Automobile Delange | Lartigue

In America, Jacques Henri Lartigue’s claim to fame was that he was replaced from the cover of Life magazine by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.* However, in the wider world, Lartigue was probably the symbol of the transformation of photography into an affordable family pastime. The greatest of the earliest amateurs, he showed how a mundane scene can be transformed into a magnificent image.

He started with photographs of family games and childhood experiences, later moving onto the beginnings of aviation and cars and the women of the Bois de Boulogne. Without even realising it, he became the father of “modern” photography. One of his favourite subjects was the motorcar, which he photographed as early as 1910, in the above photo of a two-wheeled bobsleigh taking a turn at 60 km/h.

But when he saw the picture he took on that 26th January 1912, the eighteen-year old was disappointed. The number six car is only half in the frame, the background smudged and strangely distended. He put the photo away and forgot about it until September 1954, when the French photography magazine “Points de vue – Images du monde” published “In the heroic times of the motorcar”. Of all photographs of car races taken by Lartigue, the above photo stood out. Automobile Delage, taken at the French Grand Prix in 1912, as someone pointed out, “conveys a remarkable impression of velocity–the wheels of the speeding car are elliptical and tilted forward, their spokes blurred with motion, and the road itself is but a streak of grey”. It showed “all the rush, the energy, the velocity that were so important during the years … in which racing drivers are popular heroes, new speech records are established and broken every week,” wrote Philip Blom in The Vertigo Years.

The picture, ultimately one of Lartigue’s most famous images, transformed him overnight from a painter with photography hobby into “France’s leading amateur photographer” — as the magazine called it. He retired as a society photographer, taking the official portrait for President Giscard d’Estaing. For someone whose photo career began at the age of six — with his father’s camera — in 1900,the title of his firsbook, a journal he kept throughout his life was especially fitting: Diary of A Century.


* Actually, this greatly helped his fame, for many more people bought that issue of Life magazine.

Esther Williams Trophy

Esther Williams was a swimmer-turned-movie star of the 1940s, but Esther herself was less important to her story than Sir David Stevenson, Vice Admiral and Chief of Australian Navy. When he was a lieutenant in Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War, Stevenson wrote “To my own Georgie, with all my love and a passionate kiss, Esther” on a photo of Esther Williams, and gave it to his fellow lieutenant, Lindsay George Brand, who had recently been spurned by the girl he loved.

Brand put the photo over his bed; it was stolen to another ship by a fellow officer; and, became a ‘trophy’–an object of constant amusement and rivalry among the officers of some 200 US, British, Australian and Canadian ships serving in the Pacific theatre. The original photo became the “trophy copy” kept in a safe location, while the second “fighting copy” was to be stolen or taken by force. After the “fighting copy” had been successfully removed from the custodial ship, the “trophy copy” would be presented to the new owners with appropriate ceremony. The new holders would fly an Esther flag or sent naval signals (signed ‘Esther’) to other ships to indicate where the trophy is. After the war, Esther herself would be a good sport and send a genuine signed photo to the ship that captured the trophy.

Fourteen years and 4000 nautical miles later, in 1957, “Esther” was retired and sent to the Australian Naval Historical Collection. Now residing behind a frame, the trophy was only brought into circulation again very rarely.

Taft plays Golf

The first American president to openly play golf was William Howard Taft. At that time, golf was considered a game for the rich and many politicians kept their golfing private, including Taft’s predecessor Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt thought Taft brought shame to the office of the president by privately engaging in golf. It was Taft’s proclivity for participating in golfing exhibitions and speeches on golf that especially angered Roosevelt. The last straw was said to be the above photo, where overweight Taft made “a mockery of himself, and a mockery of the presidency”.

The photo was taken as Taft opens the Corpus Christi Country Club in Texas. For years afterwards, the club displayed the presidential golf club, ball, and photo in a glass case.

Greg Louganis smashes his head

As last week’s tragic luge incident showed us, the Olympics are never free from mishaps. Yet, Vancouver seems to be leading the competition: the Olympic torch malfunctioned and it was fenced off from the public, prompting a headline, “Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence!“. Warm weather caused a lot of trouble while millions of tickets were cancelled.

