The Coffins, 2004

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In 1991, when his gruesome photo of a dead Iraqi soldier burnt in tank during the Gulf War was published, Ken Jarecke remarked: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.” For four presidential administrations — from the Gulf War until 2009 – there was a ban on the news media photographing the flag-covered caskets of American soldiers killed in war, imposed by the military, which viewed that the media had lost them the war in Vietnam.

The ban became an issue on Sunday, April 18, 2004, The Seattle Times published a large front-page photograph depicting several flag-covered coffins inside a transport plane, bound for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the largest U.S. military mortuary. The photo had arrived at a particularly fraught moment for the military, as the American occupation of Iraq bogged down and the death toll rose alarmingly. Amid a growing insurgency, widespread uprisings, and a major crisis in Fallujah, that April would turned out to be the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the war began.

The photos came from no photojournalist, but from Tami Silicio, a 50-year old civilian cargo worker, working the night shift at Kuwait International Airport for Maytag Aircraft, a military contractor responsibility for shipping supplies (including the dead bodies) to and from Iraq.

Silicio shared the photos with a friend, a fellow military contractor with whom she had worked in Kosovo, who then forwarded it to Barry Fitzsimmons, photo editor at The Seattle Times. Fitzsimmons contacted Silicio for her permission to print the photo, which was readily granted.

Silicio maintained that she had no political objective in mind. She recalled how the aircraft interior felt like a shrine and how the staff went about their task securing the coffins with solemnity. As a mother who had lost a child herself (her oldest son died of a brain tumor, aged 19), she wanted to bring comfort to families, to “let the parents know their children weren’t thrown around like a piece of cargo, that they, instead, were treated with the utmost respect and dignity.”

Three days later after the photo ran, Silico and her husband, a co-worker who she recently married, were fired for having “violated Department of Defense and company policies.” When it appeared that she might be fired, Silicio told her friend: “I took that photo from my heart. I don’t care if they sent me home or if I have to work for $9 an hour the rest of my life to pay my mortgage.”

“I feel honored. The photo was honest. It captured the respect for the dead and that’s what it should have been about. That photo stirred up a whole lot of stuff around this nation. People’s emotions were touched.”

Silicio would prove to be prescient. Unable to get another contractor job and unable to keep up with her mortgage payments, she lost her home and struggled financially subsequently. In 2016, long after the ban was lifted, she looked back and stated that she did not regret her decision to allow publication of the photo.

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The Zamzam Affair

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“One of the picture scoops of World War II,” Time magazine called it.

The photos showed the sinking of Zamzam, an Egyptian vessel which departed New York in March 1941 bound for Alexandria, Egypt with approximately 200 passengers, mostly Protestant missionaries, plus two dozen volunteer ambulance drivers from the British-American Ambulance Corps bound for the British Army in the Middle East.

On April 17, 1941, the Zamzam was attacked by Atlantis, a German raider. Most of the passengers survived and were picked up by Atlantis. Among the survivors were Life magazine photographer David Scherman and Charles J. V. Murphy, an editor of Life’s sister publication, Fortune, who were on the way to South Africa to cover the war. Scherman had snapped away at the Zamzan’s fate – passengers abandoning ship, pictures of Atlantis, pictures of the sinking Zamzam — even as he was being captured. He even managed to take pictures aboard the prison ship.

He hid rolls of film in a tube of toothpaste and shaving cream and got a missionary doctor to sew the films in packages of gauze bandages which were then resealed. Before being repatriated, Scherman had to surrender his films to the Nazis “for examination.” He willingly gave up 104 rolls to the Germans but kept the four rolls that he knew to include the pictures of the sinking and some of the life aboard the German ship.

After his release, Scherman sent his photos to Life and the magazine published the story of the Zamzam’s sinking, accompanied by Murphy’s words in June 1941.  

