Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category
This blog has never covered the photos of Ansel Adams before, but as I walked this week in Provence in the shadows of Mount Sainte-Victoire and Pénitents des Mées, I thought long and hard about Ansel’s astonishing career.
His photos, ranging from the Yosemite waterfalls in California and the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, sang the ballads of American wilderness. Both via his majestic black and white photos and tireless campaigns, Ansel had revitalized the Sierra Club. Here, his son, Michael, recalls a trip he took with his father — then on an assignment from the Department of the Interior — a trip on which Ansel Adams captured one of his most famous pictures, that of “the expansive heavens stretching above the cemetery of a tiny Western town” in Hernedez, New Mexico:
[It is] probably Ansel’s most famous picture. And I was very fortunate to be there when it was taken. I was seven years old. We were coming back to Santa Fe from north, and Ansel saw this image. He pulled the car off the road very rapidly, got out — got us — there were two of us also with him, and we were trying to get the tripod, and he got the camera on it, and he had made the — looked at the picture and then he wanted his exposure meter, but he couldn’t find it. So, he knew that the luminance of the moon was 250 foot-candles, and from that, he derived the exposure. He took that picture, put the slide back in the film holder, turned the film holder around. Before he could pull the slide to take a second one, all the light in the foreground was gone! …
If you look at the plain image, just the straight image of this, and then you look at this final print, there’s a huge difference, and this was part of Ansel’s magic is what he could do in the darkroom.”
Indeed, the later images had a darker sky than earlier prints. Alas, the photo was so wildly popular that Adams made hundreds of prints of it, and its copies came up for auction so often that dealers and collectors used its prices as an informal benchmark to indicate the strength of the photography prints market in the 1970s. It also inspired a cottage industry among astronomers to determine when exactly the photo was taken (using the moon’s position) for Adams rarely recorded exact dates for his images. Their verdict? : around 5 p.m., one late October/early November day in 1941.
[Footnote: Adams himself had given varying backstories to how he came about to capture the scene in his many photobooks.]
The performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly in Chicago’s Civic Opera House on the night of November 17th 1955 was an unscheduled one. After two rapturous performances, the great soprano Maria Callas was asked to give one final show, and it was a triumph. But the real drama came only when the opera was over. U.S. Marshal Stanley Pringle (foreground in photo above) and Deputy Sheriff Dan Smith burst into Callas’s dressing room and served her with court summons for a breach of contract. Callas, still in titular Cio-Cio-San’s kimono, was furious; she proclaimed, “I will not be sued! I have the voice of an angel! No man can sue me.”
The moment was immortalized in an iconic photo of Callas, her black eyes aflare with hatred, her mouth curled up with fury. The press dubbed her “The Tigress” from that day onward. She vowed never to return to Chicago. This was just one of many melodramatic episodes for La Callas, who lived an operatic life both on- and off-stage. Born to Greek immigrant parents in New York City, Callas possessed a vocal range that made possible the revival of 19th-century bel canto works, and changed the operatic repertoire for generations to come.
But frequently ill (probably due to her earlier rapid weightloss), Callas had disputes and lawsuits with many a grand operatic stage. On the opening night of Rome season in 1958, she famously walked off after the first act of Bellini’s Norma; the temperamental diva had no understudy and left the President of Italy and most of Rome’s high society in attendance shocked and outraged, for which she was savaged in the Italian press. *
Her career was slowly declining by then; her imperial stature meant that she was still enthusiastically welcomed by the audience, but she herself knew her voice was faltering. After a less-than-adequate season in 1964, she abandoned her signature role of Norma. The next year, she gave up a more relaxing role in Tosca for good. Her last tour after a long retirement in 1973 was not critically well-received. Afterwards, holed up in her Paris apartment, she would spend many a sleepless night with her old recordings, listening to the Voice that had now left her, and died a loner four years later, unable to forgive the world that had forgotten her. She was 53.
