Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
Another year came and went.
I am still here. I didn’t post often last quarter. I have just been quite busy. There is always an expectation that after you haven’t posted a while, the new post have to be long, thoughtful, better, etc. That was a daunting task. Especially now that the blog is nearing its fifth birthday, and I have pretty much covered and retreaded a lot of topics.
This blog has always been about history as much as it is about photos. My interpretation of recent history will chafe a lot of hardcore academics but popular history as a genre exists for a reason.
Lastly, a journalist based in Montevideo has requested to translate some of my work on IP into Spanish. Thomas Lyford-Pike has done a great job and now you can read Fotos Icónicas in Spanish here (Although I suspect you don’t really need to, since you are already reading this in English!) I guess it is a good thing that photoliteracy is reaching a wider audience.
That’s all for now.
We live in the age of compulsive looking; photographs are everywhere, some iconic, many others mundane. Whether they be tweeted from idyllic beaches, from totalitarian pariah-states or from the great unknown, they are so effortlessly delivered onto our papers, tablets, and phones that sometimes it is easy to forget and worthwhile to reflect that there are men and women behind those pictures who dared and died for their art. Just after this post has gone to (word)press, I learnt John Dominis, who photographed the famous black-power salute, has died.
Many greats from the Golden and Silver Age of Photojournalism had been thinning out for years. This year, we lost a few more: Bill Eppridge, the great Life photographer best remembered for his photos of slain RFK and of New York drug addicts; Wayne F. Miller, who covered bombed-out Japan and black America; Hector Oaxaca Acosta, the great Mexican photographer; Fred O. Waters, who covered the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and Enrique Meneses, who introduced the world to Fidel, Che, and their revolution.
We bid adieu to several great portraitists too: Willy Rizzo and Bert Stern, two of the last men to photograph Marilyn Monroe; Lee Tanner, a bard of jazz age; Lewis Morley, the man who immortalized the Profumo Scandal; Jack Mitchell, whose Nov 1980 photo of John and Yoko would have been on their Christmas card, had John Lennon not been shot a week later; and Ozzie Sweet, whose celebrity portraits featured on over 1800 magazine covers.
Many of departing giants are pioneering women photographers. Editta Sherman, better known as the “Duchess of Carnegie Hall,” chronicled that bohemian enclave and celebrities who passed through it from the 1940s until 2010. Deborah Turbeville used her fashion photography to comment on fashion’s distorting hold on women, by manipulating her negatives with scratches, dusts, tears, and distress. Abigail Heyman, one of the first female members of Magnum, was known for her book Growing Up Female which had a self-portrait of her abortion. Equally personal was a photo Helen Brush Jenkins took of her son just moments after she had given birth to him. Sarah Charlesworth of The Pictures Generation was an ardent photographer and commentator of newspaper front-pages.
Also gone are photographers whose names aren’t household but whose works are: Harry Goodwin photographed every single act that entered the Top 30 of the UK Singles Chart (bar two) from 1964-1973. George Hunter was a wildlife photographer who images graced the Canadian five, ten, fifty dollar bills. Officer Alan Wood supplied the flag for the iconic Iwo Jima photograph.
Haitian Thony Belizaire covered the most important stories of his country for three decades. Denis Brodeur was one of hockey’s finest photographers. Robert E. Gilka had a formidable tenure as director of photography for National Geographic for 27 years, overseeing the magazine’s evolution into a photographic powerhouse. Allan Arbus (better known as psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H) was a close collaborator of his wife, Diane. Balthazar Korab and Keld Helmer-Petersen brought lyrical modernism to architecture photography.
In 2014, there would be no photos courtesy of Benoit Gysembergh, Piero Cristaldi, Allan Sekula, Burhan Doğançay, Kate Barry, Monte Fresco, David Vestal, Saul Leiter, Ron Davies, Robert Häusser, Robert Trotter, Robert R. Taylor, Gunnar Høst Sjøwall, Leif Preus, Jagdish Mali, Deng Wei, Gabriele Basilico, and many others and we will be poorer for it.
And lastly, there were those who fell in combat; 2013 was the second deadliest year in living memory for reporters. Over a dozen photographers were killed in action, some chasing pop stars, others chasing bigger stores. Olivier Voisin died of shrapnel wounds in Syria. Two amateurs killed in Syria — Abu Shuja, 26, and Molhelm Barakat, 17 or 19 — sums up a war that devours its own youth. More blood will be spilt in 2014; the war in Syria will rage on for its fourth year. Already two new sectarian and tribal conflicts are unfolding in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. They will a claim a few more fearless reporters and photographers — and countless more innocent civilians.
