W. Willoughby Hooper on Famine

With controversies and debates again bubble up over famine photography, Iconic Photos look back as one of its earliest practitioners.

William Willoughby Hooper (1837–1912) was a British Army lieutenant stationed in Madras during its great monsoon famine of 1876-78. An amateur photographer who also documented the social and economical institutions of the Raj, Hooper had the skeletal sufferers brought to his studio in groups, and took careful documentary photos of them, after meticulously sorting them by age, gender and caste.

One memorable photo showed a tree shielding within its roots two skeletal children, with a frightening bird scarcely visible on the left. The photo (which I couldn’t find a copy of) seems an eerie precursor of Kevin Carter’s award-winning and career-ending photo of the Ethiopian famine. But if Hopper’s emaciated bodies look very familiar to modern reader, the controversy that ensued also had a modern feel.

The Victorians debated whether taking these pictures was an exploitation of people’s suffering and whether detachment created by cameras is a craven excuse for apathy. Others maintained that the photographs raised awareness; a contemporary paper reported:

People who still delude themselves with the idea that the famine, if it has any existence at all, has been greatly exaggerated, could see [the photos], and they would lay aside that notion for good … Their knowledge will enable them to testify that these photographs are not representations of exceptional cases of suffering, but are typical of the actual conditions of immense numbers of people in the Madras Presidency.

But soon, news came out that after taking such photos, Hooper would sent the famine victims back to the countryside without giving them food, treatment or help. For this astonishing cruelty that Hooper was roundly skewered in the British press — another portent perhaps of our modern times.

American Girl in Italy

It is almost a cliché to say that when Jinx walked across a different world when she traversed the Piazza della Republica in Florence on that August day exactly sixty years ago. But that world was truly different — in a sense, unfathomably different — to someone born in the 1980s. Even today, after all advances in modern communications, online bookings and airtravel, travelling alone can be daunting. But imagine doing exactly that sixty years ago, when the world was a more intolerant place — which was what Jinx and her photographer did.

In 1951, Ninalee “Jinx” Allen Craig was a 23 year old student who had recently quit her job in New York to embark on her own grand tour of Europe. In Florence, while lodging at a cheap hostel overlooking the Arno, she met another American girl who was also travelling solo — the 29-year old aspiring photojournalist named Ruth Orkin.

Together, they decided that they would do a photoessay documenting what it was like to be a woman travelling alone in Europe in the 1950s. In Don’t be Afraid to Travel Alone, Orkin photographed Criag shopping in the markets, crossing traffic, riding a carriage and flirting at a cafe. The photos were powerful, but one photograph stood head and shoulders above the others — and it made Orkin famous.

On August 22nd 1951, Orkin saw Jinx walking through a crowd on the Piazza della Republica, and being ogled. She turned and took one shot, and asked Jinx to walk through again. Orkin also asked the man on motorcycle to tell the other men not to look at the camera. For these reasons, the photo was considered to have been “staged” but contact sheets reveal that Orkin took only two frames.

The image of a young woman walking unaccompanied through a thicket of leering men was provocative; the figure of the whistling young man grabbing his crotch was considered to have extremely obscene and was airbrushed out for years to come. But the photo nonetheless became a bestselling poster. But Jinx does not believe it was exploitative:

It’s not a symbol of harassment. It’s a symbol of a woman having an absolutely wonderful time!

I clutched my shawl to me because that sheaths the body. It was my protection, my shield. I was walking through a sea of men. I was enjoying every minute of it. They were Italian and I love Italians.

Indeed, she returned to New York and later married an Italian widower. As for Orkin, she would go on to have a productive career, but the above photo forever remained her only masterpiece.


(See here for more in-depth interview with Jinx Allan).

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Bangladesh, Rashid Talukdar

When Mohammed Ali Jinnah became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1947, he bemoaned that he inherited a “mutilated, truncated, moth-eaten Pakistan”. The British partition of her Indian possession created two countries, secular India, and two predominantly-Moslem areas — East and West Pakistans — that sandwiched it. Apart from religion, two areas had very little in common, in geography, in language, and in culture. Although over-populated East Pakistan had more people, West Pakistan held the lion’s share of power, and government subsidies.