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For a brief moment, the attention of the whole world was transfixed: America was not yet in the Second World War, and Zamzam, a neutral passenger ship carrying primarily American citizens, could have been just the spark to sway the public opinion in favor of war, just as the Lusitania did in World War I. The German propaganda ministry, realizing the danger quickly released a statement claiming that all passengers and crew had been rescued by the German warship Atlantis, captained by a devout Lutheran, and that Zamzam’s cargo of oil was contraband, and therefore legally attackable.

Those were divisive and perilous days. In “Those Angry Days,” historian Lynn Olson recalled an anti-war country in which shops and bars near army bases banned soldiers, and generals wore civilian clothes to testify to the Congress. An effigy of a senator calling for young men to receive compulsory military training was hanged from an oak outside the Senate, before being dragged around Capitol Hill behind a car, by a mob of angry ladies: members of an isolationist mothers’ movement.  Often clad in mourning black, they encircled Capitol Hill to scream and spat at politicians for plotting to kill their sons. Meanwhile, inside the building, senators denounced one another as war profiteers and even a fistfight broke out. Robert Taft, an isolationist senator and the son of a former president, declared that President Roosevelt’s policies were a “good deal” more dangerous than Nazism.

In such atmosphere, Life magazine was almost circumspect. “American people who have learned a lot since the Lusitania went down, showed few evidences of either surprise or hysteria, accepting the news rather with a hardening of spirit, a grim determination,” Life magazine wrote under the headline, “Germans sinks an American ship and dares the U.S. to make an incident of it.”

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Yet, by the time the German censors finally returned Scherman’s rolls of film, and Life magazine published a coda to the Zamzam affair, on December 15, 1941, the things had dramatically changed. Eight days earlier, the Japanese had attacked the Pearl Harbor and America was well on her way to war.

As for Scherman’s photos, those enabled the British, who would soon have the picture of the Atlantis posted aboard all their ships, to identify and then sink the raider, which was a nondescript merchantman refitted as an armed cruiser. David Scherman would went on to be an editor at LIFE for two decades, the only staff photographer ever to achieve such a switch.


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Henri Cartier-Bresson | Shanghai, Jan 1949

On the day the Japanese Army surrendered in September 1945, the wars in Asia were far from over. As Ronald Spector notes in a recent book, “A Continent Erupts,” the peoples under the territories until recent occupied by Japan had vastly different visions about their postcolonial future which led to savage and bitter conflicts.

Nowhere was this brutal conflict more pronounced than in China were 2.5 million combatants and 16 million civilians were to perish between 1945 and 1949. The World War in Asia had practically began in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, and it has dragged on as the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek cut secret deals with the defeated Japanese commanders in 1945-46 to engage some Japanese troops against the Communists.  

The Nationalists nominally still controlled the cities, but the power was slowly slipping away from them. Economy, after seventeen years of war, was in a nosedive and in order to keep funding the war (now without major support from the Western Allies), the Nationalists began printing paper money in vast quantities. Technically, they were backed by gold, but amount of Chinese fabi in circulation grew from 189 billion to 4.5 trillion by 1946.

The government tried to intervene – firstly by introducing a new currency, gold yuan and then eventually by trying to return China to silver standard – but nothing would work. In a typical dictatorial fashion, the government mandated all Chinese holding gold, silver, or foreign currency were required to surrender such assets in return for “gold yuan,” under penalty of death. Chiang appointed his own son in charge of these measures who led a reign of terror, sending trucks from house to house to confiscate the assets.  In mid-1948, currency was trading at one million yuans to a US dollar. By February 1949, it was six million yuans to a dollar. Paper factories in Kwangtung found it more cost effective to pulp hundred yuan bills to making new paper.

By now, the end was drawing near. Starting in December 1948, the government had been shipping out the nation’s gold reserves to Taiwan, knowing that the Communists would soon over run the major cities. In December, 2 million taels of gold (~75 tons), nearly half of the government’s gold, carried out of the central bank in the traditional manner – by coolies, parceled up on bamboo poles – down the gangplank onto a freighter bound for Keelung in northern Taiwan.  

