Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly

Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly backstage at the 28th Annual Academy Awards on March 21, 1956. Neither Grace Kelly nor Audrey Hepburn were nominees at the event in RKO Pantages Theatre. Grace Kelly presented Best Actor Oscar to Ernest Borgnine for Marty, and Audrey Hepburn presented the Best Picture to the same film. That year, Anna Magnani won the best actress award for The Rose Tattoo, and Jo Van Fleet won the award for best supporting actress for East of Eden.

Grace Kelly had won the best actress Oscar the previous year for her role in The Country Girl, and the year before that Audrey Hepburn had won the Oscar for best actress in Roman Holiday (1954). Although you can feel the tension in the above photograph by Allan Grant, two leading ladies got along perfectly in real life. In a month’s time, Kelly will marry Monaco’s Prince Rainier and become Princess Grace.

Allan Grant (1919-2008) was a Life magazine photographer–the last photographer to photographer Marilyn Monroe before she died on August 5, 1962, and the first to photograph Marina Oswald after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Atomic Test on the Enewetak Atoll

Between July 1945 and November 1962 the United States conducted at least 216 atmospheric and underwater nuclear tests. The photos documenting this are collected in a book, 100 Suns, the name given by J. Robert Oppenheimer to the world’s first nuclear explosion in New Mexico. Oppenheimer quoted from the Vedic text, the Bhagavad Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst forth at once in the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One. I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

100 Suns was complied by a San Francisco photographer Michael Light using the archives from Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Archives and heretofore classified materials from the Lookout Mountain Air Force Station in Hollywood. In 1963, the Limited Test Ban Treaty between the U.S. and the Soviet Union forced the nuclear testing to go underground, ending the haunting yet magnificent era of 100 Suns. The above picture was of 8.9 Megatons atom bomb ‘Oak’, tested at Enewetak Atoll on June 29th 1958 as the part of Operation Hardtack. With test moratoriums on the horizon, the army labs rushed out many new designs, and Oak was the first successful test for TX-46 full-yield thermonuclear bomb. The residents of Enewetak were evacuated involuntarily after WWII for the nuclear testing, and some 43 nuclear tests were fired at Enewetak between 1948 and 1958, including the first hydrogen bomb test, code-named Ivy Mike, which vaporized the island of Elugelab. Only in 1977, the U.S. government began decontaminating the islands and in 2000 compensated $340 million to the people of Enewetak.

During the Cold War, almost identical pictures of soldiers silhouetted against the bright nuclear sun were used for propaganda purposes on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Troops were used as guinea pigs but any nation testing nuclear weapons, including China, where an almost surreal propaganda video of the People Liberation Army soldiers marching towards an atomic blast was released. What a simpler time!

Michelle Jean eats seal heart


It is probably the weirdest news of the year. At a community feast in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, Canada on May 25, 2009, the Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean helped an Inuit elder skin two seals and she and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond later ate the raw seal’s heart and arctic char in solidarity with traditional fish and seal hunts. On the Governor General’s final official visit to the Arctic, she used a traditional blade to cut the seal and asked the owner, “Could I try the heart”? And then she did.

Wiping her bloody fingers with a tissue, Jean said it is difficult to believe anyone would characterize the traditional hunting practices as inhumane. The graphic and perhaps disgusting (literally, not metaphorically) act was a direct slap in the face of the European Union, which had earlier called the seal hunt “inherently inhumane” and banned it. Although the vote was overwhelming in Europe, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper protested that the seal hunt is not any more inhumane than the accepted, legal slaughter of animals in the EU.

Canada, Greenland and Namibia kill 60 percent of the 900,000 seals slain each year. Other seal-hunting countries include Norway, Iceland, Russia and the United States. The above photo is by Sean Kilpatrick, covering for The Canadian Press.

De Gaulle in Ireland


In 1969, General Charles De Gaulle, the retired President of France visited Ireland. The great Anglophobe was descended from the Irish clan of McCartan on his mother’s side and had a keen interest in Irish history. He fulfilled a lifetime ambition to visit Ireland in 1969. It was on the anniversary of L’Appel du 18 Juin (Appeal of June 18), de Gaulle’s famous speech from London that the war was not yet over with the fall of France. It was de Gaulle’s first visit abroad as a simple French citizen.

