Pinatubo Erupts


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).


Patreon Ad: Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service. You can subscribe to my channel there for as little as $1 and get some extra comments and commentary. It has been a few months since I started Patreon, and it has given me a few creative ideas,  encouragements, and good interactions with readers. I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. Here is the link to my Patreon:


Empire of Images — An Iconic Photos Book


Over the past five years, I have published a lot of posts here at Iconic Photos.

Blogs are transient. Internet is transient. Last year, I was logged out of Iconic Photos by WordPress for some ad infraction which taught me this lesson pretty well. So, without further ado, I decided to transfer the blog into a solid door-stopper of a book.

And Empire of Images is born.

The book is first and foremost a coffee-table history of Long Twentieth Century™ (Paris Commune of 1870 to 2008 Financial Crisis), seen through a series of my blog posts, but with additional next content to link and contextualize them. Therefore, the chapter on pre-war Europe will be an essay on Hitler through these posts. Chapter 16, on Vietnam, will be a tour de force photojourney from Dien Bien Phu through immolations and executions all the way to America’s ignominious retreat from Saigon.

You can preorder the book from Amazon or through my publishers at Roallipof Publishing starting 1st of April. [Click Through to Enlarge the photos].









Faces of Time (2009 – 2014)

Being featured on the cover of Time magazine used to be a big deal, so much so that movies use that as a visual cue to signify the noteworthiness of the protagonist. Is it still a big deal? 


Iconic Photos is turning five soon – so maybe time to finally submit a thesis and graduate?

We looked back at the last five years (April 2009 – March 2014) during which time Iconic Photos had been alive. During this time, Time America, Time International, and its regional prints have published 125 different covers featuring 139 faces. Assuming 500 different covers during that period (260 weeks, one U.S edition cover and one International cover), 25% of Time covers feature famous people. In Time’s early days a century ago, nearly all its covers featured noteworthy faces. Iconic Photos’ analysis is not academically rigorous; we have adjusted for 2012 Presidential Election and presidential bully pulpit by counting Governor Romney only once, and not counting President Obama at all. Special issues – such as Olympics specials, Time 100 – are not counted (exception is made for Malala).  [Data is at the end of the post]


Since we counted all international editions, international politicians outnumber US politician nearly two-to-one. (However, international politics rarely intrude upon US editions as superbly illustrated here). Artists are strongly represented, although Jonathan Frazen makes a lonely writer. The Holy See punched above its temporal weight, with five covers between the present pope and his predecessor. Three Supreme Court Justices were featured; four soccer players were featured, all on international editions. Lone basketballer, Jeremy Lin, curiously appeared on the Asian edition. Four chefs appeared (three on one issue); as did four British royals.


On the other fronts, our analysis is depressing. Faces are overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male. Among 139 faces are mere 27 female faces or 20%, and ten of those appearances were by four women (Chancellor Merkel, Aung San Suu Kyi, Secretary Clinton, and Governor Palin).

Nationality-wise, Americans dominate. Excluding the current pope, South Americans are underrepresented – and would be more so if not for footballers. Africans appeared only four times — notorious Joseph ‘the Hashtag’ Kony, legless armsman Oscar Pistorius, late-lamented Nelson Mandela, and protest poet Youssou N’Dour – five, if we bend over backwards and count Mario Batolleli, Italian footballer of Ghanan heritage. There were only three African-Americans on the cover excluding all of President Obama’s appearances: First Lady Michelle Obama, popstar Michael Jackson, and the Rev. Martin Luther King. [Time is not racist. For the magazine, historically, almost anyone from south of the Alps was termed ‘swart’ – I am not even kidding, look it up, I dare you – and by that measure, its cover selection looks pretty diverse].


A surprisingly strong entry was Ms. Suu Kyi’s homeland of Burma. The Nobel Laureate herself appeared three times, while General Than Shwe, the country’s brutal dictator from two decades, appeared once. His successor, the current President of Burma, appeared once. The country’s controversial anti-Muslim monk, Wirathu, appeared once on a cover titled ‘The Face of Buddhist Terror’ which was promptly banned in Burma and Sri Lanka.