This action, observed by George Vine, a British journalist looking out of his fifth-floor office window one night, would prompt a nationwide bank run. That was the situation when Henri Cartier-Bresson arrived in Shanghai in January 1949. Outside four government banks on the old Bund, a vast crowd teemed. In order to prove that there was still gold in the vaults, the government started selling gold from the reserves at around half the price what the black marketers were charging. Each person was limited to forty grams of gold, and thousands had been waiting in line since eight pm the previous night, ignoring the eleven pm curfew. The police made only a token gesture toward maintaining order, resulting in ten deaths by suffocation or by being trampled, by five pm the following day.

The government gave up this scheme quickly.  Meanwhile, they were shipping off gold — another 14 tons of gold was being moved out of Bank of China’s vaults under the Bund just as Cartier-Bresson was documenting the chaos above. The gold and silver was escorted down to Taiwan by Mei Ching, a ship which would later defected to the Communists, highlighting the risks involved in such a transfer.

By the time Shanghai fell to the Communists, almost 100 tons of gold reserves were safely in Taiwan already.

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Mount St. Helens — May 1980

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(contd. from the previous post).

As Mount St. Helens primed for its explosion, the government dithered. Logging companies (including Wyerhaeuser, one of the largest private owners of timberlands in the world) which owned most of the land around the volcano vehemently opposed geologists’ plan to set a large danger zone around the mountain. Indeed, logging of old growth forests was so extensive here that when President Carter looked out of his plane window and commented, “Look at that incredible devastation,” he had to be corrected, “Oh no, Mister President, those are just clear cuts. We haven’t gotten to the volcano yet.”

Other government officials sounded equally out-of-touch. “All the people who were killed—I think except for the scientists—were there illegally,” said Governor Dixy Lee Ray, while in fact, only three of the 57 known Mount St. Helens victims were inside the state’s designated danger zones. But the governor was always prone to such gaffes; earlier, she had giddily commented, “I’ve always said I wanted to live long enough to see one of our volcanoes erupt.”

Due to government inaction, and people’s nonchalance (even before the volcano erupted, visitors were walking around with T-shirts that said, “I survived Mount St. Helens.”), the eruption was one of the most well documented natural disasters. It was one of the first major volcanic eruptions ever to be recorded on film. Most notable are photos taken by amateur photographer Gary Rosenquist and University of Washington graduate student Keith Ronnholm from a campground 10 miles away.  Rosenquist’s 24-frame sequence (above) was later used to reconstruct the explosion by the scientists and used at Mount St. Helens education center. Another notable was local news photographer Dave Crockett, whose video, of which eleven minutes were recorded in total darkness, was re-played on televisions worldwide. (Ronnholm and Rosenquist were lucky; they were extremely close to the blast, but were shielded by the landscape deflected the blast around 1 mile short of their location).

Despite all infelicities, death toll was smaller than expected — around 100 people were feared missing immediately afterwards, but many of them survived. The land’s recovery was no less miraculous too: just three years after the eruption, 90 percent of plant species and nearly all mammals had returned to the blast area. Leaving the downed trees where they lay, against the logging companies’ wishes to clear them, also resulted in faster recovery.

Aberfan Disaster | 1966

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At 9.15 am on the morning of  October 21, 1966, a coal slag heap at Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil in Wales. Within five minutes, it had buried a school, several cottages and a farm. In total, 144 people were killed – 116 of them young children, studying at Pantglas school.

The National Coal Board (NCB), the creaky custodian of all nationalized coal assets in Britain blamed the accident on abnormal rainfall (although it had received earlier warnings). Its grandiose chairman Lord Robens — who was driven around in a Daimler bearing the plates ‘NCB 1’ and who was known as ‘Old King Coal’ — didn’t help the matters: upon hearing of the accident, he instead went ahead with his plans to be installed as chancellor of Surrey University and showed up in Aberfan only the following day — with an outsized cigar.

