was a party, not a revolution”.

As for the man who started all this, Daniel Cohn-Bendit was expelled from France that May, and went on to become a respected politician in Frankfurt, and eventually a Green Party representative for the European parliament.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Nuba Wrestlers | George Rodger

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In 1947, the same year he co-founded Magnum, George Rodger off across Africa on an assignment for National Geographic. While travelling in the Kordofan region of the Sudan, Rodger and his wife Cicely learnt of the Nubas, a people who lived as their ancestors had lived millennia before.

Rodger was granted permission by the Sudanese government to document the tribe. Fording rivers, skirting herds of elephants, and crossing a treacherous bush trail, he finally reached the Nuba Mountains in 1949, becoming the first ever Westerner to photograph the Nubas’ rituals and way of life. For six weeks, communicating only with their hands and smiles, the couple lived among the tribesmen.

His contact sheets show how he and Cicely carefully posed the tribesmen and women, but his most remembered photos were of simultaneous athletic events, tribal ceremonies and dances; his iconic image from the assignment was that of a victorious Nuba wrestler, ashen, ghostlike, naked and invincible astride the shoulders of another man. It had been reproduced everywhere from postcards and posters to textbooks. For many years, it was a definitive portrait of Africa.

When the photos first appeared in National Geographic in 1952, they caused a sensation, even after the magazine had order its photo-department to generously airbrush out exposed male genitalia and blood stains from wrestling matches. Three years later, the photos were published in Le Village de Noubas, an instant classic.

For Rodger, who took on the assignment to escape the devastation in Europe he saw at the end of the war, it marked the end of a emotional period. His wife Cicely died not soon afterwards in childbirth. In a melancholic short recollection of that trip, Farewell to the Nubas, Rodger wrote: ‘Although we had already trekked through 20,000 miles of tribal Africa, it was not until Kordofan that we found real peace and tranquillity. It seemed the good nature of the Nubas was contagious . . . it affected also the Baggara Arabs who grazed their herds in the flatlands below the jebels (hills). Nubas and Arabs lived contentedly side-by-side.’

This Kordofan and this comity Rodger saw is no more. But that is the story for another post.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Kitchen Debate | Elliott Erwitt

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I have previously written about the Kitchen Debate, an iconic moment in both television and photographic history. In documentary Contacts, Elliott Erwitt, the photographer of the most famous image of the Kitchen Debate remembers how events unfolded.

The time is 1959. The scene is the American Industrial Fair in Moscow. The characters are the vice president of United States who plans to run for president and the chief of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev. The situation is massive crowds and bedlam as two politicians will from exhibit to exhibit, Nixon boasting about American accomplishments and Khrushchev fielding the gibes and then joining into the asinine argument.

By sheer luck, I guessed correctly where they would turn up next: which was at a display of a modern kitchen behind a barrier. I rushed to it to have an unobstructed view as they approached the rail. Luck was with me. With a direct view and no one to  push and shove, I circumnavigated Nixon and Khrushchev, finding my best range. From then on, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

But how pictures can lie. The illusion is one of Nixon standing up to the Soviets, where the reality is an argument about cabbage soup versus red meat.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Che Guevara | Rene Burri

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Iconic Photos continues its trek into the world of contact sheets. 

A minor mission of a site such as Iconic Photos is to educate its readers; accordingly, we have written about various aspects of photography, from its master practitioners to its use and abuse to lately, a year-long look at contact sheets. Many, including great photographers, believe contact sheets reveal more about a situation than an individual frame.

But, to coin a phrase, everything lies. Even photographs. Even contact sheets.

Look closely at the following contact sheet by René Burri, featuring a famous photo of Che Guevara. At the first glance, it seems to be single sequence but it is, in fact, a composite of different negatives from different cameras using different lenses.

Each week at the Magnum offices in Paris, Henri Cartier-Bresson would review the contact sheets submitted by younger photographers returning from assignments. It was a daunting experience, not least because Cartier-Bresson had a peculiar way of critiquing, where he would rotate the contact sheet slowly, looking at it upside down and from all possible angles, studying the composition and scrutinizing the content.

René Burri realized that with Che’s pictures, the critique would be more incisive than ever (Cartier-Bresson himself was in Cuba for a Life assignment simultaneously with Burri, but was denied closer access to Che). Burri wanted to make sure that he didn’t miss a shot. He went on the assignment with three cameras, and submitted to his mentor a composite contact sheet. It was unclear whether Mr. Cartier-Bresson caught this sleight of hand.

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In a Guardian interview from 2010, Mr. Burri remembers visiting Havana:

Laura Bergquist, a star reporter with Look magazine, had met Che Guevara at the UN in October 1962, after the Cuban missile crisis. She bugged him so much that he told her: “If you get permission from the CIA or the Pentagon, you are invited to Cuba, and I will show you what is really going on.” She got the green light from the Americans – and I went with her.

We arrived at Che’s office on the eighth floor of the Hotel Riviera in Havana. At that time he was the number-two man in Cuba – he was the minister for industry, and director of the Banco Nacional. His face was on the two peso note. I saw the blinds were drawn and, after we were introduced, I asked him in French: “Che, can I open the blinds? I need some light.” But he said no. I thought, well, it’s your face, not mine.

Immediately, Bergquist and Che started a furious ideological dogfight. She had to take back a story for the Americans, who were still angry about the revolution, and he was trying to convince her that what happened had to happen. For two and a half hours I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front. I used up eight rolls of film. He didn’t look at me once, he was so engaged with trying to convince her with maps and graphs. She was a chain-smoker, and he occasionally lit up one of his cigars.

We went back to New York, and Look ran a 16- or 20-page story. This picture was only an eighth of a page. It certainly wasn’t a photo essay, like the one Henri Cartier-Bresson did for Life magazine at the same time. He was in town with us, but only got to shoot Che at a press conference.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 21, 2012 at 10:00 pm

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