Iconic Photos

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Posts Tagged ‘LIFE magazine

Needle Park | Bill Eppridge

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Tributes last week remembered him as the photographer who took the last photos of Robert F. Kennedy as the senator lay dying on the floor of a Californian hotel. But Bill Eppridge, who died on October 3rd, was a photographic icon long before that fateful night in 1968. Throughout the 60s, Eppridge documented for Life magazine the fast-changing America — he was there when the Beatles first came to New York; he photographed Barbara Streisand washing her clothes in a tub; he saw an emotional fraught funeral for a Civil Rights leader murdered by the Klan.

But for this author at least his most powerful work was the photoessay on heroin addicts in New York City which appeared in Life magazine in February 1965. Eppridge and James Mills, associate editor at Life who wrote the accompanying article, spent months trailing and living with two addicts who described themselves as “animals in a world no one knows.” That touching photo essay, gritty and raw well before the words became overused in photographic context, won the 1964 Headliner Award. That story later inspired the motion picture, ‘Panic in Needle Park’ starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn as John and Karen, “two lives lost to heroin,” in LIFE’s powerful words.  [Further photos on Life website].

THE DRUG-TAKERS

Here is Eppridge, remembering the assignment:

The writer, Jim Mills, and I started doing research on the heroin culture that had crossed over from subcultures and was quite seriously affecting the white middle classes. We spent three months learning everything we could about it. It took us that long to find a couple, after contacting every agency we could. When we found them, we had to persuade them to do it for free; we couldn’t have paid them – it would just support their habit. I went and lived with them for three months, and tried to be invisible. I’ve been skinny and gaunt all my life, so I fitted in with that society. It got to the point when they just ignored me and didn’t care whether I was there or not. As a matter of fact, I got stopped by the cops more than they did. They wanted to know where I got the cameras.

Often we would lead a story with a question rather than a statement. There is a statement here, but it asks a question… ‘We are animals in a world no one knows’: What is the world? How are the people like animals, they look like a normal couple, crossing the street? It brings the reader in. In the next spread you see who they are: heroin addicts. We did not show the needle very often; we had to be aware of our readership, so we didn’t want to show a lot of gore.

Karen came from a very fine family, on Long Island, but to make money to support her habit, she wasa prostitute. She was a beautiful woman. The police referred to her as the actress. She could change her looks at a whim, but when she did too many drugs, she started to look bad. John came from a very fine family in New Jersey, but to make money, he stole, boosted from cabs – he was a petty thief. Karen found that she couldn’t support her habit anymore, so she checked herself into a hospital, and was able to cut back to a habit that was affordable. I don’t think that’s possible today. I went in with them and photographed things as they happened. None of this was ever set up, I just lived with them and I waited until things happened.

They were on the street looking for a dealer; I looked over their shoulder and there was a gentleman standing there who looked like he didn’t belong. It was a cop, an undercover narc. He and his buddy came along, they spotted Karen and John were addicts, and they proceeded to search them. John was put in jail. I went to the judge and asked if we could photograph him in jail. I don’t know if it’s possible to have that access today. So, John’s in jail and Karen’s got to go and get drugs. She goes to see a dealer.

I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for her to come down, and I got a phone call. It was Karen, she said, “You’d better come up here, we got a problem”. Her dealer had overdosed. The guy could have died. It was a big dilemma; should I call the police or should I photograph it? I asked Karen how she felt about it and she said she could bring him round. So I took her word for it and didn’t call 911. And she brought him around. I constantly faced situations that bordered on illegal. It was hard having to make these kinds of decisions, but I think I made the right ones most of the time.

One of the things we highlighted was that this was not a physical addiction as much as a psychological problem. We also said that it was difficult, if not perhaps impossible, to totally deal with this problem. Those addicts still exist in one form or another.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 10, 2013 at 6:46 am

Cal Whipple (1918 – 2013)

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Addison Beecher Colvin Whipple, writer and censorship fighter, died on March 17, aged 94.

