Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category
In May 2000, the United States Coast Guards rescued a sinking boat en route to Florida. To their surprise, on the boat, they found two journalists along with 44 Haitians attempting to enter the United States. Mike Finkel, a writer, and Chris Anderson, a photographer, were on assignment for The New York Times Magazine to document the illegal immigration across the 600 miles of treacherous waters that separate the richest country in the Western Hemisphere from its poorest.
In Haiti, Finkel and Anderson were treated with suspicion by smugglers, fearing that they were working undercover for the CIA, but they eventually braved the crossing, recounted with gusto in a later New York Times Magazine article by Finkel. Finkel carried a homing rescue device for emergencies, but both the reporter and the photographer were reluctant to use it, even when the boat was slowly sinking, and the passengers were out of food and water. They had been tricked by the smugglers into believing that the 10-day journey would be a third of its length. In Magnum Contact Sheets, Anderson remembers the slow sinking of that 23-foot homemade boat expectantly named, “Believe in God”:
Up to that point, I had not taken many pictures. Everyone on the boat knew I was a photographer, but it somehow had not felt right. It’s difficult to explain. But as the boat sank, David, the Haitian whom I had followed on this journey, said to me, ‘Chris, you’d better start making pictures. We only have an hour to live.’ And so, without much thought, I began making pictures.
We were saved at the last moment by a US coast guard cutter that happened upon us, but that’s another story. Much later on, back home safe, I reflected on this question: why make pictures that no one will ever see? The only explanation for me was that the act of photographing had more to do with the explaining of the world to myself than explaining something to someone else. The pictures were about communicating something about my experience, not about reporting literal information. This would be the single most transformative moment of my photographic life.
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.
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.
Addison Beecher Colvin Whipple, writer and censorship fighter, died on March 17, aged 94.
“Words are never enough,” wrote Life magazine in an editorial when it finally got the approval to reproduce the pictures of dead American soldiers in September 1943 (more). That permission, which came all the way from the president, would have been all but impossible if not for the tenacious efforts of Cal Whipple, Life’s Washington correspondent.
Rules then prohibited the publication of photos of the American dead, lest they damage morale on the home front. In his own words, Mr. Whipple, “went from army captain to major to colonel to general until [he] wound up in the office of an Assistant Secretary of the Air Corps.” to argue that these photos were what the home front needed. The Secretary decided to forward the photos to the White House, where President Roosevelt agreed that the American public has grown complacent about the war and its horrific toll, and cleared their publication.
As the consequence, war bond sales boomed, and although the censorship rule regarding the home front morale was abolished, the censorship itself would prove to be enduring. Censorship and self-censorship continued with the pictures from Dresden, Hiroshima, and even Auschwitz. The rule not to show faces of the American dead existed until the Korean War, which saw bans on photos showing the aftermaths by US bombings in North Korea, and of political prisoners.
It all changed in Vietnam, which would come to be known as the “first war to take place in America’s living rooms.” It was a conflict whose course unfolded in iconic photos, from the beginning to the end. After Vietnam, the military would never again allow journalists to have free rein in covering a war. The golden age of war photography, which nurtured such figures as Larry Burrows or Francoise Demulder, ended as abruptly as it began. In modern wars, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in smaller conflicts in Grenada and Panama, reporters would be corralled into press pools or embeds and frequently threatened with revocation of credentials if they strayed from guidelines.
With various newspapers looking back on Iraq War on this 10th Anniversary of its beginning with grand pictorial sideshows, it is sometimes very easy to forget what we see is more often than not authorized, sanitized, bowdlerized.But it is also comforting to remember that for images hidden away from us, there is always someone like Cal Whipple fighting for their inclusion into the recorded memory.
When the North Vietnamese tank No. 843 broke down the gates of the presidential palace in Saigon on April 30 1975 — just hours after the last American helicopters had left — it signaled the end of an era, and that of a long and bitter war. Most Western journalists had been evacuated from South Vietnam at this point, but that defining moment was captured on video and on camera film by two who stayed behind.
The first was made by Neil Davis, an unflappable Australian who waltzed back into his Saigon tailor’s to collect a Safari suit he had ordered before as the North Vietnamese were bearing down on the city. His video of the tank breaking through the gates was first broadcast on an NBC News Special Report: Communist Saigon, only nearly a month later on 26 May 1975. Davis died covering a coup in Thailand, his still-running camera recording his own death.
