Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Duke of Wellington | Antoine Claudet

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The photo above by Antoine Claudet was of a figure one would not normally associate with photography or modernity: the Duke of Wellington. Claudet was a disciple of Louis Daguerre, who became active in London and was appointed a court photographer to both Queen Victoria and Napoleon III. Remarkably little of his work survives, for most of them were lost in a fire in his studio shortly after his death.

The Iron Duke was a remarkable man. After his military victories, he was twice the premier of Britain, made a duke in Spain and Portugal, a prince in the Netherlands, and was honored with the topmost military rank by seven continental powers — not to mention giving his name to a dish and an item of clothing.

The photo itself taken in 1844 was a remarkable bridge across centuries. Memories of Elizabeth the First or the English Civil War were as fresh and recent to Wellington (born 1769) as Wellington or Lincoln is to us. The photo was different from latter paintings and engravings based upon it — unlike the kindly old man which smiled down from the paintings, the photo showed a crankier, more determined Wellington — a face you truly expect from the Victor of Waterloo.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 15, 2013 at 5:16 am

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].


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 31, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Editorial: On Syria, Liberal Interventionism, and Responsibility to Protect

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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.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 27, 2013 at 10:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized, War

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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.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 25, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Posted in Contact Sheets, Culture

Tagged with ,

Some Photos You Might Have Missed

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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.]

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 19, 2013 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Tutankhamum | Harry Burton

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In November 1922, almost at the tailend of his expedition sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, Howard Carter finally discovered the tomb which would make him the most famous archeologist outside fiction. Tutankhamum, an insignificant pharaoh who reigned for less than a decade and died young, was buried in a hastily-prepared minor tomb which was largely unrecorded and thus escaped grave-robbers.

After wiring Lord Carnarvon, Carter also engaged the services of Harry Burton. Burton, working for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Egyptian department, was widely regarded as the greatest archaeological photographer, and he proved it with this tomb. His photographs of the tomb of Tutankhamum, starting with the intact seal locking his funerary chamber, are both meticulous archaeological surveys and glorious still-lifes.

For the next eight years, Burton devoted his career to carefully cataloguing the riches of Tutankhamum. He was the only photographer authorized to work inside the tomb and took over 1,970 photos, of which 142 were published in February 1923 in The Times, to which Lord Carnarvon had sold the exclusive publishing rights. All of them could be seen on an online gallery at The Griffith Institute, Oxford.

For all its later infamy as a cursed necropolis, the tomb of Tutankhamum did not contain a jinx. Scholars and Egyptologists scoff at the idea, eventhough they themselves were of guilty of spreading these rumors, in order to dissuade the local porters and diggers from pilfering the finds. Lord Carnarvon was the only major member of the expedition to die prematurely. Carter lived for seventeen more years. Carnarvon’s daughter Lady Evelyn who, along with her father and Carter, was among the first to enter the tomb, died only in 1980 at the age of 79.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 19, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Editorial: On Olympics, Sochi 2014, and Political Games

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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 saluteWladyslaw KozakiewiczGreg LouganisDorando PietriAmerican basketball team’s controversial lossJesse Owens gets cheersAntonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 14, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Srebrenica | Darko Bandic

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In the past few years, this blog looked back at over 900 photos. Many are famous. A few are indelibly iconic. But only a handful could claim they have changed the course of history. This was one such photo.

Screenshot (3)

I have written before about the messy disintegration of Yugoslavia, a topic which still is a thorny and polemical subject to write about (if comments are anything to go by) two decades after the events. In a few days in July 1995, Bosnian Serb forces massacred around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica, which was supposedly under the UN aegis. We stood idly outside, our rhetoric changed from ‘Never again’ to ‘Once More’.

Darko Bandic, a freelance Croat photographer working for AP, recalled the above photograph he took near the annihilated town:

I had arrived at this massive makeshift refugee camp in Tuzla early in the morning, around 5.30am. Tens of thousands of distraught women and children had poured into the camp the previous day.

Just as I was about to enter the camp, two or three young girls told me they had spotted a woman hanging from a tree in the woods. They took me to her. I was actually a bit confused. I didn’t know exactly what to do. From the direction I was walking I could see her face, but obviously I didn’t want to shoot that. I shot just a couple of frames, then went back to the UN guard. I remember he was a Swedish soldier and I told him what I had seen. He said: ‘For now, let’s take care of the ones who are alive.’

I saw so many really awful things in Bosnia’s war, that was just yet another of them. I did wonder what horrific things must have happened to her to drive herself to take her own life. But I never found out. I never even knew her name until a year later.”

Her name was Ferida Osmanovic and her photo soon appeared on front pages all over the world. It was a metaphor for the Unknown Victim of the Balkan wars: faceless, defenseless, humiliated. At their Oval Office meeting, Vice President Al Gore told President Clinton, “My 21-year-old daughter asked about this picture. What am I supposed to tell her? Why is this happening and we’re not doing anything? My daughter is surprised the world is allowing this to happen. I am too.” His outrage was shared by many UN officials, NATO and US Army’s top brass.