That Burmese leaders appeared six times highlights Time’s strange editorial decisions. By contrast, Chinese leaders appeared four times – twice when Bo Xilai was embroiled in the scandal that marked his downfall; the German Chancellor and the British Prime Minister appeared three times, while Indian, French, Italian, and North Korean leaders appeared twice each. Putin was on the frontpage three times, a dubious honor he shares with Col. Qaddafi of Libya. Notably missing is lethal President Assad of Syria.


More crudely put, if you are Burmese, you have 1 in 15 million chance of being featured on the cover. If you are American, your chances improve to 1 in 5 million. Global average is 1 in 50 million. In Russia, it is 1 in 100 million; in China, it is 1 in 450 million; in India, it is 1 in 600 million. Even such odds will be enviable to Brazilians, Indonesians, Nigerians, and the Japanese who, despite making up 12% of the world’s population, haven’t appeared on a Time cover in last five years.


Time Time_2

2014 Update


Another year came and went.

I am still here. I didn’t post often last quarter. I have just been quite busy. There is always an expectation that after you haven’t posted a while, the new post have to be long, thoughtful, better, etc. That was a daunting task. Especially now that the blog is nearing its fifth birthday, and I have pretty much covered and retreaded a lot of topics.

This blog has always been about history as much as it is about photos. My interpretation of recent history will chafe a lot of hardcore academics but popular history as a genre exists for a reason.

Lastly, a journalist based in Montevideo has requested to translate some of my work on IP into Spanish. Thomas Lyford-Pike has done a great job and now you can read Fotos Icónicas in Spanish here (Although I suspect you don’t really need to, since you are already reading this in English!) I guess it is a good thing that photoliteracy is reaching a wider audience.

That’s all for now.

Lives and Lenses They Touched


We live in the age of compulsive looking; photographs are everywhere, some iconic, many others mundane. Whether they be tweeted from idyllic beaches, from totalitarian pariah-states or from the great unknown, they are so effortlessly delivered onto our papers, tablets, and phones that sometimes it is easy to forget and worthwhile to reflect that there are men and women behind those pictures who dared and died for their art. Just after this post has gone to (word)press, I learnt John Dominis, who photographed the famous black-power salute, has died. 

Many greats from the Golden and Silver Age of Photojournalism had been thinning out for years. This year, we lost a few more: Bill Eppridge, the great Life photographer best remembered for his photos of slain RFK and of New York drug addicts; Wayne F. Miller, who covered bombed-out Japan and black America; Hector Oaxaca Acosta, the great Mexican photographer; Fred O. Waters, who covered the wars in Korea and Vietnam, and Enrique Meneses, who introduced the world to Fidel, Che, and their revolution.

We bid adieu to several great portraitists too: Willy Rizzo and Bert Stern, two of the last men to photograph Marilyn Monroe; Lee Tanner, a bard of jazz age; Lewis Morley, the man who immortalized the Profumo Scandal; Jack Mitchell, whose Nov 1980 photo of John and Yoko would have been on their Christmas card, had John Lennon not been shot a week later; and Ozzie Sweet, whose celebrity portraits featured on over 1800 magazine covers.

Many of departing giants are pioneering women photographers. Editta Sherman, better known as the “Duchess of Carnegie Hall,” chronicled that bohemian enclave and celebrities who passed through it from the 1940s until 2010. Deborah Turbeville used her fashion photography to comment on fashion’s distorting hold on women, by manipulating her negatives with scratches, dusts, tears, and distress. Abigail Heyman, one of the first female members of Magnum, was known for her book Growing Up Female which had a self-portrait of her abortion. Equally personal was a photo Helen Brush Jenkins took of her son just moments after she had given birth to him. Sarah Charlesworth of The Pictures Generation was an ardent photographer and commentator of newspaper front-pages.

Also gone are photographers whose names aren’t household but whose works are: Harry Goodwin photographed every single act that entered the Top 30 of the UK Singles Chart (bar two) from 1964-1973. George Hunter was a wildlife photographer who images graced the Canadian five, ten, fifty dollar bills. Officer Alan Wood supplied the flag for the iconic Iwo Jima photograph.