On 19th June, De Gaulle invited many McCartans from County Down to a reception in Árus an Uachtaráin–the Presidential Residence at Dublin–where he also met with the Irish President Eamon De Valera. De Gaulle commented to Valera that in Ireland, he saw what he looked for right in front of him. (“J’ai trouvé ici ce que je cherchais : être en face de moi-même.”). The above photo was taken by André Lefebvre.

Arturo Toscanini


David Seymour, “Chim”, the Polish emigrant who defined an era of sympathetic humanity through his lens, was one of the founders of Magnum. An art lover, Seymour photographed famous personalities such as the art historian Bernard Berenson, musician Arturo Toscanini, and author Carlo Levi.

Arturo Toscanini was perhaps the greatest conductor of the twentieth century, and widely regarded as an authoritative interpreter of the works of Verdi, Beethoven, Brahms and Wagner. Toscanini revolutionized musical interpretation by frequently insisting that his orchestras play the music exactly as written. Although the great Italian composer generally refused all requests to be photographed, Countess Castelbarco, his daughter, requested that Chim photograph him, and Toscanini agreed. The above image captures the composer at his piano with the death masks of Beethoven, Wagner, and Verdi in a case behind him. Verdi was extremely dear to Toscanini because at Verdi’s funeral in 1901, Toscanini conducted a performance of “Va, pensiero” (The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabacco), which ensured Verdi’s success when it was first performed (in “Nabucco”). In 1957, the piece was played as part of a memorial concert for Toscanini, who had just died.

Triangle Shirtwaist Fire


The Triangle Shirtwaist Company always kept its doors locked to ensure that the young immigrant women stayed stooped over their machines and didn’t steal anything. When a fire broke out just before the working day ended on Saturday, March 25, 1911, on the eighth floor of the New York City factory, the locks sealed the workers’ fate. The fire brigade’s ladders only reached the sixth storey, 30 feet short of the burning floors.

In just 30 minutes, 146 were killed, mostly women, mostly in their teens, and almost all Jewish or Italian immigrants. Witnesses first thought the owners were tossing their best fabric out the windows to save it, then realized workers were jumping, sometimes after sharing a kiss in an eerie precursor to the World Trade Center events of September, 11, 2001, only a mile and a half south. Incidentally, the fire was the worst workplace disaster in New York until 9/11. On the building’s east side were 40 bodies of those who jumped.

The company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had fled to the building’s roof when the fire began and survived. They were put on trial, but were acquitted when that the prosecution had failed to prove that the owners knew the exit doors were locked at the time in question. They had to compensate $75 per deceased victim, but the insurance company paid the owners about $400 per casualty. To this day, no one knows whether the fire was accidental or was started to claim this insurance money.

But the disaster was a watershed moment; it spurred a national crusade for workplace safety and unionization. From the unions’ perspective, the disaster could have been prevented if only the employers had given in to union demands the previous year during 20,000 strong citywide garment industry strike. Twice that number attended the memorial service for those who died, the unions insisted, because they could not unionize. Now the momentum was with them.

Within a few years the city and the state would go on to adopt 36 new laws, the country’s most comprehensive labour rules and public-safety codes. Moreover, these laws served as a model for other states and the New Deal’s labour legislation of the 1930s. Among those who witnessed the fire was one Frances Perkins, the future labour secretary under Franklin Roosevelt, who later noted that March 25th 1911 was the day the New Deal began.

[Photo by Brown Brothers, Sterling, Pennsylvania.]

The Armistice


“On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918, an armistice was signed, ending “The War to End All Wars”. With the military morale in its ebb and revolution brewing at home, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated two days before on 9 November. The German government had decided to negotiate an armistice with the Allies starting 7th November, when the German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg exchanged a series of telegrams with the Supreme Allied Commander Ferdinand Foch.

In the forest of Compiègne, In the railcar given to Foch for military use by the manufacturer, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the armistice was signed. The photograph was taken after reaching an agreement. The diplomatic situation was terse: The German signatory, Matthias Erzberger made a short speech, protesting the harshness of the terms, and concluded by saying that “a nation of seventy millions can suffer, but it cannot die”. Foch then refused to shake Erzberger’s hand and said, “Très bien“.)