Equally vexing to East Pakistanis was the issue of who minority Hindus, who were marginalized. All these grievances exploded in December 1970, when poor government response to a cyclone triggered civil unrest. In March 1971, West Pakistan responded by launching a military operation in against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel who were finally demanding separation of the East from West Pakistan. A guerrilla war that claimed as many as 3 million — one of the bloodiest in modern history — unfolded for next 266 days, with East Pakistanis being supported by India.

On December 3rd, in a severely miscalculated move, West Pakistan began a pre-emptive attack on the western border of India. India promptly declared war on Pakistan, and came to the defense of the Bengali separatists. In one of the shortest wars in history, West Pakistan surrendered in the east 12 days later. West Pakistan became just Pakistan; the new nation of Bangladesh was born.

In the days immediately preceding their surrender, the West Pakistanis either ordered or led the extermination of a large section of the intellectual community of Bangladesh in a last ditch effort to wreck the new country. The worst were the horrors of Rayerbazar killing fields (14 December 1971) which were later captured by Rashid Talukdar. The above picture appeared to be a marble sculpture among rocks but was in fact a dismembered head.

Anarchy in the UK

These days, every major news story comes with a single iconic photograph. For the riots in Britain, that photo was not that of looting hooligans, burning centuries-old buildings or clean-up afterwards; instead, it captured a human tragedy of one Polish émigré, who has been in the UK for only five months.

On Monday night, 32-year old Monika Konczyk, had chosen to stay inside her one-bedroom flat above a row of shops because of rioting and looting outside. She did not have any possessions with her when she jumped, and her flat has been completely destroyed.

Amy Weston, a photographer with London’s WENN photo agency, captured this iconic moment on the Church Street, Croydon. She remembers the chaotic times:

By the time I drove toward it, I could already see the fires from my windscreen. There were six or seven people screaming and crying outside, and they looked like they lived at the flats that were burning. A man in a white shirt was screaming that a girl was at the window and that she was ready to jump. He ran toward her, but riot police had appeared and pulled him back, and they went to her instead.

As soon as she dropped, the crowds pushed back and there was no way to see what happened to her. I remember hearing people screaming that there were more people in the building. The crowds started getting angry with each other, with one group blaming another group for starting the fire. I couldn’t get to my car, so I had to walk, wrapping my camera in my clothes to avoid being mugged.”

The photograph quickly went viral on Twitter and was featured on the front pages of many British newspapers, including the Times, the Sun and the Daily Telegraph.



Anatomy of A Jump

Hug A Hoody

Hug it or hate it, hoody remains a potent and divisive symbol 

In 2007, David Cameron, then the opposition leader, was visiting one of the most deprived estates in Manchester when a teenager ran up behind him and made a hand gesture to shoot him to impress his friends (more on that story). The photo of 17-year old Ryan Florence in a hoodie was reprinted on many frontpages — all the more ironic because only a year before, Cameron had made his famous speeches arguing that hoodies were “more defensive than offensive”.  “Hug A Hoody” — to use Labour’s then dismissive view — was a defining moment of his journey towards a softer liberalism.

But in the last few days, we have come very far from those heady days; we need to reexamine hoodies and their status in the ganglands. When the history of the last few days is debated, written, and analysed, understanding gangland culture will be more important than prejudicial fingering the usual suspects of unemployment, disenfranchisement, poverty, materialism, and racial tensions.

Of over a thousand people arrested, many were in their early teens and the youngest was 11. They stood for nothing; like Florence, they view hooliganism as a rite of passage, a youthful act of rebellion, a snub towards authorities. Sooner or later, most of them grow out of this phase. A handful, however, fails to reform. They becomes hardened gangmembers and anarchists who in turn recruit another generation of impressionable teens as their foot soldiers. Through promises of drugs, social acceptance and protection, they manipulate others, and this weekend, they have shown their power once again by outmanoeuvring police with their urban guerrilla tactics. Their symbol? Hoodies.