President Clinton, whose initial comments on Srebrenica were lawyerly (‘the fall of Srebrenica undermined the UN’s peacekeeping mission’), was pushed towards an intervention by Gore. On the Capitol Hill, Senator Diane Feinstein was equally vehement; in a memorable speech, she used the photo to underline the plight of raped and murdered civilians in the war zone.

By July, the UN had given its military forces the authority to request airstrikes without consulting civilian UN officials. A comprehensive air support for other safe zones and retaliatory air strikes by NATO were launched against the Serbs. The bombing campaign finally brought the Serbs to the negotiating table in November 1995, when the Dayton Accords put an end to three and a half-year long Bosnian War.

[For details of Ferdia's surviving children, the Guardian story here.]


The most striking thing about the photo — and Srebrenica massacre — was that it happened in 1995, exactly a year after the Rwandan genocide. My memory of both events is vague, but I saw them on CNN daily growing up. In fact, they were amongst my first memories of the world outside my family. They have shaped who I am today. No one — but especially no children — should see similar horrors unfolding, firsthand or otherwise.

Auschwitz. Srebrenica. Rwanda. Congo. Syria.

The list goes on.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 8, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Jean Sibelius | Yousef Karsh

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In 1949, when he was photographing a Shell Oil executive in London, Yousuf Karsh overheard his subject taking a call from Finland. The caller was Jean Sibelius, the reclusive Finnish composer, of whom Karsh had always wanted to take a photo. Karsh was already famous in the English-speaking world, but not well-known on the continent, and he requested the oilman to make arrangements for him to travel to Sibelius’ villa in Lake Tuusula.  Karsh remembered their session:

“I arrived at Sibelius’s home “Ainola,” named for his wife Aino, laden with gifts from his admirers – an inscribed manuscript from composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, a warm letter from Olin Downes, the celebrated music critic of the New York Times, a box of his favorite cigars and a bottle of old cognac from the Canadian High Commissioner in London. This last we shared with little Finnish cookies and coffee. His daughter interpreted for the straight-backed patriarch of eighty-four, although there was such a meeting of minds that words became scarcely necessary. The structure of his face reminded me of carved granite, yet with infinite warmth and humanity. This photograph was one of the last taken. He was visibly moved as I told him how the Finnish workers, in their northern Canadian logging camps, doubled their wartime output when his Finlandia was played for them.”

Sibelius had semi-retired from conducting and composing since the late 1920s. He led a lowkey life during the Second World War [during which Britain and Finland became only two democracies in history to ever declare war on each other] and spent his last years quietly obsessing over an eighth symphony he would never get around to composing. By 1949, when he met Karsh, his health was failing. His hands shook, his speech slurred, but the aged composer himself was enthusiastic about session with Karsh. He ran a powerline from the road to his house for Karsh’s floodlights and gave the photographer two whole days for photos. He told Karsh that it was his ‘last chance at a good photograph’.

He was not far wrong. Sibelius died in 1957, at the age of 91.

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This post was suggested over Twitter by Sami Haapavaara ‏(@SHaapavaara). I will be crowdsourcing topics of my next few posts via Twitter and comments. My next few posts will be on readers’ suggestions. What I am thinking: some iconic photo-related topic I will have fun researching. Best.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 1, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Posted in Culture

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The Oklahoma City Bombings

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It was a few weeks after the Oklahoma City Bombings in April 19, 1995. Not only was the story on the covers of Time and Newsweek, it seemed as if both magazines had used the same photo. Time editors who had brought the rights to the photos of Charles Porter IV were furious. Newsweek claimed that their photo was by another man named Lester LaRue. [Neither Porter nor LaRue were professionals; their photos came to prominence in that old-fashioned way before Internet: they went to local photostores to develop his photos, and the photostores tipped off the magazines and photo agencies].

Unsatisfied, Time accused Sygma, the photo agency which represented Porter, of double-dealing and using an alias to sell another photo by Porter to Newsweek. Forensic experts were called in to testify that two photos were indeed taken by two different photographers, standing three feet apart, at almost the exact same moment – as fireman Chris Field cradled 1-year-old Baylee Almon out of the bombed Federal building, in a pose reminiscent of iconic Pieta.

[Outside the United States, Porter’s photo featured in all British newspapers except the Sun, which believed the level of gore in the photo was unacceptable for the general reading public. The Independent printed it in black-and-white for the same reason. The Guardian, which shared the Sun’s convictions when the photo first appeared, printed it on the bombing’s first anniversary.]

The fallout from the photo was to be worthy of a grand literary tragedy. The baby’s mother, Aren, who couldn’t bear to see her daughter on the day of the bombing was confronted by a fullpage photo on the cover of her daily newspaper. She also came under fire from other victims of the attack, who were jealous of the attention (and donations) she received from the photo. As Chris Field was flown around the country by TV stations and talkshows, he too came under criticism from his colleagues who claimed they rescued more babies than he did.