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“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. 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 21, 2013 at 2:25 pm

The Birth of a Baby

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"Indecent!": The Offending Slides

By modern standards, the controversy over the above pictorial seems almost incomprehensible. Yet, when Life magazine decided to publish it on April 11st 1938, the magazine’s editors knew that it would be one of the biggest controversies of Life’s early years.

The pictorial was titled “The Birth of a Baby” and included pictures from a film by the same title produced to reduce the maternal death rate. Both the 72-minute educational film and 35-paneled pictorial tell the fictional story of a married woman who becomes pregnant and who learns, along with the reader, about the major stages of pregnancy and birth. The movie had been banned in several U.S. cities for its ‘indecency’ , but Life decided to go ahead with their pictorial. Predictably enough, its appearance in a widely published news magazine for all audiences caused an immediate uproar in newspapers from Paris to Seattle, although Life cleared the stories with officials and warned its readers in advance.

Although a Gallup poll showed 76% of people were against a ban, thirty three U.S. cities banned the magazine, along with Canada and the state of Pennsylvania. Roy Larsen, LIFE’s publisher (and later chairman of Time Inc.’s executive committee) and six newsdealers were arrested. Lawsuits followed but every indecency charge brought before court was thrown out, except in Boston, leading to one headline: “Storks still bring Boston babies”. In this era, where the phrase “Banned in Boston” entered lexicons, the debate was the most intense in the-then more traditional bastions of WASP establishment: New England. Many important figures of the age weighed in; that arbitrator of good taste, the New York police department, mused that the pictorial “would be detrimental to the morals of youth.” In the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt was more ponderous: “I never think that honest things are bad.” The New Yorker published a parody, and many questioned the decision to ban these pictures, which contained no nudity nor depictions of sexual activity, while allowing other prurient magazines to be sold.

Always the one for bon mot, Life magazine described the controversy as pro-Life and anti-Life. Eventually, it proved to be a blessing in disguise for then-fledgling magazine. Even before Conde Nast mastered the art of $1-magazine, Life was marketed as a cheap magazine for all. Yes, its sales numbered around a million, but Life was sold at 10 cents per issue, which didn’t fully cover the expense and the magazine lost money from the beginning;. The controversy which followed the decision to print the film turned out to be a huge publicity boon for the magazine.

In the subsequent trial, the famed censorship lawyer Morris Ernst successfully defended the magazine. The landmark decision that resulted was to help to destigmatize public representations of pregnancy and birth. In 1965, Life published Lennart Nilsson’s photos of a fetus without much criticism and opposition. Looking back with more than seventy-years of hindsight, the entire episode seems quaint but it is oddly current too: in the recent years, the debate — decidedly quieter than the one above, but a debate nonetheless — is on whether Facebook should allow breast-feeding pictures online. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 1, 2010 at 4:15 am

The Empire State of Leap

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It is said that a guilty person sees shadows everywhere. I am fast becoming like that — i now see iconic photos everywhere, even when i don’t. I was watching Stranger than Fiction last night (a good movie, by the way) and a character talks about suicide: “There’s a photograph in the book called The Leaper. It’s old, but it’s beautiful. From above the corpse of a woman who’d just leapt to her death. There’s blood around her head, like a halo… and her leg’s buckled underneath, her arm’s snapped like a twig, but her face is so serene, so at peace. And I think it’s because when she died, she could feel the wind against her face.”

Although they may or may not be talking about the above photo, it is the first thing that came into my mind. It was Life Magazine’s Picture of the Week on May 12, 1947, and was also reprinted in The Best of Life. Andy Warhol used this photo in his work Suicide (Fallen Body) (See below), and Machines of Loving Grace put a recreation of the photo in their album cover for Gilt. There are also some colored versions of this photo, which remind me of one of those Tamara de Lempicka paintings.