Probably not as bad as 1996 Games in Atlanta though, when overloaded trains and traffic jams kept athletes and journalists from getting to the events. Many Olympic bus drivers quit while various teams moved out of the Olympic village. Heat, lack of air-condition (even inside the subway) and water created hell for visitors, while various escalators broke down.  The city demanded the computer provider, IBM, to use ‘proven’ technology–i.e., technology that is more than 2 years only–which led to massive computer glitches. It described an Angolan basketball player as three feet tall and another gymnast was 97 years old. It was so poorly managed that France-Soir noted: “Africa has been deprived of the Games since their creation with the pretext that African countries don’t have the necessary infrastructure. After Atlanta, any country in the world can apply to host the Games.” In his closing speech, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch described the Atlanta Games as “most exceptional”, an ambivalent departure from traditionally speech that has to describe the Games he was closing as the “best ever”.

Perhaps the most famous olympic mishap was at Seoul Olympics in 1988. Normally during an opening ceremony, white doves are released, but during the Seoul opening ceremony, a few of them settled in the cauldron that housed the Olympic flame as it was being lit. (This caused the cancellation of the dove-releasing tradition). Also in 1988, US diver Greg Louganis smashed his head on the board on his ninth preliminary springboard dive, while attempting a 2½ somersault pike. He received stitches before completing his tenth dive. He overcame the head injury to gain the highest score in the preliminaries and qualify for the final and wins a gold medal in Seoul. This extraordinary come-back made Louganis “Athlete of the Year” for ABC. In 1995, it was revealed that Louganis had been HIV positive at the time of the accident and had not informed the doctor treating him for the head injury. The doctor subsequently tested negative for HIV.

Devon Loch

Devon Loch was a racehorse owned by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which entered history books when it collapsed 45 meters before the winning post at the 1956 Grand National steeplechase. It was in the lead but suddenly the horse decided to jump up over an invisible hurdle and collapsed. On his belly, his forelegs out in front, Devon Loch tried to get back onto his feet and more or less collapsed again. Its jockey dismounted. It was over. Another horse, E.S.B. had won. However, the mystery surrounding its collapse elevated the jockey Dick Francis to front-page status, now Britain’s favorite failed hero.

Some claimed Devon Loch suffered a cramp or a heart attack. Others (including Francis) thought a shadow thrown by the hurdle on the other side of the race confused the horse into thinking another jump was required. Confused as to whether he should jump or not, Devon Loch half-jumped and collapsed. Dick Francis also notes the irony of the situation: “I’m afraid it was because of his owner that we lost the race. A quarter of a million people were at Aintree that day, all cheering for the Queen Mother. A crescendo of noise hit him, his hind quarters refused to react for a split second, and down he went.”

Devon Loch was Francis’s eighth and last ride in the National. Although the Queen Mother jovially dismissed the incident as “That’s racing,” her horse trainer urged Francis to retire at the top of his game. He did, but remained good friends with the Queen Mother, who once fetched him water personally when he choked at a dinner. The media on the other hand never let him forget the unfortunate incident. Devon Loch became eponymous with sudden, last-minute failure in the sports world.

Dick Francis found a second career as one of the most famous thriller writers of the 20th century and in fact one of its richest,too–an unbelievable achievement for a sportsman who grew up on gin to preserve his diminutive structure and whose education was rudimentary. In fact, there had been accusations that his wife did all the writing for him and it was under this dark cloud that Dick Francis died this weekend, taking the secret to his grave.

Kozakiewicz’s gesture

So I was reading this strange article by Christopher Hitchens (who else?) while I saw this photo.

The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were already mired by controversy even before they opened. The United States led the boycott of 64 other countries in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They instead participated in the Olympic Boycott Games or the “Liberty Bell Classic” in Philadelphia, which opened 3 days before the actual games. Fifteen other countries (mainly European) that participated did so under the Olympic Flag instead of their national flags. The Olympic Flag and Hymn were used at Medal Ceremonies when athletes from these countries won medals. The Soviet television alternately ignored and criticized this.

After setting a new world record on July 30th, Polish pole vaulter Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz made a rude gesture (bras d’honneur) to the hostile, jeering Moscow crowd. The crowd was rooting for Soviet jumper Konstantin Volkov. The image was seen around the world except ironically in the Soviet Union and its satellite states. To many, it signified Polish resentment of Russia’s control over Eastern Europe; in Poland, the gesture became immediately known as Kozakiewicz’s gesture. (gest Kozakiewicza).

After the Olympics, the Soviet ambassador to Poland demanded that Kozakiewicz be stripped of his medal over his “insult to the Soviet people”. The official response of the Polish government was that the gesture had been an involuntary muscle spasm caused by his exertion. Kozakiewicz for his part promptly defected to West Germany.