Haitian Thony Belizaire covered the most important stories of his country for three decades. Denis Brodeur was one of hockey’s finest photographers. Robert E. Gilka had a formidable tenure as director of photography for National Geographic for 27 years, overseeing the magazine’s evolution into a photographic powerhouse. Allan Arbus (better known as psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H) was a close collaborator of his wife, Diane. Balthazar Korab and Keld Helmer-Petersen brought lyrical modernism to architecture photography.

In 2014, there would be no photos courtesy of Benoit Gysembergh, Piero Cristaldi, Allan Sekula, Burhan Doğançay, Kate Barry, Monte Fresco, David Vestal, Saul Leiter, Ron Davies, Robert Häusser, Robert Trotter, Robert R. Taylor, Gunnar Høst Sjøwall, Leif Preus, Jagdish Mali, Deng Wei, Gabriele Basilico, and many others and we will be poorer for it.

And lastly, there were those who fell in combat; 2013 was the second deadliest year in living memory for reporters. Over a dozen photographers were killed in action, some chasing pop stars, others chasing bigger stores. Olivier Voisin died of shrapnel wounds in Syria. Two amateurs killed in Syria — Abu Shuja, 26, and Molhelm Barakat, 17 or 19 — sums up a war that devours its own youth. More blood will be spilt in 2014; the war in Syria will rage on for its fourth year. Already two new sectarian and tribal conflicts are unfolding in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. They will a claim a few more fearless reporters and photographers — and countless more innocent civilians.

Editorial: On Syria, Liberal Interventionism, and Responsibility to Protect


Photos from Syria are too gruesome to publish. Clicking on the black square will take you to a reddit site which has complied them. Caution advised.

Last week, there were allegations that President Assad has gassed his own citizens. A U.N. team sent to inspect the site were delayed and attacked.

To the naysayers who doubt that Assad would not have used chemical weapons in the twilight days of a civil war that he was gradually winning, we have this to say: the last century was filled with despots who were not rational — Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot — and mistakes had been made trying to rationalize their actions. Even the Allies used a heavy-handed approach in firebombing Dresden towards the end of the Second World War, motivated by revenge, war-weariness, and need for the enemy’s morale defeat.  In such light, Assad’s motivations become clearer.

By repeatedly emphasizing a hypothetical ‘red line’ over chemical weapons (while ignoring other inhumanities in Syria, from shelling civilian quarters to using cluster bombs and landmines), the West has painted itself into an intractable corner. To do nothing will undermine its credibility and embolden Assad (and many a tyrant observing how the West will respond to this crisis).  On the other hand, it is dangerous to rush into action; in Tunisia, in Egypt, and in Libya where the West intervened, the results of the Arab Spring are increasingly murky, and for Britain and the United States, at least, it will be their fourth military action in the Middle East in twelve years, and the public is growing weary.

This house had supported the Syrian rebels throughout 2011 and 2012. However, it now seems the rebels are dominated by hard-core fighters, who tend to be Islamist Manicheans, under whom, we reckon, whatever little religious freedom tolerated under President Assad, will evaporate. Therefore, this house advocates for an UN-brokered ceasefire, guaranteed by an international fleet in the Mediterranean, while the U.N chemical weapons inspectors do their job on the ground. Out of this ashheap, we believe a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Syria can still be salvaged.

Some Photos You Might Have Missed

Here are a few photos from the last four years you might have missed. From left to right, top to bottom:

Father Browne takes last photos onboard HMS Titanic, 1912; Agustin Casasola witnesses the death of Zapata in Mexico, 1919; Erich Salomon sneaks into the U.S. Supreme Court, 1932; King Edward and Mrs. Wallis Simpson attends a London Nightclub, 1936; Henri Cartier-Bresson sees a denunciation of a Gestapo informant at Dessau, 1945; Richard Peter climbs above the desolate ruins of bombed Dresden, 1945; Watson and Crick sits for their first post-DNA discovery photo, 1953; Rashid Talukdar documents the horrors of the Bangladesh secession, 1971; Jean Gaumy becomes the first Western photographer to access post-Revolutionary Iran, 1989.