The photographic record of the moment was made by an equally intrepid figure – Francoise Demulder, who would later become the first woman to win the World Press Photo Award. A student of philosophy (and a model), Ms. Demulder travelled to South Vietnam with her boyfriend in the early 1970s. To cover their travelling expenses, the couple quickly became embedded with the U.S. military, she who had no formal training in photography taking war photos and her boyfriend driving her around, covering the fighting, and dropping off their photos at the AP office. She stayed behind to take the now-famous photo above.
Thus ended the two-decade long conflict in Vietnam; five million tonnes of bombs and 1.7 million tonnes of Agent Orange were dropped over both Vietnams. Alas, peace did not return to the region. Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge took control in the neighboring Cambodia; by November, Laos too was in the hands of the communists. As for the long suffering Vietnamese (three million of whom perished during the war), there was little respite as their government would soon be involved in two other fratricidal conflicts with China and Cambodia.
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.
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).
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.
2012 was not a kind year for photographers. It opened with the death of Eve Arnold, Magnum’s first woman photographer, whose work, as Robert Capa had remarked, was sandwiched between “Marlene Dietrich’s legs and the bitter lives of migratory potato pickers”. She captured secret worlds of women: private lives of the world’s most famous women, lesbian weddings, nunneries, reproductive clinics in South Africa, and harems in Dubai and the Arab Emirates in a major series on Muslim women.
Elsewhere, Magnum lost another of its great female photographers; Martine Franck was perhaps better remembered as the wife of the late Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose legacy she kept alive through retrospectives, books, and interviews. She herself was an accomplished photojournalist, working for Life, Vu, and other weeklies. All in all, 2012 was not a great year for female photographers. Fashion lost Lilian Bassman; post-modernism lost Jan Groover. Counterculture protests lost Bettye Lane.
Three giants of Indian photography passed away this year. Sunil Janah alerted the world to the Bengal famine in the 1940s with his photos, while Homai Vyarawalla, India’s first and the most famous female photojournalist, documented the throes of the subcontinent’s independence a few years later. On the other hand, Prabuddha Dasgupta symbolized the face of modern India with his fashion photography.
Other departed talents were prodigious too. Antony Barrington-Brown took the iconic pictures of Watson and Crick with their DNA double helix model. The Argentine photojournalist Horacio Coppola was best known for his photos that accompanied Borges’ autobiography. Photos Sergio Larrain took in Paris, which revealed scenes of a couple only upon processing, became the basis for Julio Cortázar’s story, “Las Babas del Diablo”, inspiration behind Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup. Mary Beith snuck into a animal testing lab.
Harry W. Randall, Jr. and Erazm Ciołek, respectively the chief photographers of the International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War and of the Solidarity movement in Poland, died in 2012. Elsewhere in Poland died Wilhelm Brasse, the POW who became the ‘Portraitist’ of Auschwitz, who took about 40,000 to 50,000 “identity pictures” there from 1940 until 1945.
As we mark a bloody war in Syria that saw the deaths of Marie Colvin and photojournalist Remi Ochlik, we remember the passing of three great photographers who saw the 60s unfold and then unravel. Stan Sterns took an iconic photo at John Kennedy’s funeral. Malcolm Browne saw a pivotal moment that same year a hemisphere away as a Buddhist monk immolated himself in Vietnam. AP’s famed Saigon team thinned out in 2012, with the deaths of Browne, the great Horst Faas, George Esper (correspondent), Roy Essoyan (writer), and finally its bureau chief Edwin Q. White in November.
There will be no more photos from Jim McCrary, who created over 300 album covers, including Tapestry, where barefoot Carole King posed with her cat; Ken Regan, the private photojournalist of rock ’n’ roll stars; Chris Marker, the French photographer better-known for La jetée; Alf Kumalo, a chronicler of South African apartheid; Jack E. Boucher, the Chief Photographer for the Historic American Buildings Survey; Sir Simon Marsden, the tireless lensman of allegedly haunted houses in Europe; and Robert R McElroy who documented the Happenings art movement in New York. They are all gone, as was Beverley Goodway, the grand old photographer behind Page 3s.