* Typo corrected. I got more emails and DM tweets for this than any other grammar mistake or malapropism I used on this blog in last three years.
Although her career was eclectic (as we shall see in coming posts), Eve Arnold is now popularly remembered for her close association with two of last century’s greatest actresses: Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe. Although she had been collaborating with the latter for a decade, her best images of Marilyn Monroe came towards its end, at the set of the film The Misfits during the summer of 1960. In what would be her last screen appearance, Monroe gave her best performance playing a vulnerable divorcee juggling the affection of three men, and posed for the most revealing and poignant photos for Arnold as her marriage to playwright behind The Misfits, Arthur Miller was slowly crumbling.
Meanwhile, Nevada acted as the perfect backdrop to this drama. Four years earlier, Miller divorced his first wife in Reno, then on the verge of losing its crown as a divorce and gambling metropolis to Las Vegas. There, he encountered the titular “misfit” cowboys, whom he turned into a short story in Esquire now being filmed by John Huston.
The Misfits was perhaps unique in attracting many great photojournalists to its set. Magnum was given exclusive access to photograph the production, and the prolonged production — plagued by the sizzling Nevadan heat, Monroe’s temperament, Huston’s drink and gambling addictions, and Miller’s constant revisions to the script meant many great names in photojournalism of the last century managed to make it to the desert at one time or another during its four-month shoot.
If you look at photographs taken by such figures as Cornel Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, Elliott Erwitt, Ernst Haas, Erich Hartman, Inge Morath, and Dennis Stock of poker games, slot machines, roulette tables, and showgirls in Las Vegas, Reno, Carson City and its environs, all of them bore that inevitable date, 1961.
The film’s other lead, Clark Gable died of a heart attack just twelve days after shooting his exhausting final scenes being dragged around by a horse. Monroe divorced from Miller even before the film came out; she died less than two years later. Soon afterwards, Miller married Inge Morath whom he met on the set.
In my previous post, I wrote how the Kordofan and the Nuba that Rodger visited is no more. Arabs and Nuba no longer live as happy neighbours. Directly or indirectly, Rodger’s photos played a minor role.
Among many admirers of Rodger’s photos was Leni Riefenstahl, who had already been infamous for two films she made for Hitler when she was still in her early 30s. For a film project she was planning, Riefenstahl had offered Rodger £1,000 to tell her where he had found the Nuba. With the memories of Belsen-Bergen still fresh in his mind, Rodger refused, but she embarked on the project anyway, which left Rodger extremely bitter.
In Farewell to the Nubas he wrote: “The gradual deterioration of the Nuba tribes began with the publication of Leni Riefenstahl’s glossy and misleading books in glaring colour which attracted tourists and travel operators to the area. In their seclusion, the million or so Nuba people might have remained unmolested by the world. But revealed in coffee-table books in their uncircumcised nudity, that was more than the Islamic fundamentalists could accept.”
Nevertheless, a note on the dustjacket of Riefenstahl’s first book, The Last of The Nuba (1973) credits Rodger’s work for inspiring her: “The author was so fascinated by this photograph taken by the famous English photographer George Rodger [he was a Scot] that for years she tried to find the Nuba in order to study the life of these primitive people.” A personal note followed: “Without the influence of your picture . . . this book would be never [sic] printed. Now we both are friends of ‘our’ Nuba People.”
This dedication further enraged Rodger: “There is an awful lot of tongue-in-cheek in that because I did not help her at all. Mind you, I think her pictures were very highly professional. They were certainly good pictures but there was no warmth in them. My pictures were very much part of the family and the people themselves.” This criticism was shared by Susan Sontag. In her 1974 essay Fascinating Fascism, Sontag wrote that the Nuba photos were “continuous with her Nazi work”.