Photos from Syria are too gruesome to publish. Clicking on the black square will take you to a reddit site which has complied them. Caution advised.
Last week, there were allegations that President Assad has gassed his own citizens. A U.N. team sent to inspect the site were delayed and attacked.
To the naysayers who doubt that Assad would not have used chemical weapons in the twilight days of a civil war that he was gradually winning, we have this to say: the last century was filled with despots who were not rational — Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot — and mistakes had been made trying to rationalize their actions. Even the Allies used a heavy-handed approach in firebombing Dresden towards the end of the Second World War, motivated by revenge, war-weariness, and need for the enemy’s morale defeat. In such light, Assad’s motivations become clearer.
By repeatedly emphasizing a hypothetical ‘red line’ over chemical weapons (while ignoring other inhumanities in Syria, from shelling civilian quarters to using cluster bombs and landmines), the West has painted itself into an intractable corner. To do nothing will undermine its credibility and embolden Assad (and many a tyrant observing how the West will respond to this crisis). On the other hand, it is dangerous to rush into action; in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in Libya where the West intervened, the results of the Arab Spring are increasingly murky, and for Britain and the United States, at least, it will be their fourth military action in the Middle East in twelve years, and the public is growing weary.
This house had supported the Syrian rebels throughout 2011 and 2012. However, it now seems the rebels are dominated by hard-core fighters, who tend to be Islamist Manicheans, under whom, we reckon, whatever little religious freedom tolerated under President Assad, will evaporate. Therefore, this house advocates for an UN-brokered ceasefire, guaranteed by an international fleet in the Mediterranean, while the U.N chemical weapons inspectors do their job on the ground. Out of this ashheap, we believe a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Syria can still be salvaged.
Here are a few photos from the last four years you might have missed. From left to right, top to bottom:
Father Browne takes last photos onboard HMS Titanic, 1912; Agustin Casasola witnesses the death of Zapata in Mexico, 1919; Erich Salomon sneaks into the U.S. Supreme Court, 1932; King Edward and Mrs. Wallis Simpson attends a London Nightclub, 1936; Henri Cartier-Bresson sees a denunciation of a Gestapo informant at Dessau, 1945; Richard Peter climbs above the desolate ruins of bombed Dresden, 1945; Watson and Crick sits for their first post-DNA discovery photo, 1953; Rashid Talukdar documents the horrors of the Bangladesh secession, 1971; Jean Gaumy becomes the first Western photographer to access post-Revolutionary Iran, 1989.
[Use Searchbar for detailed posts. I am too lazy to link them here individually.]
Ok. You know what I am going to rant about here. This: Russia’s grand vanity oligarchic Olympics, which costs $50+ billion, but has no space for LGBT people.
In Russia, LGBT people and supporters are discriminated against, beaten up, brutalized and even tortured unto death. The state tacitly supports and condones.
When it comes to gay rights, this blog believes it is very important for people around the world to see LGBT people supported and embraced by their community and see LGBT people as athletes, role-models, and above all, normal people. This debate is bigger than Winter Olympics 2014 or LGBT rights in Russia. This is also for LGBT people in other parts of world, who live in fear, under persecution, and in loneliness.
I don’t think boycotts help (I am open to persuasions on the matter). Maybe at this point, small moments of defiance will probably speak volumes. Last year, a poll published on Iconic Photos returned that the most memorable Olympic moment was when two medalists raised their fist in a Black Power salute. It is such moments that raise awareness. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintains the games must remain politics-free zones, does not speak out against the new discriminatory laws, and forbids the athletes from making political statements or gestures. That is wrong.
The Olympics are a global phenomenon, and as such their history is intertwined with political landscape of the day, from Hitler’s grandiose Teutonic spectacle at the Nazi Olympics of 1936 to the decisions to award the games to totalitarian governments in Seoul (for 1988) and in Beijing (for 2008) in hope that they open up. Thus, this blog believes forbidding athletes from making political statements or gestures is hypocritical, when both the Russian government and the Olympic committee are guilty of that.
Isn’t the very stance that the Olympics must be free of politics and protests itself a political stance — and alas, a political stance that disenfranchises minorities? Groups perhaps most affected by this stance are likely to be those discriminated or oppressed in their day-to-day lives, and those who would like to make that plight clear to the international audience.
I hope many athletes walk down opening and closing ceremonies and walk up their podia fully supporting this important human-rights issue with pins and flags. Defying both the IOC and the Russian government.