By this time, images of the wreckage of Pantglas Junior School had already been widely circulated. The most iconic was that of eight-year old Susan Maybank (later Susan Robertson) carried off from the school by policeman Victor Jones. Mel Parry, then an eighteen year old apprentice photographer, remembers the day:

“I got off the bus, saw it, rang the office and asked the chief photographer if he could bring some equipment down. As soon as he arrived, I just started taking pictures. The photograph that everybody’s aware of I have no recollection of taking. It was, from what I’m led to understand, one of the first three that were ever taken of the site…. I saw the photograph later in the evening when the paper came out. I didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t even think it was mine – I didn’t find out until three days later…. Personally I wish I’d never taken it, because I wish the disaster had never happened. I just happened to be one person in the right place at the right time. Six or seven years later I got out of photography altogether. It gave me 15 minutes of fame on the back of a disaster and that is something I would not wish on anybody.”

Parry won the news category of the British Press Photographer of the Year, the youngest-ever recipient. Ironically, the full-sized photo (above) was never actually carried by any paper: it was cropped out by the darkroom assistant, who wanted to hone in on the central image of rescuer, child and wailing woman.

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Pedro Luis Raota

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When he died early at the age of 52 in 1986, Pedro Luis Raota was already a celebrated photographer, both in his native Argentina and outside. The “Ansel Adams of Argentina”, he was dubbed, and his photos routinely won awards on international competitions. He cofounded and then served as the first director of The Instituto Superior de Arte Fotográfico and was also controversially a favored photographer of the Argentine military junta which loved his photos which sentimentalized and lionized the country’s working class poor.

Born in Chaco, one of the poorest provinces of Argentina, Raota himself had humble origins making passport pictures in rural areas. His first major success came when he was 32 years old when he won the first Prize in a photographic contest organized by Mundo Hispánico, a magazine in Madrid with his work on lives of the gaucho and their descendants. His lens focused on the dark wrinkles of the gaucho families, marking their hard lives, and unbridled horses of the Pampa Húmeda. (The gaucho — the nomadic horsemen who defined the Argentine and Uruguayan pampas from the mid-18th to the mid-19th century — enjoyed heroic status similar to that of the cowboys in the United States).

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Like Adams, Raota was a master of the darkroom; his images are always dramatic, with an exaggerated use of chiaroscuro. His original signed prints, each one hand printed by himself on Chlorobromide paper, are extremely rare and command high prices. It was widely rumored that Raota was engaged by the junta to produce propaganda, but the details were murky. When the Argentine junta collapsed, many people who wished to hide their close relationship with the regime destroyed many junta-era documents, complicating any investigation into the matter.

What was undeniable was that Raota’s photographic books were distributed in many countries though embassies throughout the junta years in a PR campaign. Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales, the national oil company, also used Raota’s photos in its calendars and promotional materials during the junta years. His photos represented a sanitized Argentina, wished and willed by the junta: an Argentina of romance, loyalty and community, depicted in period or regional costumes; a nation and a people untroubled by wars or economic ruination; wholesome, rural, pristine, conservative.

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Pinatubo Erupts

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In March 1991, when a series of earthquakes hit the western side of the island of Luzon along the Zambales Mountains, locals awoke to the reality that in the middle of the Zambales range, there might be a dormant volcano. Pinatubo — quiet since before the lands under it were named the Philippines — erupted a few months later, in June.

The explosion was to be the second largest of the 20th century (second only to that of Novarupta in Alaska in 1912). Unlike the Alaskan volcano, half a million people lived next to Pinatubo and several important river systems stem from its peak. A logistical and environmental nightmare loomed. Adding to the woes, a typhoon was ripped through the island, mixing Pinatubo’s ash with rains, which created concrete-like mud that collapsed roofs and buildings miles away.