Unhappily, Riefenstahl’s portrayal of Nuba lifestyle certainly opened up Kordofan to anthropologists, photographers, and documentary filmmakers. It also provoked a clampdown by Sudan’s predominantly Muslim authorities, for whom the Nuba way of life was either an embarrassment or an affront to their religious sensibilities. Successive governments in Khartoum have tried to clothe the Nuba and do away with their ‘primitive’ ways. They also accused the Nuba of supporting the southern Sudanese rebels, and supported the Baggara — whose nomadic lifestyle has been battered by years of drought and the growth of mechanised farming which has taken over vast tracts of land — with arms to take over the fertile Nuba villages.
On the cover of American Prospect, Joel Sternfeld’s ode to roadside America, was a ghoulish photo. A fireman shops for a pumpkin as the farmhouse — whose fire presumably brought him to this very acres — burns in the background. Its fiery destruction perfectly complemented the wintry leaves, the spoilt pumpkins, and from the foreground, with his hands tightly clasped upon a prized possession, the orange-clad firefighter: an American Nero.
It was not a staged Leibovitzian spectacle. Joel Sternfeld indeed witnessed the fire while driving his Volkswagen through McLean, Virginia. However, if there is one thing the readers should take from Iconic Photos, it is that photographs lie too. In this case, the fire was a controlled training exercise and the firefighter was on a break.
But this fact wasn’t even clear to the reviewers of his works (here, here). When the photo was published, firstly in Life, and then in many other magazines and exhibitions, it was only with pithiest of captions: “Joel Sternfeld; McLean, Virginia; December 1978″. The photographer himself reveled in this ambiguity; in a 2004 interview where the Guardian called him the chronicler of “the sinister curiousness of modern America”, he confided:
“Photography has always been capable of manipulation. Even more subtle and more invidious is the fact that any time you put a frame to the world, it’s an interpretation. I could get my camera and point it at two people and not point it at the homeless third person to the right of the frame, or not include the murder that’s going on to the left of the frame. You take 35 degrees out of 360 degrees and call it a photo. There’s an infinite number of ways you can do this: photographs have always been authored.”
It was a photograph that shocked a city; it bumped the death of Howard Hughes off the frontpages all over the state. Entire books were written about it. Iconic Photos looks back at its contact sheets.
Stanley Forman was early for his shift at the Herald American on April 5th, 1976 and he decided to head out to an anti-busing demonstration at Boston City Hall that another journalist was already covering. It was already two years into a desegregated school-busing in Massachusetts, but the protests in favor of the old system were still raging.
Forman managed to capture an episode that was especially violent: a black attorney named Theodore Landsmark — a Yale graduate who worked for Michael Dukakis no less — was attacked by a group of white teenagers as he exited the city hall. One of the attackers, Joseph Rakes, charged towards Landsmark using the American flag and its flagpole as a lance.
His camera motor jammed twice before he captured the iconic photo in his last frame — it was a poignant image; two millennia of history flashed past his lens, from Longinus spearing Christ at Golgotha to flag-rising at Iwo Jima. The next day, it appeared on the frontpages of the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle, among many others, and inside The New York Times.
A particularly violent retaliation took place the next day in Roxbury where a white driver was beaten and left in a coma; and Boston was finally forced to comfort the realities. The busing crises continued on for another decade. Forman won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo, which he submitted under his editor’s suggested title, “The Soiling of Old Glory.” As for Rakes, he was quickly fired from his job and his life fell apart. He admitted that when he first saw the picture, he thought, “Who is that lunatic with the flag? Then I realized it was me.”
This column is merely a short reflection on an extremely agonizing event during a complicated era for the United States. For more information, go to here, here, here, or buy Louis Masur’s authoritative book on the subject.
Martine Franck, Magnum photographer and the second wife of the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, is dead, aged 74.
In Contact Theory, Ms Franck remembers being en scene to take this memorable image and how she chose this particular frame:
This picture was taken during the summer of 1976. I had just been given a grant by the Fondation Nationale de la Photographie …. to photograph the French on holiday. I was on my way to photograph a pop and rock festival at Le Castellet and decided to stop by and see my friend the architect Alain Capeilleres. I knew that Alain had just completed the swimming pool, he had talked about its conception the previous year and I was really excited to see it. He greeted me by saying that an Italian photographer had just come to take photographs for an architectural review and that I should go down to the pool and have a swim.