For detailed articles for photos above, clockwise from top-left: Black Power salute; Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz; Greg Louganis; Dorando Pietri; American basketball team’s controversial loss; Jesse Owens gets cheers; Antonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head.
Now for something completely different …
This is the first time I used the Image Gallery feature to look back on my previous posts. WordPress currently doesn’t allow me to link to posts directly, so you will either have to use ‘search bar’ to reach the posts behind these photos or click on the photo and then click again on its heading title in the next page. Hopefully this is not too confusing.
If you, dear Reader, enjoy something like this (let me know below), I will more frequently curate more such galleries in the future.
Both the U.S. government and the Big Internet are responsible for the new scandal.
Several years ago, when I was in the US, I studied with an old professor. I don’t remember much of what he taught or even what he taught, but one detail still fascinates me. On his laptop, a piece of blue tape proudly covered the webcam. The old man, an émigré from some half-forgotten Soviet republic, thought the government could still be spying on him. I dismissed this as ravings of a paranoiac. If the government wishes to see my gormless face surfing the web or detritus behind me that I call my room, it is their problem, I concluded then.
Many events since – especially the latest series of revelations as chronicled in the Guardian – have made me realized how naïve I am. I have always viewed governments everywhere as more incompetent than malevolent, but their skillful electronic surveillance has shattered both of those illusions.
It has been revealed that US government’s use telephone and internet companies to spy domestically and internationally is large in scale and depth. Companies involved ranged from Verizon to Microsoft. And the data they handed to the government include emails, login activities, video conferences, file transfers, and stored data. And it appeared not many people raised civil liberty concerns at any government or corporate level.
My time in the Silicon Valley had taught me that privacy to an Internet exec is like chastity to a prostitute. It is simply bad for business model. But many will agree that there exists a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Last month in Paris, I had a dinner with two up-and-coming IT engineers. They dismissed my privacy concerns with nonchalant “just don’t put anything you don’t want to be shared online”. That is a petulant comment I often heard in the Valley, manned by socially-awkward men-children.
Twitter, blogs, youTube, or even Facebook functions as publishing platforms. I understand I cannot really control them. Even on emails, when I email someone, my mails/attachments are beyond your control, and can reasonably expect the counterparty to spread them. But two surveillance measures stood out: login activities and stored data. For instance, Apple, via “Find My Phone”, already possess an easy tracking system; I have activated it to protect my assets from theft not for it to report my every moments to its masters in Cupertino and beyond.
Back in non-virtual world, I expect UPS, DHL, or FedEx not to open my packages. I also expect the government to come with warrants if they want to look inside my storage lockers. Internet services should not be beholden to different standards. Not by the government. Nor by the private companies.
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells @aalholmes
7th June 2013
… And only two hands.
Let’s see: I have started this blog in late April 2009, so four years! If it were Mozart, I would already be taking him around the royal courts of Europe for blindfolded harpsichord recitals, but I guess not everyone’s offspring is that talented or lucrative. Add usual encomiums on making it to four years, pat oneself on back, drink gin, blah, blah, blah…
There are a few updates. You might see IP’s sidebar a little different today: I have put up a clicking ad and a crowd-funding plug there. I do not derive any income from them (yet. Even the ad won’t pay off until someone buys a product — a low probability event). For a longtime, I have been planning to support crowd-funding photography projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and someone just from “From White to Black Sea” project emailed me. They are going to be traveling on a boat across the Soviet era canals from the Arctic to the Black Sea, taking photos and documenting the Russian way of life across 14 provinces. I think it is a promising idea. (Link: (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/from-white-to-black-sea/)
Onto the second update, and the title of this blog. Four years blogging is a long time. In addition to photography, I find history, art, politics, and architecture fascinating subjects. On this blog, however, I always feel constrained to just talk about these latter things as relevant to a time period that photography has been extant and active. I recently went to Paris — a city I fell in love with so many years ago, a city I later come to detest in a futile anguish. I went to show a couple of American firsttimers around, and found it now to be a treasure trove of stories I want to tell, stories beyond the realms of photography. You might scoff — there are too many books about Paris and France already, you might say. Yes, there are, but there isn’t my version yet.
Okay. TL:DR version: I am going to be doing some long-form writing. The blog output will be a little down. Be patient with me. Thanks for all the support. (above: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ile de la Cite, Paris, 1952.)