Matthias Rust’s Daring Flight

Throughout the most of the Cold War, the Soviet Union was deemed to have been surrounded by an impenetrable airspace. There was that U2 incident in 1960, and in 1983, a civilian airliner was shot down for failing to respond to Soviet interceptors. But on May 28, 1987, this myth of Soviet might would be challenged by a West German teenager.

Matthais Rust spent his allowances to take 50 hours worth of flying lessons before embarking on an unauthorized flight from Helsinki to the heart of Moscow. Rust was picked up by radar. A Soviet fighter jet was in pursuit, but it could only communicate on military frequencies that Rust’s Cessna couldn’t receive. The Soviets assumed that he was either on a search-and-rescue mission or a student pilot. Six hours later, he made it to Moscow, and decided to land just outside the Kremlin walls. (He worried that if he had landed inside, the Soviets would arrest him and deny the whole thing). He landed by St. Basil’s Cathedral and taxied into the Red Square. Although he mingled with the people there–who thought he was part of an airshow–the KGB was also on spot to arrest him.

For violation of the Soviet airspace and oddly enough, hooliganism, Rust was put on trial. He served 432 days of his four-year sentence. The boy whom the media called “the new Red Baron” or “Don Quixote of the skies” never flew again. Inside the Kremlin walls, Mikhail Gorbechev would use the incident to shake up the Soviet military industrial complex and sack his top-brass. Looking back on it, Rust’s escapade was historic. His landing in Red Square was an unignorable symbol, the writing on the wall, a sign that the all-powerful Soviet Union was no longer fully in control. At the time, however, no one recognized its significance.

The Shipton Snowman

There are many alleged sightings of cryptozoological creatures, but only three of them have achieved iconic status: the Doctor’s photograph of Loch Ness monster, Patterson Bigfoot, and Eric Shipton’s talltale about Abominable Snowman.

Sir Eric Shipton was a distinguished mountaineer who scaled the Himalayas several times. Adoringly called, climber’s climber, Shipton and his exploration of the treks which lead to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1951 made Edmund Hilary’s conquest possible two years later. On Menlung Glacier on 9th November 1951, Shipton and his devoted assistant Michael Ward ‘came across’ a one-mile trail of footprints. Shipton took photos of the clearest print, which measured 13 inches toe to heel. (The first European ‘sighting’ of a large bear-like beast in the Himalayas was made in 1925, but until Shipton, there was no photographic proof).

Michael Ward later said, “the photo of a trail was unrelated to the close-ups of a single print,” and claimed it was taken earlier the same day “and was probably the trail of a mountain goat.” Ward insisted that the confusion arose because these negatives of the trail and the footprint were filed together. Shipton, however, made no mention of there being two tracks. Many thought it was a practical joke–Shipton reshaping the print of a goat to give it toes. Shipton had earlier claimed that a fellow climber tried to eat some rocks (thinking they were sandwiches) in a moment of oxygen deprivation. Shipton also ‘discovered’ a bizarre sexual fetish diary and women’s clothing with the body of Maurice Wilson (who died climbing Everest solo).

Shipton was passed over as the expedition leader for (eventually successful) Everest expedition the next year. Ironically enough, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay both reported seeing large footprints while scaling Everest on that fateful climb.

The 1972 Munich Marathon

1628049Norbert Sudhaus was allegedly the first

06sp_frank_shorter2American Franker Shorter was the eventual winner

On September 10, 1972, German student Norbert Sudhaus wore a track uniform and joined the Olympic Marathon Race in Munich for the last quarter-mile as a gag. He entered the stadium and ran part way around the track. Thinking he was the winner, the crowd began cheering him. Officials then realized the hoax and ushered the jokester off the course. That didn’t help poor Frank Shorter, the American who eventually won the marathon but who entered the stadium to the sound of boos and catcalls (directed at Sudhaus) and the sight of a commotion far ahead of him. When asked what he thought of the guy who came in ahead of him, Shorter said, “What guy?”

Funnily enough, this was the third time in Olympic history that an American had won the marathon—and in none of those three instances did the winner enter the stadium first. In 1904, the winner Fred Lorz was disqualified when it was discovered that he covered most of the course by car, using low visibilities as a cover, and an American won the race. Four years later, the gold medal was defaulted to American Johnny Hayes after the first person to cross the line was disqualified for receiving a misplaced assistance from the officials. Only in 1984, Joan Benoit Samuelson would become the first American to cross the marathon line first and win.