Many photojournalists came to the area, and the most iconic shot of the explosion — and perhaps of any volcanic eruption — was that of a Ford Fierra fleeing a gargantuan cloud of pyroclastic flows, a fast-moving current of hot gas up to 450 mph and 1,000 °C strong.  [See a pyroclastic flow in action on video here.] The photo was taken by Alberto Garcia,  chief photographer of Tempo, a tabloid affiliated with the Manila Bulletin, who remembers taking the photo about 20-30 km away from the caldera:

“It took me 30 minutes to prepare my things and headed back to Zambales where the [volcanologists] were stationed. … So everybody jumped into our vehicles and I was trying to put on my gas masked when I saw a blue pick-up ahead of that beautiful wall of gray. I opened the door and tried shooting the picture with my 50mm lens but it was too tight, so I decided to change the lens and used the 24mm instead and made sure my setting was correct and shot eight frames. Although I had only eight shots, I rewound the entire roll of film, keeping it safe in my pocket.”

Garcia won the World Press Photo, in the nature and environment category. The photo was included in Time’s “Greatest Images of the 20th Century” (2001) and National Geographic’s “100 Best Pictures” (2001).

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Hilmar Pabel

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The year 1968 began uneasily in Czechoslovakia. The previous October, a group of students in Prague’s Technical University staged a demonstration to protest electricity cuts at their dormitories; their shouts of “More light!” were a pointed rebuke towards the stifling rule by the Communist party. So, when the new year came, the party yielded by electing a new First Secretary, Alexander Dubček.

The 47-year old was a compromise candidate — Dubček had carefully cultivated his bland and ambiguous personality for years. Now, finally with power, he changed positions. A reform program — timid by international standards, but ambitious in the eyes of Communist cadres — was launched to create ‘‘Communism with a human face.’’ The flowering of freedom of speech and press, freedom to travel abroad, and relaxation of secret police activities followed, but it was brief. A worried Soviet Union rolled its tanks into Czechoslovakia in August 1968.

On the first day of invasion, German photographer Hilmar Pabel took the photo above of a distraught woman carrying a photo of Dubcek and Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda. Pabel was a man whose stature as a humanist photographer would have been greater had he not been a propagandist for Nazism during the Second World War. In a photoessay for Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Pabel documented Jews living in the Lublin Ghetto as shifty and avaricious: living in dirt and hiding consumer goods and foods in the cellars.

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After the war, Pabel was briefly imprisoned for his work, but got out to work with Red Cross to photograph children displaced by war to help them reunite with their parents and family. By the 50s and 60s, his reputation has recovered, and his works were published by Life, Paris Match, and Stern.  In 1961, he was the recipient of the Cultural Prize of the German Society for Photography, followed by two World Press Photo awards. Two photoessays he filed from Vietnam (Story of the Little Orchid, 1964 and Thuan Lives Again, 1968) were widely praised, although some critics scoffed that he was reaching back into his propagandist past to portray American army hospital staff as Good Samaritans.

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Nelly | Greece

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How do you memorialize someone like Nelly? On one hand, she was a pioneering woman photographer and her photos of Greek temples and columns set against sea and sky shaped – and it can be argued, still shape – our imagination of Greek culture and its visual image. On the other hand, she was a propagandist and she closely associated with Nazis and fascists.

Born Elli Sougioultzoglou-Seraidari near Smyrna in Asia Minor, she studied photography in Germany. The expulsions of ethnic Greeks of Asia Minor by the Turks following the Greco-Turkish war was to shape her views for decades to come – she would adopt nationalist approach to her work, working for the Greek royal family and the Greek state, which was then trying to reproduce an idealized view of their country for both internal propaganda as well as external tourism.  Her photos of the Parthenon, Athens, and Santorini, as well as the locals in ethnic dresses, are to shape the Western imaginations of Greek culture.

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Under the pre-war dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas, she worked for the regime’s youth organization EON, producing photos and photomontages of fascistic grandeur. Through Metaxas’ regime, she became acquainted with the Nazi establishment, photographing Hitcher and Mussolini at close quarters, and becoming close to the Goebbels. She requests that Goebbels recommend her to UFA, the German film academy, to be trained in shooting documentaries – due to her admiration of Leni Riefenstahl, that other female propagandist, with whom she was later compared.