I saw a couple of people doing exercises and an empty hammock and and then all of a sudden a young boy got into the hammock, the first thing I noticed was the shadow and I ran. It was all over so quickly. I remember trying to find the best angle and being bothered by a towel on the left of the hammock and a bathing suit on the right, then Alain’s wife Lucie arrived in her sun hat, said hello to the young boy. A few seconds later another boy climbed into the hammock. I changed angles but the picture was gone. I had Tri X in my camera and I distinctly remember being concerned by the glare of the August midday sun on the white tilings. I had closed down to f.16 and was shooting at a 1000th of a second but I still knew I was going to be over exposed, however most important I was convinced I had an image.
The ultimate choice was easy. Frame 18a was discarded because of the towel on the left, the figures in the background were confused and I had framed too close to the shadow of the hammock. Frame 16a was a possibility but I would have had to crop the bathing suit on the right which I preferred not to do and the man doing push ups in the background was in a less interesting position. The image that had the greatest intensity and concision was to my mind frame 17a.
The Telegraph says he was more artistic than Doisneau and less patrician than Cartier-Bresson; like those masters to whom he is frequently compared, Willy Ronis embodied the Golden Age of photography, where photojournalists composed lyrical odes to world-changing events and banal everyday lives alike.
Ronis was best known for a nude of his wife, Marie-Anne Lansiaux, bending over a sink in a rustic bathroom. The photo was almost like a Bonnard painting and reflected that easy rustic feel of country life. Ronis remembered:
We had a little stone cottage at Gordes. It was a hot summer, and I was repairing the attic. I needed a trowel, so I came down and there was Marie-Anne standing naked on the stone flags, washing herself from the tin basin. ‘Don’t move,’ I said and, my hands full of plaster, I grabbed my Rolleiflex and took four shots. It was the second shot which I chose.
It took two minutes in all. Miracles exist, I experienced it. I have never been so anxious as when I developed that film. I felt that, if the image was good, technically and aesthetically, it would be a major moment in my life, a prosaic moment of extraordinary poetry.”
He met the jewel painter, Marie-Anne,when both of them fled to Provence after the German Occupation of France in 1940. They were married after the war, when he also joined the French Communists at the urging of Marie-Anne, who was more militantly political.
Soon afterwards, they bought the above cottage in a Provençal town known for its artist communes. Willy divided his career between the countryside and the capital, gradually becoming a world-renowned photographer. The couple lived in that small cottage until Marie-Anne’s death in 1991, by which time Ronis’s career had come a full circle: in his last major work, he photographed Marie-Anne, now with Alzheimer’s, sitting alone in a park surrounded by autumn trees in a touching collection of photographs chronicled her gradual decline and increasing isolation.
Ronis died in 2009.
From Hoover Dam to Howard Hughes, Iconic Photos look back at the unlikely success of America’s last frontier town.
Why Las Vegas? Until very recently, it was not the most accessible place, nor was it the most exclusive of gambling dens; its arid Nevadan weather was unforgiving. Yet it is “Gambling and Entertainment Capital of the World” and every year, near forty million tourists flock to this desert casino town to dole out almost 15 billion dollars. But Las Vegas’ such success was never actually guaranteed; fittingly, no other town in history owed more to luck and coincidences.
Its modern history began with the Hoover Dam; although the Federal Government went so far as to create an artificial city to separate construction workers from Vegas’ notorious red light district, bars, and gambling dens, it was to Sin City that Franklin Roosevelt came when he arrived to open the dam. By then, cheap electricity from the dam had flowed into the city and earned Fremont Street its nickname “Glitter Gulch” (thanks to bright lights from its 24-hour casinos). Soon, the mob moved in.