Sometime in 1934, just after Hitler had come to power, three great photographers met in a dimly lit Berlin apartment to create a fourth. Munkasci, Robert Capa, and Chim were all of Jewish origin, and now they found their best work refused by anti-Semitic publications all over Europe. Out of work and starving, the trio decided to create a fictional photographer, under whose non-Jewish name they could publish their work.
So the impeccably bourgeois pseudonym of ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ was born. For American publications, the name would be modified to ‘Hank Carter’. The story of this prank is masterfully recounted in Paolo Rilf’s book, “Cartier-Bresson: A Man, A Myth” (1993). Dr. Rilf was initially puzzled by the fact that there no photographs of Paris or France in the early life of this quintessentially French photographer.
Initially conceived to earn extra money, the pseudonym was to be laid to rest after the war in a ‘posthumous’ MOMA retrospective in 1947. But Capa wanted to poke fun at the pretentious New York museum; for eight hundred francs, he hired a Parisian wine-merchant to pose as camera-shy Cartier-Bresson.
Around this time, the photo-agency Magnum was founded to pool photographs of many a lensman for Cartier-Bresson’s debut book. In the coming years, using the byline ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ enabled many photographers to travel anonymously in troubled hotspots around the world; in 1948, he famously reported from India, China, and Indonesia. Dr. Rilf’s book, long out of print but going to be reissued later today (April 1st), is a masterful tale which doubles as a detective thriller.
Over the last two months, I haven’t been able to post any new articles onto Iconic Photos. I have been travelling across India during that time — an initial trip of 3 weeks which ballooned and lengthened into a three-month journey, for which I hadn’t prepared the blog for.
Alas, it was an engaging trip — I shook hands with a god incarnate, trekked up a Himalayan pass, and nearly got recruited to (what I was pretty sure) a cult. All this fun and precarious living came with its dangers though — I was robbed at knife point, me losing my camera, laptop, and worse horror of it all, my harddisk drive.
What does that mean? That means I don’t really have an huge archive of photographs and pre-written posts to fall back on anymore, apart from some scraps and pieces are stored via cloud here and there. The blog’s output will suffer, but I ask you all to bear with me for a few months. As Virgil would say, haec olim meminisse ituvabit.
A. S. H.
This is another of those tl;dr self-deprecating, self-congratulating posts.
Back in 2009 when I started this blog, I would have laughed if you told me I would still be updating this 3 years later. But not only that day has arrived, but another milestone — 900th post mark — is also just around the corner.
1. I am still single; some of my readers still racist; and I still receive ads for some mail-order Slavic brides, but a few things has changed since the last time I posted a sappy self-serving post. Now I tweet (although I have always called been a twat) and my email is posted on this site which leads to….
2. Some quite interesting emails. I have been invited to some photo galleries and conferences, asked to talk at a few, and offered a book-deal. I work full-time (65h+) so I am mostly unable to go, and as for the book-deal, I cannot imagine any profits after copyrights.
3. Last time I ranted about people inquiring to buy poster-sized photos off IP. They still inquire, but worse are other emails — including one from a lawyer of a wealthy collector — which ask me to hunt down who own whose copyrights. As romantic as the image of me wearing a homburg and a trench coat might be, I am not running a detective agency out of IP. But creme de la creme was that one where a high-school student asks me to do (not help with, but do) his school project.
4. In these three years, I have become more introspective, and consequently I have asked myself a few times that why I blog — especially in those dreary rainy days. Perhaps it was because collective wisdom of internet was often dubious. Initially it was because no one site has thorough analysis I wanted in an age where you can find anything scattered about online. Since then, many magazines have made great effort towards archiving photojournalism, making my retiring easier when that comes. Especially throughout last year, I seriously considered giving Iconic Photos up finally, although a famous photographer’s death would always draw me back in — partly because of some incompetence and penny-pinching refusal to re-publish the deadman’s photos by most media these days. Blogging is like me trying to give up smoking — not so easy to quit, easy to relapse.
5. History today is visual, and careless use of photos is all the more lamentable because of that. I see mislabeled, misattributed photos in textbooks and magazines all the time. Copyeditors are fired when there are many factual and typographic errors but with photos, editors don’t know better, and the reading public doesn’t know better either. That makes me sad, and makes lives of photomanipulators and propagandists so much easier.
6. Another attack towards sanity comes from armchair history books such as Collapse and Why Nations Fail – the latter being the flavor du jour of the faux intelligentsia. I’m fine with people reading such simplified versions of history, and of making equally tenuous assertions and bending the long arc of history to suit my own hypotheses, this blog is oft guilty, but when Harvard or MIT professors start doing that, it spells trouble.