Yesterday, in a speech that echoed the sentiments towards kilts after the Jacobin Rebellion, the former Deputy PM John Prescott entertained a hoodie ban. Defensive, offensive or not, hoodies are oppressive. In Hood Rat, a haunting expose of London’s gang culture by Gavin Knight wrote, “Not everyone in a hoody is a gang member, some are just teenagers wearing hoodies, but the line is deliberately kept blurred”. In many inner-cities, teenagers feel they have to wear one for their own survival. They are terrified, trapped, intimidated by older gang members. Hoodies have such cultural power that they become their own unique kind of weapon.

 And for this reason alone, this house believes that they should be banned.

Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?

Even the Dead Have Not Seen the End of Folly

In June 1967, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, was sentenced to three months in prison for possession of a few amphetamine tablets. Jagger was a first-time offender caught with French seasickness pills, which are openly sold in France but required a prescription in England. On July 1st 1967, The Times, and its new editor, William Rees-Mogg invoked Pope and denounced the excessive sentence in “Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?” Rees-Mogg criticized the judge for undue severity in a minor drugs case, while arguing that justice ought to be the same for the rich and the poor, for the famous and the unknown. It was an editorial where the establishment and the counter-culture came together.

We are at similar crossroads again. Last month, Charlie Gilmour, the stepson of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, pled guilty to violent disorder exhibited during the student riots over tuition fee increases last December. Gilmour was a male model who was as the Independent put it, “more Beau Brummel than Che Guevara”. As he infamously climbed up the Cenotaph, the Cambridge history student, was oblivious to what the Cenotaph symbolized. (David Gilmour who once famously sang, “We don’t need no education” could probably see some irony here.)

Young Gilmour was sentenced to 16 months in jail — an abnormally harsh punishment for a first-time offender whose indiscretions, while excessive, were committed during a protest march. Twitter is abuzz with outrage, and today, the Times thundered again with indignation. I have nothing but contempt for Gilmour’s acts; I viewed them as pure hooliganism; in Gilmour, I saw a privileged scion protesting against tuition fee increases. First and foremost, it was a selfish act to preserve a broken faux-egalitarian system that handouts free rides to the rich and the privileged.

But as Rees-Mogg would say, it is possible for the guilty to be prosecuted in an entirely unfair way. And now he has. The class-conscious courts which sentence the infringers from poorer backgrounds to community service have felt that Gilmour’s celebrity status would send a strong signal.

Yes, it did. But it was a signal as misguided and disgraceful as the one Gilmour cadenced from the Cenotaph to proclaim. And equally wrong.


Today marks the sixth anniversary of terrorist attacks in London; since the 1970s, Britain has seen terrorism — primarily from the Irish Republican Army — and London has braced itself for a potential terrorist attack since 9/11.

Nonetheless, when they arrived, the attacks were shocking not least because its perpetrators were homegrown terrorists but also because they arrived less than 24 hours after London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. On 7th July 2005, four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured over 700 people in four explosions, three inside London’s Underground and one on a bus.

At Edgeware Road Station, 24-year old Davinia Turrell became an unlikely icon. In the images that many photographers snapped of her as she was being led away from the emergency hospital inside the nearby Marks and Spencer, Davinia was faceless — or rather, it was covered with a white surgical gauzemask — but her face nonetheless lent an unforgettable visage to that tragic day. She was led away by an ex-firefighter Paul Dadge, who remembers:

We were the first out of M&S, and I remember vividly it was absolutely silent outside. As we ran across I could see people stood behind the cordon line.

The photographers hadn’t been able to see people coming out of the Tube station from their position – it was as if this was the ideal opportunity for these photographs.

The one thing I could hear was the sound of the shutters going. Then we started to realise something serious was going on. I remember saying to Davinia, ‘I think your picture’s going to be in the paper tomorrow’.”

Dadge was correct. Likened to Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, various versions of the picture were reprinted on the cover of more than 400 newspapers and magazines, including Time, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro and Corriere Della Sera. Dadge would also be interviewed for over 400 interviews.

At least eight photographers covered the eventHere, one photographer remembers her experiences covering the Edgeware Road bombing.

Kim Campbell, QC

When history of Canada is written, Kim Campbell will be remembered for countless glass ceilings she broke. She was the first female student president at both her highschool and university. She was Canada’s first female Minister of Justice, Attorney General and later first female Minister of Defense. When she became Canada’s Prime Minister, she was not only her first female PM, but also the first baby boomer to hold that office, and the first PM to have been born in British Columbia.