Hand of God


There was much bad blood between England and Argentina — two powerhouses of world soccer — well before a ball was kicked in anger at the quarterfinals of 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Four years earlier, the two nations had gone to war over the Falkland Islands.

Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina’s greatest-ever player, scored both his side’s goals in the 2-1 victory. For the first, despite appearing to head the ball, the player actually used his fist to loop it over the English goalkeeper. England complained vociferously to the referee, but the goal stood, and it was followed a few minutes later by a second in which Maradona dribbled the ball from the halfway line, passing most of England’s defenders in the process, and slotted it into the net as casually as if he were playing a practice match.

After the match, cocky Maradona said the goal had been scored “un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios” (a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God). Then the political undercurrents bubbled up, with Maradona claiming that the goal and Argentina’s victory were retribution for his country’s defeat to the English in the Falklands war. “We blamed the English players for everything that happened, for all the suffering of the Argentine people … This was revenge.”

Video and photographic evidence demonstrated that he had struck the ball with his hand, which was shown on television networks and in newspapers all over the world. The goal helped intensify the footballing rivalry between the two nations: Argentina went on to win the World Cup and the English now felt that they had been cheated out of a possible World Cup victory, while the Argentinians enjoyed the manner in which they had taken the lead.

Of all the photos, the above one by Bob Thomas gave a clear view of the incident that the referee had missed.

Cold War on the Court

The U.S. team came to the final having won every game in Olympic play for the past 36 years — this despite having a tradition back then of selecting a new team of amateur players every four years and leaving little time for the team to really gel and get to know each other on the court. In 1972, however, the Soviet Union’s team surprised the Americans with an aggressive offense in the finals.

With six seconds left, the USSR was clinging to a one-point lead when American Doug Collins was deliberately fouled. Collins scored  both of his free throws, giving the US. its first lead, 50-49. The Soviets failed to score in the remaining three seconds and the Americans erupted in celebration.

But Soviet coach Vladimir Kondrashkin claimed he had called a time-out that was ignored, and Britain’s R. Williams Jones, the Secretary-General of the International Amateur Basketball Federation, ordered the clock set back by three seconds. When the play resumed, Soviet star Sasha Belov pushed past two U.S. defenders to sink the winning basket.

The above photo was taken after the match, with the exhausted and angry American team framed by crosses. The sympathies of photographer, Rich Clakson, who covered the Olympics in Munich, Montreal and Moscow for Sports Illustrated, Time and Life, are clearly visible. The team refused to accept the silver medals, and stormed off, leaving behind a blank podium (seen in another iconic image from the game).

The Fall of Mary Decker


It was the Olympic running’s most controversial moment since Jesse Owens. At the women’s 3,000m final at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984, two top runners, American Mary Decker and South African Zola Budd bumped into each other twice.

Budd was slightly in front, and at the second bump, Decker’s spikes caught Budd’s heel. Budd was, as usual, running barefoot. Her left leg shot out as she stumbled, tripping Decker. The American pitched forward and crashed to the floor on the infield grass, clutching her right thigh. She was unable to get up and was carried from the track in tears, her race over. This moment was dramatically captured in David Burnett’s (for Sports Illustrated) photos reproduced again and again.

For Zola, already reviled for being South African in an Olympic shadowed by Apartheid, the race was over too. She managed to skirt the Olympic ban against South Africa by competing for Britain, receiving accelerated citizenship because she had a British grandfather. Now, the crowd’s hostile reaction so unnerved the 18-year-old world-record holder that she could only finish seventh. However, the crowd (and we today) only vaguely remember who won that day (Maricica Puica of Romania); the moment have been shown on television from every angle in an attempt to decide which athlete was to blame.

At a news conference after the race, a tearful Mary Decker told journalists, “Zola tried to cut in without being far enough ahead. There was no question but that she was in the wrong.” Track officials disagreed; after initially disqualifying Budd for obstruction, she was reinstated an hour later once officials had viewed films of the race. Budd said she tried to apologise to Decker in the tunnel leading away from the track after the race, but was told abruptly, “Don’t bother.”

Despite her famous mishap and future doping incidents, Decker set 36 U.S. and 17 world records during her career and is considered one of America’s greatest woman athletes. Budd too continued to compete in Britain for another four years, but could never shake off the political controversy, nor overcome criticism over the Decker incident. Reluctant to meddle in politics, she ignored calls to renounce apartheid until her biography, “Zola,” appeared in 1989. In the ensuing years, two women competed against each other; Zola Budd describes Decker’s position as“ she’s forgiven me, but she still blames me.”