But the worst came to Lester LaRue, who tried to commercialize his photo by publishing it on T-shirts, posters, and other memorabilia. Aren denounced this profiteering and discovered that that LaRue, who was working for a local gas company at the time, was using the company’s camera to take the photo. The company didn’t want the negative publicity and decided to bury the photo. LaRue refused to cede the copyright, and was fired from his job of over 30 years. He also lost the protracted legal battle which ensued; the company donated away all profit from the photograph to charities and his version of the photograph is rarely seen these days.

The next year, when Porter was honored with a Pulitzer Prize, his photo was not even mentioned.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 30, 2013 at 7:03 pm

O. J. Simpson Cover | Matt Mahurin

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If you were not living under a rock in the 90s, you probably have heard of O.J. Simpson and his murder trial. In short, the former football star (and actor manqué) was charged with the murder of his ex-wife and her friend. On June 17th 1994, Simpson fled the police in what was the television event for a generation, but was finally taken into custody. A week later, the LAPD released Simpson’s mugshot which ran on both Time and Newsweek’s covers on June 27th.

The trouble was Time’s version was a darker edited version courtesy of its photoillustrator Matt Mahurin (an unaltered photo appeared inside). Many observed that by darkening Simpson’s face, Time had emphasized his skin color (and therefore his race), gave him a more “menacing” appearance and feral look. In an echo of things to come, Time defended its decision firstly online – on a computer bulletin board then used by less than a million subscribers called America Online – and later on the next week’s issue, but also quietly substituted the cover with another (something it had never done before or since).

I have recently been gifted an excellent coffee-table-book called, Time: The Illustrated History of The World’s Most Influential Magazine; inside, alongside the publishers’ recollections of the entire saga, Matt Mahurin remembers:

This was a fascinating, maddening, challenging and ultimately expanding experience. As an image-maker, I work in a dark palette. Whether it was my Time cover on domestic violence, nuclear terrorism—or a former football hero who is suspected of murder—much like a stage director would lower the lights on a somber scene, I used my long-established style to give the image a dramatic tone. Also, the raw image I was given was washed out—therefore from a pure design consideration, by making the image more graphic, I hoped to give it more visual impact to catch the reader’s eye as they passed the newsstand.

For me, the controversy was as much about power as it is about racism. Time magazine had the circulation power to reach millions of readers—and I had the power to make the image that they would see. In hindsight. the misfortune was that there was not a person in a position of power or perception able to be sensitive as to how this image could be perceived by the various interests each pushing their own agendas on race, power and the media. I also believe it was possible there was no one who could have anticipated the fallout. In the end, my career has been in pursuit of the power of the image and it is through this power of the image that we become educated and in the end, this is what we should hold on to; that we have been educated as to how images can he perceived.

As both a professional and personal experience, it is not one I would wish on anyone, nor would I have ever traded it away, because despite all the conflict that came from this controversy, it is yet one more testament that one image is worth a thousand words.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm

Congo, Contd.

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Picture 2

A few years ago, I wrote about the human rights crises in Congo throughout the 19th and 20th century. There, I have failed to mention a few details about the photo accompanying the post (reproduced above). The photo showed a man named Nsala Wala with his daughter’s hand and foot. Alice Harris, working as a missionary in the Congo, took the photo in May 1904, after he had come into her mission at Baringa with a small package containing the severed body parts. Both his wife and child had been killed and mutilated.

Cutting off hands was a common practice by the Force Publique, the police authorities of the Belgian Congo, to prevent theft and to terrorize the planters into harvesting more rubber. Deeply shocked to learn this, Alice and her husband John sent the photo back to Britain with a comment, “The photograph is most telling, and as a slide will rouse any audience to an outburst of rage.”

Many at home dismissed the photo as an anomaly, practiced by a few bad apples. The Harrises sent back a few more photos. One showed two anonymous Congolese men — flanked by John Harris and his friend Stannard — holding the severed hands of their friends Bolenge and Lingomo. Another showed a young boy Epondo with his mutilated hand (below, rightmost) . The couple also toured Europe and America on a lecture tour denouncing Congo atrocities. They showed photos showing chicotte (whip made from hippopotamus hide) being used on laborers and and female hostages held in chains by a forest guard.

What followed was the first successful human rights campaign in history. The photos were reproduced in many papers and books, including Nsala’s photo which appeared in a popular pamphlet by Mark Twain. King Leopold who owned the colony tried to discredit the photos by claiming that protestant Harris was ideologically motivated against his Catholic colonialism. In Epondo’s case, the colonial officials claimed that his hand was amputated because of a gangrenous boar bite.  However, the scale of photos spoke for themselves and the public opinion was vehemently against the practices in the Congo. Leopold finally relinquished the colony to the Belgian State in 1908.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 16, 2013 at 12:00 am


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