[Use Searchbar for detailed posts. I am too lazy to link them here individually.]

Editorial: On Olympics, Sochi 2014, and Political Games

Ok. You know what I am going to rant about here. This: Russia’s grand vanity oligarchic Olympics, which costs $50+ billion, but has no space for LGBT people.

In Russia, LGBT people and supporters are discriminated against, beaten up, brutalized and even tortured unto death. The state tacitly supports and condones.

When it comes to gay rights, this blog believes it is very important for people around the world to see LGBT people supported and embraced by their community and see LGBT people as athletes, role-models, and above all, normal people. This debate is bigger than Winter Olympics 2014 or LGBT rights in Russia. This is also for LGBT people in other parts of world, who live in fear, under persecution, and in loneliness.

I don’t think boycotts help (I am open to persuasions on the matter). Maybe at this point, small moments of defiance will probably speak volumes. Last year, a poll published on Iconic Photos returned that the most memorable Olympic moment was when two medalists raised their fist in a Black Power salute. It is such moments that raise awareness. But the International Olympic Committee (IOC) maintains the games must remain politics-free zones, does not speak out against the new discriminatory laws, and forbids the athletes from making political statements or gestures.  That is wrong.

The Olympics are a  global phenomenon, and as such their history is intertwined with political landscape of the day, from Hitler’s grandiose Teutonic spectacle at the Nazi Olympics of 1936 to the decisions to award the games to totalitarian governments in Seoul (for 1988) and in Beijing (for 2008) in hope that they open up. Thus, this blog believes forbidding athletes from making political statements or gestures is hypocritical, when both the Russian government and the Olympic committee are guilty of that.

Isn’t the very stance that the Olympics must be free of politics and protests itself a political stance — and alas, a political stance that disenfranchises minorities? Groups perhaps most affected by this stance are likely to be those discriminated or oppressed in their day-to-day lives, and those who would like to make that plight clear to the international audience. 

I hope many athletes walk down opening and closing ceremonies and walk up their podia fully supporting this important human-rights issue with pins and flags. Defying both the IOC and the Russian government.


For detailed articles for photos above, clockwise from top-left: Black Power saluteWladyslaw KozakiewiczGreg LouganisDorando PietriAmerican basketball team’s controversial lossJesse Owens gets cheersAntonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head.

Some Things You Might Have Missed


Now for something completely different …

This is the first time I used the Image Gallery feature to look back on my previous posts. WordPress currently doesn’t allow me to link to posts directly, so you will either have to use ‘search bar’ to reach the posts behind these photos or click on the photo and then click again on its heading title in the next page. Hopefully this is not too confusing.

If you, dear Reader, enjoy something like this (let me know below), I will more frequently curate more such galleries in the future.

Editorial: Our Men in Silicon Valley

Both the U.S. government and the Big Internet are responsible for the new scandal. 

Several years ago, when I was in the US, I studied with an old professor. I don’t remember much of what he taught or even what he taught, but one detail still fascinates me. On his laptop, a piece of blue tape proudly covered the webcam. The old man, an émigré from some half-forgotten Soviet republic, thought the government could still be spying on him. I dismissed this as ravings of a paranoiac. If the government wishes to see my gormless face surfing the web or detritus behind me that I call my room, it is their problem, I concluded then.

Many events since – especially the latest series of revelations as chronicled in the Guardian – have made me realized how naïve I am. I have always viewed governments everywhere as more incompetent than malevolent, but their skillful electronic surveillance has shattered both of those illusions.

It has been revealed that US government’s use telephone and internet companies to spy domestically and internationally is large in scale and depth. Companies involved ranged from Verizon to Microsoft. And the data they handed to the government include emails, login activities, video conferences, file transfers, and stored data. And it appeared not many people raised civil liberty concerns at any government or corporate level.

My time in the Silicon Valley had taught me that privacy to an Internet exec is like chastity to a prostitute. It is simply bad for business model. But many will agree that there exists a “reasonable expectation of privacy”. Last month in Paris, I had a dinner with two up-and-coming IT engineers. They dismissed my privacy concerns with nonchalant “just don’t put anything you don’t want to be shared online”. That is a petulant comment I often heard in the Valley, manned by socially-awkward men-children.