The photo was taken on May Day, 1947 at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Photography student, Richard Wiles, was across the street, and heard a loud crash. He rushed to the scene and took the photo four minutes after one Evelyn McHale jumped off from the Observation Deck. Like the movie said, the picture is sad, but it is simultaneously serene. It isn’t full of gore, and Evelyn looked as if she was sleeping. Her calm repose contrasted greatly from the grotesque wreckage of a bier she herself created beneath her.

Life magazine wrote at the time: “On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb.”

Read the story on the Empire State Building’s Observation Desk here.

Suicide (Fallen Body): She had her 15-minutes of fame, Warhol would have said.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 16, 2010 at 8:16 am

Sophia Loren on LIFE magazine

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LIFE always realized the sales value of a little sex. Seldom did an issue of Life miss the opportunity to include partially clad women, sometimes under cover of a story on Hollywood or thinly veiled as a fashion piece on the season’s swimwear. Though this practice opened the magazine to criticism from some fronts, its impact on sales was undeniable. However, in September 1966, the photo of Sophia Loren—the photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s favorite model—wearing a negligee made the cover. It caused many Life readers to cancel their subscriptions.

During the 1960s, Loren was one of the most popular actresses in the world, in 1964, she received $1 million to act in The Fall of the Roman Empire. Despite the failure of her films to generate sales at the box office, Sophia Loren was a darling of studios, and worn some of the most lavish costumes ever created for the movies. The above photo was taken on the set for 1964 film Matrimonio all’italiana, starring Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 9, 2009 at 12:03 pm

The Marlboro Man

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He was the Most Influential Man Who Never Lived.  Though there were many Marlboro Man models over time until 1999 (factoid: but only three of them succumbed to lungs cancer), the original inspiration for the Philip Morris cigarette advertising campaign came through Life magazine photographs by Leonard McCombe from 1949.

Clarence Hailey Long (above) was a 39-year-old, 150-pound foreman at the JA ranch in the Texas panhandle, a place described as “320,000 acres of nothing much.” Once a week, Long would ride into town for a store-bought shave and a milk shake. Maybe he’d take in a movie if a western was playing. He was described as “as silent man, unassuming and shy, to the point of bashfulness [with a] face sunburned to the color of saddle leather [with cowpuncher’s] wrinkles radiating from pale blue eyes.” He wore “a ten-gallon Stetson hat, a bandanna around his neck, a bag of Bull Durhamtobacco with its yellow string dangling from his pocket, and blue denim, the fabric of the profession”. He said things like, “If it weren’t for a good horse, a woman would be the sweetest thing in the world.” He rolled his own smokes.

When the cowboy’s face and story appeared in LIFE in 1949, advertising exec Leo Burnett had an inspiration. Philip Morris, which had introduced Marlboro as a woman’s cigarette in 1924, was seeking a new image for the brand. The image managed to transform a feminine campaign, with the slogan “Mild as May”, into one that was masculine in a matter of months. The “Marlboro Cowboy” and “Marlboro Country” campaigns based on Long boosted Marlboro to the top of the worldwide cigarette market and Long to the top of the marriage market: Long’s Marlboro photographs led to marriage proposals from across the nation, all of which he rejected.

By the time the Marlboro Man went national in 1955, sales were at $5 billion, a 3,241% jump over the previous year. Over the next decade, Burnett and Philip Morris experimented with other manly types — ball players, race car drivers and rugged guys with tattoos (often friends of the creative team, sporting fake tattoos); all worked, but the Marlboro Man worked the best. By the time the first article linking lung cancer to smoking appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1957, the Marlboro sales were at $20 billion. Before the Marlboro Man, the brand’s U.S. share stood at less than 1%, but in 1972 (a year after the cigarette ads were banned from American televisions) it became the No. 1 tobacco brand in the world.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 19, 2009 at 11:47 am

How Life Begins

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Nilsson

Hailed as Sweden’s first modern photojournalist, Lennart Nilsson used his background as a scientist to reveal a side of human life heretofore considered unseenable. Starting in the mid-1950s, Nilsson began experimenting with new photographic techniques to make extreme close-up photographs. These advances, combined with very thin endoscopes that became available in the mid-1960s, enabled him to make groundbreaking photographs of living human blood vessels and body cavities.