7. Tweeting often makes me first to respond to many photography stories, but the proudest I was was when I published a year in photography review a day ahead of TIME magazine. Take that.
8. On copyrights, that perennial thorn, I just want to say this: when this site was smaller, no one cared, but now, I have to (a little). Now, I am doubly careful when I post about living-photographers, but I am not going to change my postings because of it. While I can’t say I approve of all hacktivism going around, and I will be the last person to support incoherent psuedo-intellectual justifications for either side of the copyrights issue, I embrace the fact that internet remains an anarchic place. And, I don’t know whether this will come out as arrogant or not but I believe IP does some photographers service by introducing their work to people who would not otherwise know about them.
9. Like all great stories, this one is perhaps apocryphal: an English literature professor getting fired because he admitted that he had never read Hamlet. I had a moment like that a few weeks ago when I admitted that I have never heard of Robert Frank until six months into this blog. People were mildly surprised, and some asked what my qualifications are for blogging here when I haven’t heard of Frank before. Snobbery much? I recognize certain photos, without knowing their photographers — a condition I believe shared by a lot of people here.
10. I have said before that the best thing about this blog is the looks I got from friends (at times some girl I am trying to impress) when I say in a understated tone that a few thousand people read it everyday. In these three years, blogging has gone from nerdy to kinda passé, kinda cool (they: you are still doing what?). But the story I want to share was about a brag backfired spectacularly only last month — a hipster I was trying to impress took one look at the blog, and became quite unimpressed with the blog (presumably realizing that Iconic Photos are not made for Instragram or Pinterest generation) and with me by extension. I literally heard her thighs snapping shut.
Finally, I will leave you with these words of wisdom from Time magazine:
We hear it sometimes that photographs are losing their power. In a world where every other cell phone has a built in camera and and all the people you know just posted their summer vacations, their snow angels, and their tonsillectomies online, there are just too many pictures out there. Plus, those picures are so easily manipulated and photoshopped, how do you know when to trust them anymore? And anyway, we’ve seen it all before. You can almost believe all that, right up until that moment you come across one picture that speaks to you, the one that takes your imperfectly formed feelings and judgements and snaps everything, if you’ll excuse the expression, into focus.
Hugh Abel St. Clair-St. Clair, fig mental photojournalist who held up a satirical mirror to many of last century’s tyrants, has died, aged 72.
Access and charm come naturally to Abel St. Clair-St. Clair, the heir to the Barony of Grenoble. He perfected a “missing lens” gambit, whereby he would go back into press conference rooms ostensibly searching for it, but in truth hoping to spot the rich and the powerful in compromising poses. Indeed, he captured Nikita Khrushchev adjusting his socks, Charles de Gaulle grooming his mustache, and patrons of the Metropolitan Opera House trust picking their noses.
He was ingenious, daring, and sometimes absurd: he rang up the mafia dons in Chicago asking for access to their next meeting, and when that was denied, requested that they at least leave the window blinds open. As the Duvaliers’ rule crumbled in Haiti, he went to there with two Las Vegas showgirls to gain an audience with Baby Doc. He even promised to smuggle a microfilm for the PLO secretly with his negatives in exchange for access.
Along the way, St.Clair punctured the inflated egos of ambassadors, presidents and potentates. Once he hosted an uncomfortable dinner to which trade union leaders and government ministers were invited (unbeknownst to one another’s invites). While traveling across Africa with a British trade delegation, he saw poolside parties hosted by Haile Selassie, Bokassa and Idi Amin, where he snapped the self-proclaimed emperors and kings with literally no clothes. He took a rare and ironic photo of Pol Pot wearing glasses.
His antics proved too much for Castro, from whose mouth he tried to remove the cigar, a la Karsh with Churchill. He was jailed in Cuba for 8 months and some of his negatives destroyed. Equally unamused was the Vatican when he disguised as a prelate to infiltrate the 1978 Conclave. They threatened him with an excommunication.
Yet, he pressed on. In his unapologetic memoir Abel’s Fools, he admitted that while he was intrusive, he never was a paparazzo. During the First Gulf War, he volunteered as a “human shield” for Saddam in one of his palaces only to annoy the Iraqi dictator with his cameras. He was quickly deported back. Although he retired soon afterwards, he returned in 2002 to capture sons of Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi partying together with Western businessmen for a Vanity Fair report on the new generation of globally mobile scions of dictatorships and oligarchies that was never published. That was his last assignment.