The next phase came with the U.S. Army and its nuclear testing on a dried lakebed just outside the city; people came to Las Vegas to stand on the edge of the desert, and feel the ground shake, smoke billow and glass shatter around them. They stayed at the Atomic View Hotel, ordered Atomic Hamburgers, Atomic Hairdos, and Atomic Cocktails (equal parts vodka, brandy, champagne with a splash of sherry). Strippers in the city’s clubs took on atomic-themed names befitting third-tier superheroes. For five years, the city chose Miss Atom Bomb who wore a swimsuit fashioned after a mushroom cloud and was crowned by a similarly fungiform tiara.
It was in this giddy (and one might assume, radioactive) atmosphere that an unknown Las Vegas photographer climbed atop a parking lot opposite city’s the then most famous casino, the Pioneer Club, to capture an atomic blast behind the famed neon cowboy, Vegas Vic. Nevada nuclear tests quickly went underground, and today, with the Fremont Street Experience ruining the vista, such a photo would not be possible.
Yet, Las Vegas proved to be durable. In the late 50s, the atomic enthusiasm dissipated and the city was so threatened by newer casinos in Havana that it passed a law preventing Nevadan casinos from investing in Cuba. Yet, historical forces intervened once again in the form of Fidel Castro and his communist revolution; business quickly returned to Las Vegas. Soon, another mustachioed maverick, this time the aviator Howard Hughes, would come to wrestle Fremont casinos away from organized crime. The Strip and the modern Las Vegas it represented would be just around the corner. Literally.
This blog has covered the above photo last year on its 60th anniversary (here), but I just only recently stumbled upon its contact sheets.
The photo was the result of a superb collaboration between two American girls each traveling solo across war torn Europe in 1951. Ruth Orkin and Jinx Allen randomly ran into each other in a cheap hostel overlooking the Arno in Florence, and in her widely-acclaimed photoessay, Don’t be Afraid to Travel Alone, Orkin photographed Jinx Allen shopping in the markets, crossing traffic, riding a carriage and flirting at a cafe.
But the most famous was the above photo; it was taken at 10:30 a.m., but the street was packed with loitering men because work was scarce and unemployment high in post-war Italy. While the contact sheet began at its eighth frame, they show that Orkin indeed took only two versions of her famous photo. You can also see from the contact sheets that after those two frames, the man on the Vespa took Jinx Allen for a ride (literally).
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It was not her coinage but Mary Beith, who died last month, provided an memorable photo behind the phrase, “Smoking Beagles”.
In 1970, Dr. Oscar Auerbach revealed that he had trained 86 beagles to smoke and 20 of them developed cancers. It was an experiment that proved for the first time the link between large animals exposed to cigarette smoke and cancer; it caught the tobacco industry unaware and opened the floodgates as both sides frantically rushed to prove or disprove harmful effects of cigarettes via a frenzy of animal testing.
It was amidst this controversy that Mary Beith went to work for Imperial Chemical Industries in the summer of 1974, but she was different from other workers. She had been engaged by The Sunday People in Manchester to work undercover at various animal research laboratories. She chose ICI’s Macclesfield labs for the simple reason that it was close to her home.
She could not produce her insurance cards (which would betray her journalistic background) so she pretended they had been mislaid. It was just perhaps the trusting nature of those days, but the company gave her three days to find them or face dismissal. Inside, she saw beagles forced inhale as many as 30 cigarettes in a day to test ‘safe’ non-nicotine cigarettes, called New Smoking Material.
A darkroom was set up in a van parked near the lab and Beith was given a tiny camera, which she concealed in her bra. But when she took the film back, staff laughed at her efforts, one telling her: “The next time you take pics of those beagles, Mary, please be sure to take your finger off the lens!”
The next day, she smuggled in a larger camera and took the photo above. The paper sat on the story for several months until publishing it on 26th January 1975 on the frontpage. It coincided with Richard Ryder’s powerful book against animal testing, Victims of Science. These incidents provoked strong and violent backlashes from animal rights activists, and with the imprisonment of two such figures from the Animal Liberation Front, a new chapter in animal rights law would soon open.