For all these accomplishments, Kim Campbell was better known in Canada for a 1990 Barbara Woodley portrait in which she stood bare-shouldered behind her justice minister robes. In the late 1980s, Barbara Woodley drove across Canada in a van, sleeping inside the vehicle, to take 66 portraits of famous and powerful Canadian women. On the day she came to take Campbell’s photograph, Campbell had just picked up her justice minister robes. Woodley proposed taking her picture with her cello but Campbell said that another photographer had just taken her portrait in that style and accordingly suggested that she put on her new robes.

Woodley recommended that Campbell hold the robes in front of her. “We both realized that holding the robes while I was fully dressed would look silly, but we had no idea at the time that her photo of me, bare-shouldered and holding the robes on a hanger would become so notorious,” Campbell recalled. The notoriety only began when the National Arts Centre launched an exhibit on the Canadian politicians and included the portrait in November 1992.

At the launch of the exhibition, Campbell bumped into former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “I had just picked up my QC robes [then]” she said. “Ah, and what were you doing before you picked them up?” responded Trudeau. On its review of the exhibition, the Ottawa Citizen ran the photo on its front page with the caption: “Doing justice to art.” Inside the parliament, MPs likened Campbell’s photos to those of Madonna, which had recently came out in a tome called Sex. The British tabloids also gleefully cover the episode; in Italy, due to a translation error, it was reported that Campbell had posed with “nude men” instead of “bare shoulders.”

For all the clamor surrounding it, Campbell’s premiership was short and tumultuous. It lasted for 132 days — the third shortest in Canadian history. She also became only the third PM — and first since Second World War — to be unseated at the same time that his or her party lost an election. What a tragic end for such a promising career.

In 1993, the Woodley photograph sold for $12,500 at an auction. Woodley remembers the entire episode here.

Death of a Beautiful Woman

It almost looks like a glamor shot magazines like Face or advertisers like United Colors of Benetton often throws your way. Her blonde hair looked so soft, her manicured fingernails so red, her glistening bracelet and handbag so readily beside, the red cross aide so solicitous in bending over her that you can almost feel like it has been staged. The woman was an actress named Adela Legarreta Rivas, but she was actually hit by a car and killed on Mexico City’s Avenida Chapultepec in 1979.

She was draped across a fallen pole, her arm hanging like a rag doll’s around it, the bridge of her perfect nose intersected by a single line of blood. It seems as if Edgar Allen Poe, he who elevated deaths of beautiful women into sublime art and said such death is “the most poetical topic in the world”, had taken this photo, but the man who captured this image was Enrique Metinides. Metinides, whose photos often looked like stills from pulp graphic novels and film noirs, is the most accomplished photographer for the Mexican version of tabloid press, the nota roja. As its name (bloody news) suggests, nota roja covers not celebrity scandals, but death and destruction: car crashes, fires, shootouts, suicides, etc.

Metinides is often called Mexican Weegee, but unlike Weegee, Metinides did not tune nightly into the police radio; he volunteered with Red Cross and often arrived at the scene with an ambulance crew. He photographed his first dead body before he was 12, a feat that earned him a nickname El Niño – the Kid – for his precocity. Although his work is not widely known outside of Mexico, this may be changing with a New York show in 2006, and a Time magazine feature recently.

See Time Magazine or Los Angeles Times for more graphic images from Enrique Metinides.

Mississippi, Matt Herron


In 1965, at Jackson, Mississippi, Matt Herron took an iconic and ironic image from the civil rights era as a white policeman rips an American flag away from a young black boy, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Herron remembers the events that surrounded that World Press Photo prize wining photos:

The picture was taken at the side entrance to the Governor’s mansion on Capital Street in Jackson in the summer of 1965. The boy is Anthony Quinn, aged 5. His mother, Mrs. Ailene Quinn of McComb, Mississippi and her children were trying to see Governor Paul Johnson; they wanted to protest aganist the election of five Congressmen from districts where blacks were not allowed to vote. Refused admittance, they sat on the steps. The policeman struggling with Anthony is Mississippi Highway Patrolman Hughie Kohler. As Kohler attempted to confiscate the flag, Mrs. Quinn said: ‘Anthony, don’t let that man take your flag.’ Kohler went berserk, yanking Anthony off his feet.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”