He achieved international fame in 1965, when his photographs of the beginning of human life appeared on the cover and on sixteen pages of Life magazine. They were also published in Stern, Paris Match, The Sunday Times, and elsewhere. The photographs made up a part of the book, A Child is Born (1965); image from the book were reproduced in on the cover of April 30 1965 edition of Life, which sold eight million copies in the first four days after publication. Life advertised the photo of 18-week old embryo as an ‘Unprecedented photographic feat in color’.

Although Life claimed to show a living fetus, Nilsson actually photographed abortus material obtained from women who terminated their pregnancies under the liberal Swedish laws. Working with dead embryos allowed Nilsson to experiment with lighting, background and positions, such as placing the thumb into the fetus’ mouth. Over the intervening years, Nilsson’s painstakingly made pictures were appropriated for purposes that Nilsson never intended. Nearly as soon as the 1965 portfolio appeared in LIFE, images from it were enlarged by right-to-life activists and pasted to placards. Some photos were also later included on both Voyager spacecraft, as the part of the golden record that contains pictures, symbols and sounds of Earth and her inhabitants.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 19, 2009 at 11:29 am

The Wild One Riots

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Life magazine 1947

In 1947, the event would be recorded in history books as the Hollister Riots took place during the 4th of July Celebrations in the city of the same name in California. It was a motorcycle rally that featured members of the American Motorcycle Association. Motorcycle rallies had become increasingly popular in the post World War Two era as more and more men were taking up the hobby of group motorcycle riding.

The crowd of 4,000 people was several times more than had been expected; although it was held outside Hollister, the event spilled over into the small town, which was overwhelmed by bikers who were forced to sleep on sidewalks and in parks. About 50 people were arrested during the event, most for public intoxication, reckless driving, and disturbing the peace. Some were fighting and racing in the streets; there were 60 reported injuries, of which 3 were serious. The AMA allegedly stated, “the trouble was caused by the one per cent deviant that tarnishes the public image of both motorcycles and motorcyclists”, coining the term “one-percenter” to describe “outlaw” bikers.

What put the riots in America’s collective memory was the 1953 film The Wild One starring Marlon Brando. Although it was inspired by the event, the movie was based on a more sensational account of the riots that run in Life magazine and other prestigious papers. All this can be attributed to a single reporter: Barney Peterson, a photographer for San Francisco Chronicle who staged the above photo. Peterson, who arrived after the riots, asked Eddie Davenport, a member of a now defunct club called the Tulare Riders, to pose precariously atop a Harley-Davidson motorcycle surrounded with broken beer bottles, holding a beer in each hand.

Peterson’s reporting was also somewhat sensational. He described bikers racing their bikes up and down the streets, through restaurants and bars; he used words such as “terrorism” and “pandemonium” almost gleefully, and described the women accompanying the bikers as less than wholesome. Although the Chronicle did not run the above photo (it ran another Peterson photo, which was unstaged), the staged photo appeared in the July 21, 1947 edition of Life magazine under the title “Cyclist’s Holiday: He and Friends Terrorize Town.” (The Life article was also the source of much debated number of attendees: four thousand). To an America already rattled by the Cold War and the Communism, these were not reassuring news at all. Soon, the Congress would be devoting hearings and major magazines their frontpages to young hoodlums and their anticipated (but never actually materialized) rampages.

American history being what it is, these irrational fears were soon forgotten and replaced by a new set of irrational fears. Yet, the fake news story and photos had a long reaching cultural influence. Brando’s outstanding performance in The Wild One lent an aura of “rebel outlaw” identity to bikers. The Wild One would become a model for newly formed clubs, like the Hells Angels, bring them tons of new members and popularize various bike brands.