Twitter, blogs, youTube, or even Facebook functions as publishing platforms. I understand I cannot really control them. Even on emails, when I email someone, my mails/attachments are beyond your control, and can reasonably expect the counterparty to spread them. But two surveillance measures stood out: login activities and stored data. For instance, Apple, via “Find My Phone”, already possess an easy tracking system; I have activated it to protect my assets from theft not for it to report my every moments to its masters in Cupertino and beyond.

Back in non-virtual world, I expect UPS, DHL, or FedEx not to open my packages. I also expect the government to come with warrants if they want to look inside my storage lockers. Internet services should not be beholden to different standards. Not by the government. Nor by the private companies.

Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells @aalholmes

7th June 2013 

So much to write, so little time …

… And only two hands.


Let’s see: I have started this blog in late April 2009, so four years! If it were Mozart, I would already be taking him around the royal courts of Europe for blindfolded harpsichord recitals, but I guess not everyone’s offspring is that talented or lucrative. Add usual encomiums on making it to four years, pat oneself on back, drink gin, blah, blah, blah…

There are a few updates. You might see IP’s sidebar a little different today: I have put up a clicking ad and a crowd-funding plug there. I do not derive any income from them (yet. Even the ad won’t pay off until someone buys a product — a low probability event). For a longtime, I have been planning to support crowd-funding photography projects on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and someone just from “From White to Black Sea” project emailed me. They are going to be traveling on a boat across the Soviet era canals from the Arctic to the Black Sea, taking photos and documenting the Russian way of life across 14 provinces. I think it is a promising idea. (Link: (

Onto the second update, and the title of this blog. Four years blogging is a long time. In addition to photography, I find history, art, politics, and architecture fascinating subjects. On this blog, however, I always feel constrained to just talk about these latter things as relevant to a time period that photography has been extant and active. I recently went to Paris — a city I fell in love with so many years ago, a city I later come to detest in a futile anguish. I went to show a couple of American firsttimers around, and found it now to be a treasure trove of stories I want to tell, stories beyond the realms of photography. You might scoff — there are too many books about Paris and France already, you might say. Yes, there are, but there isn’t my version yet. 😉

Okay. TL:DR version: I am going to be doing some long-form writing. The blog output will be a little down. Be patient with me. Thanks for all the support. (above: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ile de la Cite, Paris, 1952.)

The Men Behind ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ Curtain

Who Took This Photo of Imperial Eunuchs in Peking?

Sometime in 1934, just after Hitler had come to power, three great photographers met in a dimly lit Berlin apartment to create a fourth. Munkasci, Robert Capa, and Chim were all of Jewish origin, and now they found their best work refused by anti-Semitic publications all over Europe. Out of work and starving, the trio decided to create a fictional photographer, under whose non-Jewish name they could publish their work.

So the impeccably bourgeois pseudonym of ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ was born. For American publications, the name would be modified to ‘Hank Carter’. The story of this prank is masterfully recounted in Paolo Rilf’s book, “Cartier-Bresson: A Man, A Myth” (1993). Dr. Rilf was initially puzzled by the fact that there no photographs of Paris or France in the early life of this quintessentially French photographer.

Initially conceived to earn extra money, the pseudonym was to be laid to rest after the war in a ‘posthumous’ MOMA retrospective in 1947. But Capa wanted to poke fun at the pretentious New York museum; for eight hundred francs, he hired a Parisian wine-merchant to pose as camera-shy Cartier-Bresson.

Around this time, the photo-agency Magnum was founded to pool photographs of many a lensman for Cartier-Bresson’s debut book. In the coming years, using the byline ‘Henri Cartier-Bresson’ enabled many photographers to travel anonymously in troubled hotspots around the world; in 1948, he famously reported from India, China, and Indonesia. Dr. Rilf’s book, long out of print but going to be reissued later today (April 1st), is a masterful tale which doubles as a detective thriller.