Also gone are Geoffrey Shakerley, Billie Love, Andrew MacNaughtan, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Masahisa Fukase, Leta Peer, Enzo Sellerio, Cris Alexander, Lee Balterman, Eric Watson, Neville Coleman, Charles G. Hall, Hans Arvid Hammarskiöld, Walt Zeboski, Frank Barsotti, Pedro E. Guerrero, Cornel Lucas, and Arnaud Maggs.
And finally, there were two standouts. Death came to Neil Armstrong, who took photographs that were literally out of this world; and to Lucky Diamond, the Maltese who holds the current Guinness Record for most photographed dog with celebrities. Together they told the stories large and little of photography.
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.
Iconic Photos reports from a wonderful exhibition in Musée du Quai Branly
On Sunday, as rain gently swept across its windows, I strolled through the Quai Branly Museum’s new exhibition, Cheveux Chéris: Frivolités et Trophés (‘Beloved Hair: Trophies and Trifles’). A series of photographs made me pause and ponder: they showed l’épuration (purification or purge) where France rose up against Nazi ‘collaborators’. Taking a cue from the “purification” of Republican women in Spain in the 1930s, French women who slept with the Germans were marched on to public squares and shaved.
Capturing one such grisly humiliation was no other than Robert Capa. On 18th August 1944, just a week before the liberation of Paris, Capa was in Chartres, where a young women who bore a child to a German soldier was shaved bald by a mob, who paraded her through the town with her three-mouth old child. Back in 1941, 19-year old Simone Touseau had fallen in love with Erich, a German soldier in charge of the local military bookstore. Erich was eventually transferred to the Eastern Front, and invalided back to his native Bavaria. On hearing the news, Simone had volunteered as a nurse in Munich, where she re-met her lover in September 1943. She was repatriated to France in late November 1943, pregnant. (Read more here in French).
In many other towns, scenes were uglier as women were stripped, their heads shaved and their faces painted with swastikas for what many villagers, men and women alike, considered as ‘collaboration horizontale’. This stigmatization of ‘The Shorns’ was, according to Patrick Buisson writing in Années Erotiques, a “reaffirmation of the country’s rights over the women’s bodies and the recovery of male control over women’s sexuality”.
Buisson describes how the Nazi Occupation left the French in a state of what he calls “erotic shock”. Under an atmosphere charged with emotions of triumph, humiliation and suppressed rage, the population found escape in debauchery, exploring “new territories of pleasure” – having sex in cinemas and Metro stations during air-raid alerts. Even Simone de Beauvoir joined in; “It was only in the course of those nights that I discovered the true meaning of the word ‘party’,” she later wrote. In Germany, French prisoners bedded local girls to take revenge for the rape of the homeland; meanwhile in France, women made themselves available to the invaders, some even encouraged to infect German soldiers as sabotage; in 1942, despite the fact that two million Frenchmen were in prisoner-of-war camps, the French birth rate soared.
These dark years cast a long shadow over France. Its leading newspaper, Le Temps, which had continued its publication during the Occupation, was closed as pourrie (rotten), and was replaced by Le Monde. They also quietly put away their berets, which came to symbolize the Frenchman under a Nazi Empire where everybody had insignia and clothing identifying who they were. As Richard Cobb notes, “the beret had somehow lost its innocence. It had become politically contaminated… henceforth associated with organised killing.”
As for other collaborations, they took on many different shapes and hues. Coco Chanel had a torrid affair with a Nazi officer, with whom she lived at Paris Ritz throughout the Occupation. Jewish Gertrude Stein worked for the Vichy government, translating anti-Semitic speeches by Marshal Philippe Pétain, even comparing Pétain to George Washington. Maurice Chevalier and Édith Piaf sang before French and German audiences. Picasso, whose art was officially banned, continued to paint in his Left Bank apartment. More than two hundred new French films were made, including Marcel Carné’s classic, Les Enfants du paradis. Thousands of books were published by authors as different as the virulent anti-Semite Céline and the anti-Nazis Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Publisher Gaston Gallimard let a German-selected editor run his prestigious Nouvelle Revue Française; in turn, he was able to publish books by authors unsympathetic to the Nazis.
So I spent the night reading And The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alan Riding. The book begins with a quote by Sir Anthony Eden, who saw both world wars: “If one hasn’t been through the horrors of an occupation by a foreign power, you have no right to pronounce upon what a country does which has been through all that.” He was talking about collaboration, but its messy aftermath perhaps sadly applied as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.