Although it was signed at 5 am, the terms of the agreement didn’t come into effect until six hours later at 11 am. The hour was chosen by Admiral Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, First Sea Lord and Britain’s official delegate to oversee the Armistice. He was explicitly ordered by his Prime Minister David Lloyd George to delay the terms until 3 pm to coincide with parliment sitting so that PM could get the credit of announcing it officially to the house on the hour. Weymss thought the delay would cause unnecessary killing and decided that the eleventh hour would add to the poignancy of the date. Lloyd George was furious. Erzberger, too, was not kindly received back–he was assassinated later by a right-wing extremist group, Organisation Consul for signing the Armistice. Foch on the other hand was elected to the Académie des Sciences on the very day of the Armistice [and ten days later, to the Académie française].

In the above picture, front row from left to right: Rear-Admiral George P.W. Hope, Wemyss’s deputy; General Maxime Weygrand, Foch’s righthand man and one who read out the armistice conditions; Wemyss; Foch and Royal Navy captain JPR Marriott, attache to two admirals. On the train, clockwise from top right: Interpreter Laperche, Captain le Mierry, Commander Riedinger, and General Desticker, Foch’s ADC. The German delegation was notably absent. The photo was taken at 7:30 am as Foch was about to return to Paris with the signed documents in his briefcase.

Although Germany had insisted that it would only enter into negotiations on the understanding that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s so-called ‘Fourteen Points’ would form the basis for a settlement, the armistice terms were nevertheless punitive. The Allies agreed to an armistice only on the basis that Germany effectively disarm herself; the cause preventing the latter from renewing hostilities backfired spectacularly: her ignominious “reparations” agreement sowed the seeds for the rise of a nationalist movement and subsequently the Second World War.

Fall of Saddam


In 2009, Time magazine looks back at the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue the middle of Baghdad: “While the advisability of the U.S. invasion of Iraq will long be a matter of debate, the overthrow of one of the world’s most notorious dictators was inarguably a moment of jubilation for many Iraqis. On April 9, 2003, as U.S. troops moved into Baghdad, Iraqi citizens slipped a noose around the neck of a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square and dragged it from its plinth, with the assistance of a detachment of U.S. Marines and their armored vehicle. The towering statue subsequently beheaded and dragged through the streets. The effusive demonstration was a stunning symbol of the nation’s liberation from Saddam’s brutal regime.”

The magazine was partially wrong. A year after the events, amidst the allegations that the event was staged, U.S. Army confirmed that the toppling was stage-managed by American troops and not a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis. A Marine colonel first decided to topple the statue, and an Army psychological operations unit turned the event into a propaganda moment (see pictures taken of the entire proceeding). At one point, Marines draped the statue of Saddam Hussein with an American flag. When the crowd reacted negatively to that gesture, the US flag was replaced with a pre-1990 Iraqi flag, missing the words “God is Great”. Then, the Marines brought in cheering Iraqi children in order to make the scene appear authentic, the Army report said.

Above is the photo taken by Patrick Baz for AFP/Getty. However, Reuter’s aerial photos showed Fardus Square empty save for the U.S. Marines, the Press, and a handful of Iraqis. There were no more than 200 people in the square, which had been sealed off and guarded by tanks.


The Fall of the Berlin Wall


Anthony Suau is a longtime Time magazine contract photographer. He has captured a range of subjects, from famine in Ethiopia, wars in Chechnya and Iraq to the transformation of Soviet states after the fall of communism. When his agent sent him to cover the opening of the border between East and West Berlin, he was unsure at first, but his agent convinced him that it would be the ‘story of a lifetime’. It was of the pictures he had taken the above picture of the West Germans trying to climb now-merely-symbolic wall at dawn after hammering at the concrete throughout the night became the most iconic image. In the picture, the West Germans are repulsed by police with a water-cannon. [East German guards used their water cannon for a time, trying to control the crowds but it was no use.] For 10 years following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Suau has traveled the lands of the former Soviet bloc, making a photojournal Beyond the Fall.