 


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 9, 2009 at 7:12 am

The Blunt Reality of War in Vietnam

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It was perhaps the most controversial cover for LIFE magazine, which usually steered clear of controversy. Paul Schutzers captured this image of a VietCong prisoner gagged and bound, being taken prisoner by American forces during the Vietnam War. Photography and news coverage like this helped to turn the American public against the Vietnam war.

Schutzer, one of LIFE’s best photographers, worked frequently in the Middle East during his short career and there he would perish too: he was killed on assignment on June 5, 1967, the first day of the Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 28, 2009 at 12:59 pm

TIME 9/11 Special Cover

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Time Magazine’s black border on it’s 9/11 special issue cover was subtle but it delivered a dramatic statement. The magazine, along with Coca Cola, McDonalds and Disney is one of the great American consumerist institutions. An appearance on its hallowed covers, whether it’s of an individual, an organisation, a movement, an event or a trend has long been, and still is, a statement of having arrived, of having made a mark in history.

Although the fonts on the cover changed frequently as the decades progressed, the red border of the magazine, introduced in 1927, was an industry standard, like the Financial Times being pink. (The magazine tried a bright orange table of contents pre-1927.) The red border has only been dropped twice, both in the recent years. The first break with the tradition came for the issue of the 9-11 attacks, above, which was put out just 36 hours after the horrific events of that day. The only issue in the magazine’s history delivered without any advertisement, it sold 3.4 million copies, the most ever.

On the cover was a photo taken by Lyle Owerko. On the back cover was the photo of the Statue of Liberty engulfed in smoke and ash.

[In 2007, for the second time, TIME magazine leaves the red border behind in favor of the green border to celebrate Earth Day. TIME took a page from its departed sister LIFE. LIFE changed the red color twice in its lifetime: the issue after the assassination of president John F. Kennedy (Nov. 29, 1963) when black replaced red, and on Earth Day (May 1990) when green replaced red.]

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 11, 2009 at 11:37 am

Three dead Americans lie on the beach at Buna

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During World War II, most Americans followed the news of the war through three sources: radio broadcasts, newspapers (there were more than 11,000 in the country then) and newsreels that preceded the movies at their local theatres. These sources played a vital role in connecting the home front with the war front, and the government control of the news was comprehensive. All news about the war had to pass through the Office of War Information (OWI). A “Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press” was issued on Jan 15, 1942 giving strict instructions on proper handling of news.

The code was voluntarily adopted by all of the major news organizations and implemented by the more than 1,600 members of the press accredited by the armed forces during the war. The government also relied heavily on reporter’s patriotism, which ensured that in their dispatches from the front lines, they tended to accentuate the positive. The above photo, therefore, was unusual: it was the first time an image of dead American troops appeared in media during World War II without their bodies being draped, in coffins, or otherwise covered up.

The photo of three dead American soldiers lying in the sand on shoreline near half sunken landing craft on Buna Beach, Papua New Guinea was now considered a war classic. Taken by George Strock in February 1943, it was not published until its September 20th 1943 issue. In that September, this photo and other equally gruesome and graphic pictures of WWII were finally OK’d by the Office of War Information’s censors, in part because President Roosevelt feared that the American public might be growing complacent about the war and its horrific toll. Even than, in the picture, the Americans’ faces were not shown–a practice continued until Korean War  to preserve soldiers’ privacy in death.

At the time of the publication, these pictures shocked many readers. The Washington Post argued that the pictures “can help us to understand something of what has been sacrificed for the victories we have won.” Images of dead soldiers appeared regularly after that. Efforts were made to crop the photos or obscure the victims’ faces, name tags and unit insignia. The caption to Strock’s photo, “Three dead Americans lie on the beach at Buna,” told Life’s readers that they did not need to know the names of the dead in order to appreciate what they had done.

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LIFE magazine felt compelled to ask in an adjacent full-page editorial, “Why print this picture, anyway, of three American boys dead upon an alien shore?” Among the reasons: “Words are never enough . . .

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 24, 2009 at 10:45 pm

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