When the war broke out, she was in the United States; with the Italian invasion of Greece looming, her nationalism turned anti-Axis and she spent the war years fundraising for the Allied cause by selling the photos of her idealized Greece. A photo of hers – of a soldier sounding his trumpet to call the Greeks to fight off Italy – was on the cover of Life magazine in December 1940.  After Greece finally returned to democracy in 1974, her associations with the Metaxas regime was downplayed by a new Greek government which recast her as the ‘photographer of the nation’: a cultural ambassador of “the ‘Greece’ we all carry inwardly, the ‘Greece’ to which we all return to, the ‘Greece’ we cannot easily overcome’, as one pundit put it.

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The Flood | Giorgio Lotti

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In November 1966, when the River Arno broke and flooded Florence, it was undeniably one of the most damaging natural disasters in Western Europe. Over a hundred-people died – and millions of masterpieces were destroyed. “The world nearly lost the Renaissance city,” the Guardian wrote somberly.

The Tuscan capital was the city of the Medicis, Machiavelli, and Savonarola, where Michelangelo, Leonardo and Botticelli lived and worked. In this wet autumn, it was to welcome a third of its annual rainfall in just two days. The waters reached over 6.7 metres around the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Giotto had painted frescos; inside Cimabue’s crucifix from 13th century was destroyed. Completely flooded was the Biblioteca Nazionale, on low ground facing the Arno, where eight million documents, books, and manuscripts had been deposited, many of them for safety since the Second World War. In Piazza del Duomo, baptistery doors by Ghiberti, the ironically named “Gates of Paradise”, were flung open by the floodwaters, which also ripped off its bronze panels off their frames and carried them 500 meters.

The efforts to restore Florence began almost immediately. The so-called angeli del fango, the mud angels – many of them young artists and students – came to the mud-soaked city to carry out the flood damaged masterpieces. Picasso donated a painting to raise funds, and a short film by Franco Zeffirelli and narrated by Richard Burton raise $20 million. But the amount of works affected was so staggering, the restorations so time-consuming, and the Italian bureaucracy so glacial that a significant portion remains unrestored. Giorgio Vasari’s five-panel “Last Supper” which was underwater for more than 12 hours was restored fully only in 2016, and a great number of books and art remain locked in warehouses waiting to be repaired.

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The photo above — taken by Giorgio Lotti, a photojournalist with the notable Italian illustrated news magazine Epoca – shows the Florentine city transformed into Venice. Lotti would later be more famous as the man who took one of the most widely reprinted photos in the world – a snap which was used by Zhou Enlai as one of his official portraits. Lotti was in Beijing for an event with the Italian embassy to which he brought a camera despite being told not to do so. While Zhou was greeting the visitors, he asked the Chinese premier (in French) to pose for a photo. Lotti was not impressed by the first photo but he took another as Zhou’s assistant informed Zhou that they were waiting for him in the room and he looked away from the camera to look into the room. Later, the Chinese ambassador would ask Lotti for a copy of this second shot at Zhou’s explicit request.

 

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Ernest Cole

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When it was first published in the United States in 1967 and in Britain a year later, House of Bondage was the most comprehensive document of apartheid. Sure, there had been photojournalists from Life or Magnum who visited South Africa and came back with absurd and hallowing photos of segregation, but here was a book, by a black South Africa who lived through its incipient days.

Born in 1940, Ernest Cole was ten when a series of laws — on population registration, on miscegenation, on mixed race settlements — codified Apartheid. In 1953, when bantu education act racially separated educational facilities from missionary schools to universities, Cole left school — his education forever pigeonholing him as an “unskilled labourer” who could only work as in low-paid jobs.

In a time when a black man holding a camera was viewed with great suspicion, he became a photographer for Drum, documenting the pantomime life in segregated South Africa — poverty, binge drinking, overcrowded and dirty black townships, syncretic religion, and bantustans. This was a time of inhumanities. Benches read “Europeans Only”, and there were no benches for “Blacks” as they were supposed to sit on the ground. Trains and train platforms were divided in two — only a small section for “Non-Europeans”. Black hospitals were understaffed.