As for Mary Beith, she won an award as campaigning journalist of that year; ironically for the reporter best remembered for an anti-tobacco story, she was a lifelong smoker and died last month after a long battle with an aggressive form of lung cancer.
Perhaps such a state visit would be unthinkable today: When Queen Elizabeth paid France her first state visit in 1957, the manifestly Republican country welcomed her lavishly. Ceremonial parades lined up; the Royal Standard flew from the Elysees Palace. The choir of Notre Dame sang to her from the banks of the Seine as she sailed down it. Abandoning all diplomatic protocol, President Rene Coty planted a kiss on the Queen, Paris March reported. The Queen was feted in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles and in the Louvre.
Her enthusiastic host at the latter occasion was the French prime minister, Guy Mollet, who the previous year had suggested to his British counterpart, Anthony Eden, that Britain and France should considered a “union” with the Queen as its head. When Eden rejected the idea, Mollet broached the possibility of the French joining the Commonwealth when Eden visited Paris a fortnight later.
After telling her hosts, ”You were the cradle of our kings,” the Queen (it wasn’t clear whether she was informed of Mr. Mollet’s royalist bent, but the appalled Cabinet definitely was) went to the Paris Opera for the ballet Le Chevalier et la Demoiselle, where 5,000 Parisians cheered, “Long Live the Queen.” In Bert Hardy: My Life, the photographer then working for Picture Post remembers how difficult it was to cover this occasion:
“Paris Match was very much our competition, and there was a rota system in effect. Only two Frenchmen and two of us were allowed to go in; but the French newsmen were above the rules. They had twenty, we would have two, and the French police were making sure that’s all we had.
The Queen was due to visit the Paris Opera, and I wanted to be there to take some pictures, although officially I wasn’t supposed to be. The French Press had been cheating like mad (on the rota system), I knew. I decided that it was about time the British Press did a bit of cheating.
I had my usual difficulty getting hold of a dinner jacket. The only one I was able to borrow was several sizes too big, but that suited me: I was able to hide my Leica inside it. As for my brown shoes, I just hoped that no one would look down that far. The next little difficulty was getting into the Opera. I didn’t have a permit, so I waited outside on the pavement until a group of French dignitaries wearing grand plumed hats, who had got out of various cars, came towards the entrance. I sidled up and joined them. I was appearing to get on fairly well with my few words of French, when they all moved to go inside. I moved with them. The police saluted, and everybody bowed (I hoped they didn’t notice my shoes), and I was in.
I quickly looked for the best vantage point to get a good picture of the Queen coming in. I went up the magnificent staircase, and found a little box by the side where the occupants made room for me, thinking I was an official Press man. It was a fabulous panorama, and I began to realise that the scene was just too large for a standard lens to take in. The only thing to do was make a massive ‘join-up.’ Before the Queen actually entered, I started taking shots of the vast entrance hall, working slowly from left to right, and from top to bottom, and making sure that the edges of each shot coincided as far as possible with some feature like the edge of a balcony or pillar. In all I took about twenty separate shots, and the last shot of all showed the Queen climbing the stairs. After I sent the film back, I telephoned Sheila (his soon-to-be-wife) to explain to her what I had done, so she could tell the make-up man how to piece the jigsaw together. The finished picture was the most ambitious example ever of the technique I had learned from William Davis, and was published on 20 April 1957.
Fifteen of Hardy’s photos were painstakingly joined, by hand in those days before easy photoshop, to compose the one of the largest montages (or ‘join-up’ as they called it back then). The only clue that the image is a montage is in the guards’ unrisen swords to Her Majesty’s left. Picture Post’s special April 20 souvenir edition was a last hurrah for the magazine; six weeks later, it closed down.
Ironically, the photo was also published in Paris Match issue of the same date; the French magazine actually devoted 27 spreads to the Queen’s visit.