We’ll Always Have Paris

This photo of love-struck teenagers in a cruise ship on the Seine, with a faint Eiffel Tower in the twilight distance, appeared in July 1989 issue of National Geographic. It may be less historically important, or iconic than many other photos featured on this blog, but it speaks to me on a more personal level — perhaps because I feel that sort of carefreeness slowly slipping away from me , perhaps because one of my close friends’ favorite photos, who knows? 

It is just one of those photos that really encapsulate the best practices and ideals of photojournalism. To get this photo, David Alan Harvey spent weeks living among a group of French teenagers. He went to school with, ate with, travelled with and slept in their homes. He recalls his days in France:

About 90 percent of the time, it was really boring. They were just doing homework or taking exams. But they got used to me and I became a mascot, so that they wouldn’t pay too much attention to me, and I was both a part of their lives yet detached enough to take the photographs. 

This picture is the most representative of the culture because it’s just after graduation, and you have the water and the Eiffel Tower in the background. I took more intimate photos too, but this one worked really well for the story. 

This picture also has a special meaning for me personally, because it’s taken very near where the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson lived. The French photographers were my heroes when I got started, and I spent time trying to emulate the street photography of Cartier-Bresson. But eventually I moved away from that and also away from black-and-white toward color photography. Cartier-Bresson wanted to be invisible, but I don’t. I want to be an integrated member of the group, and I think I achieved that with the photos in France.”

As it appeared in National Geographic

Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

A Toast to Fratricide: Mladic (left) drinks with Karremans (middle)

I have previously covered the events leading to Srebrenica Massacre. This post continues the discussion.

In the days following the massacre, American spy planes flew over Srebrenica, and took photos showing the ground in vast areas around the town had been removed — a sign of mass burials. Early reports of massacres appeared here and there as the first survivors of the long march from Srebrenica began to arrive in Muslim-held areas a few days later.

The international community was horrified, but the Dutch — who previously enjoyed high reputation as peacekeepers — were almost unperturbed; when the Karremans Garrison which left Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his band of butchers returned to Zagreb, they were welcomed back by the Dutch crown prince and prime minister. As the news of the massacre became widespread, the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf featured a photograph of twelve cheerful Dutch soldiers in Novi Sad, enjoying a post-hostage meal provided by the Serb government on 24th July. “A toast to freedom” read the headline, and the article now ironically reads, “Their dedication shows once again how well-equipped for its task the Dutch military is, when it comes right down to it”.

In the late 1995 — this after Miguel Gil Moreno, Dusko Tubic and David Rhode had covered and photographed the killing fields of Srebrenica — Karremans was promoted to the rank of colonel. More shockingly was the fate of a roll of film shot by a Dutch soldier, with photographs of the events in Srebrenica, which was destroyed in a darkroom in an action the Dutch parliament deemed as a “cover-up” by the Defense Ministry.

On 13th July, just before the massacre, a girl fetching water for her family in Potocari found nine bodies in a stream across the street from the UN base. A Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen was approached by a young local, who led him and another soldier towards the bodies. The Dutch soldiers both videotaped and photographed the bodies. However, the videotape was later destroyed by Dutch soldiers under orders from an officer because it also had video of top-secret Dutch air defense equipment. The photographs were “accidentally destroyed” during their development in a military film-processing lab.

Considering all this, the Netherlands’ fight to make Serbia’s EU accession dependent on the capture of Ratko Mladic seems pompous and ironic. Mladic, who was finally caught yesterday, was mainly responsible for Srebrenica (and many other atrocities during that excessive and brutal war), but the Dutch garrison, which wanted to go home; the UN high command, which wanted to end enclave problems in eastern Bosnia; and the Bosnian army which saw no value in protecting strategically unimportant Srebrenica must also share some of the blame. Srebrenica was a sad episode; it is a dark stain of Europe’s history, made all more tragic because it could have been averted.