Absurdities permeated throughout. At drive-in theaters, wooden walls cut through the middle of the field, separating the blacks from the whites. Since non-whites are not allowed to see some films restricted to whites only, the ushers — who were predominantly black — were asked to avert their eyes and watch the floor while ushering in patrons. Shakespeare’s Othello — subtitled The Moor of Venice — was not allowed to be played by a black actor. Black Beauty, a novel about a horse in Victorian England, which didn’t even include any black people, was banned because the censors read the title and assumed that it was a black rights novel.

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But the worst conditions were in the mines — in whose strict patriarchal divide between white overseers and black laborers began the seeds of Apartheid. Cole sneaked his camera into these mines in his lunchbox, and took pictures. In his book, Cole wrote, “twenty-four hours a day, six days a week, half a million Africans are at work in the earth.” The pay was low, and the condition dire (the mines were not unionized until 1982) but the lure of riches was to draw other Africans into the miasma of apartheid. They came from all over South Africa and from Zambia, Mozambique, Angola and several other neighboring states.

Soon his work and connections became too controversial even for trailblazing Drum. After he was asked, and re- fused, to become a police informer, he left for exile in the West. When his book was published, he became an instant persona non grata and his book joined Black Beauty on the banned list (but was secretly circulated). He never returned to South Africa, and died penurious in Manhatten in 1990, even as the Apartheid regime was crumbling.

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dumdum-patreon

A word about Patreon. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.”  I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos. But that research does come with a price tag — in web hosting, books, library subscriptions, and copious coffee.

Readers who subscribe on Patreon might have access to a few blog posts early; chance to request this topic or that topic; or to participate in some polls. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!

Here is the link: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

 

 

Monument Valley, Josef Muench

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Largely forgotten now, there was a time when the name Josef Muench was as much associated with Monument Valley as Ansel Adams was with Yosemite. Born in Germany in 1908, Muench was later to be celebrated for making the picture-heavy Arizona Highways one of the premier photo magazines in the country. Bulk of his work, however, documented the harsh landscape surrounding 30,000 acres of Navajo tribal park starting in 1935.

Also present around the park were the Gouldings who purchased 640 acres of land next to the valley and began trading with the Navajo in the preceding decade. The times were bad for both the Gouldings and the Navajo – the effects of the Great Depression were particularly harsh on this stretch of Arizona-Utah border – but Harry Goulding had an idea. He had heard that United Artists was looking to film a Western nearby.

Goulding commissioned from Muench an album of 8-by-10 scenes of the Valley. Legend had it that he drove off to Hollywood, and insisted on camping out in United Artists’ reception area until he ran into the location manager of the film. The manager was suitably impressed by Muench’s pictures – as was the director, John Ford.

The film they were to make together in the valley was Stagecoach, one of the most influential Westerns ever made – the movie that turned westerns from cheap cinematic fares into sprawling epics; the movie that made a star out of John Wayne. Essential to the movie was the Monument Valley’s mythic landscape — “its prehistoric rock pillars framing the smallness of men” in the words of critic Roger Ebert – a place to which Ford was to return for no less than nine subsequent movies. The film transformed the Monument Valley into a tourist attraction – further movie crews came to the Goulding’s homestead, which grew and grew into a ranch, a lodge, and eventually a hotel. By the time Harry Goulding retired in 1962, the valley had been a protected area for four years.

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dumdum-patreon

A word about Patreon, a fundraising platform. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.”  I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos. But that research does come with a price tag — in web hosting, books, library subscriptions, and copious coffee. So this Patreon is just to fray some of those costs.

As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) give me a marginal incentive to create more compelling and educational content. Readers who subscribe on Patreon might have access to a few blog posts early; chance to request this topic or that topic; or to participate in some polls. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!

Here is the link: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Also, many protected areas in the United States are currently under review and might become unprotected due to the ongoing National Monuments review. The American West has always been at the forefront of the struggle between development and conservation, so please do make your voice heard during the public comment period, here.