In August  1961, the Wall went up. The-then President John F. Kennedy’s reaction was subdued at first. Earlier in June, he had met with Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna, where Khrushchev threatened Berlin with a blockage unless the American troops withdraw. After Kennedy left Vienna, he thought that war was on the horizon. Thousands had fled to the West in the previous months, and through the Berlin Wall, Khrushchev solved his refugee problem in a way that would not violate American rights. The State Department framed building of the Wall as a success for the West. Secretary of State Dean Rusk said its construction represents a victory for the West because it showed that the Communists had to imprison their own people. The world, however, viewed it differently. It took the fiery editorials in every American newspaper, accused the US of appeasement and outraged cables of ambassadors from Europe to change the official positions of the U.S. government with regards to the Wall.

The next year, Kennedy went to Berlin and gave his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. It was a beginning of American resolve towards the Wall that would culminate with Reagan’s equally memorable speech 25 years later and the subsequent fall of the Wall.


The Steerage


In June 1907, photographer Alfred Stieglitz sailed to Europe on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, one of the largest and fastest ships in the world at that time. He had a stateroom on the upper decks, but Stieglitz noticed the lower class passengers area, known on most ships as the steerage. While the ship was anchored at Plymouth, England, Stiegliz took the picture that would become his most famous–The Steerage, a cold, documentary criticism of class divisions in a democratic society. (At that time, Stieglitz had only one glass plate prepared and he captured the one and only picture of the scene).

Stieglitz later said he immediately recognized this image as “another milestone in photography…a step in my own evolution, a spontaneous discovery”. However, this claim is doubtful as he didn’t publish the photo until 1911. In October 1911, it appeared in Camera Work, and the next year on the cover of the magazine section of the Saturday Evening Mail, a New York weekly. “This photographer is working in the same spirit as I am,” remarked Pablo Picasso on seeing The Steerage. Now, the photo is hailed as one of the greatest photographs of all time because it captures in a single image both a formative document of its time and one of the first works of artistic modernism–it records the rare image of immigrants turned away by U.S. Immigration officials and were forced to go back home.

The Mainbocher Corset


Horst P. Horst, most often known as just Horst, (1906 –1999) was a German American photographer best known for his photographs of women and fashion taken while working for Vogue magazine. His work frequently reflects his interest in surrealism and his regard of the ancient Greek ideal of physical beauty. For Vogue, he created one of the great iconic photos of the Twentieth-Century, “The Mainbocher Corset”. This photograph with its erotically charged mystery appeared in the September 15, 1939 Vogue. Seen from behind, a model sits on a wooden bench, looking down through her arms. She wears a back-lacing corset by Detolle for Mainbocher. Horst treats her body like a living sculpture, and this piece is as much a figure study as an image of a quotidian bit of lingerie. To this day, designers like Donna Karan continue to use the timeless beauty of “The Mainbocher Corset” as an inspiration for their outerwear collections today.

Yevgeny Khaldei and Hermann Goering


Best known for his Reichstag flag rising picture, Yevgeny Khaldei (1917-1997) was the premier Red Army photographer from 1939 to 1948. Eventually, he was dismissed by Stalin’s anti-Semitism, but in 1945, he was the Soviets’ frontline photographer in the International Miltary Tribunals in Nuremberg. Nuremberg was a difficult assignment many photojournalists. Access to the courtroom was tightly governed under rules drafted by the Americans. Three glass enclosures were distributed along the edges of the room, and photographers were confined to them, two-by-two, and given only three minutes to shoot. One enclosure faced the dock, another faced the justices, and the third faced the those who had gathered to observe the proceedings. Khaldei finally circumvented the restriction by bribing an assistant to one of the Soviet justices with a bottle of gin in exchange for a better seat – the seat that yielded one of the most interesting photographs of Hermann Göring and the Trials.

Hermann Goering was extremely angry that the soldiers allowed a Russian (let alone a Jew) to photograph him. Dressed in his Soviet naval uniform (which further annoyed Goering) Khaldei pursued Goering aggressively: “I took lots of pictures of Göring because I thought, ‘Hitler is dead.’ That makes Göring public enemy number one. I took pains to be near him at all times.” With the help of an American MP and his baton, Goering was forced to face Khaldei’s lens, and even to have his picture taken with him. Towards the end of the trial, before the sentencing, Khaldei had his photo taken standing near Göring by a colleague. With the exception of his mother, Khaldei’s entire family had been slaughtered by the Germans in 1941.