Jerry Garcia

Fifteen years ago today died one of the most intriguing characters of 20th century music — Jerome John Garcia, who as Jerry Garcia, led the band the Grateful Dead for exactly three decades. Like the title of his band, Jerry Garcia was no stranger to death. Both his parents perished gruesomely: his dad by drowning, and his mom by driving off a cliff. An accident when he was four took two-thirds of a finger (it being right middle finger, it didn’t prevent Garcia from becoming an accomplished guitarist). At the age of 19, he survived a car accident that claimed his best friend. His recovery from diabetic coma was equally miraculous. But on August 9th, 1995, the 1960s counterculture icon finally lost his lifelong fight with diabetes.

Maybe it was just a reflection of their times, maybe it was something their eclectic music style represented, but in their day, the Grateful Dead acquired a phenomenal following. These so-called Deadheads — who even invented their own language — were the music industry’s first (and only) cult. The dedicated fan base which was started in San Francisco and which soon followed the band from concert to concert presented an atmosphere any corporate executive would kill for: it gave the band the bargaining power with the best venues/clubs which were enticed by the potential of sold-out tickets. And the business savvy band knew this and used their broad musical base to their advantage: by creating a rotation of songs that repeated only every 4 or 5 shows, they managed to keep Deadheads on their toes. By the time Jerry Garcia died, the Grateful Dead — for all the counterculture it represented — was already a prominent and profitable enterprise in California.

As for Jerry Garcia, his name-recognition was so indelible that 15 years after his death, his namesake ice cream, Cherry Garcia, remains the best-selling flavor for the Ben & Jerry’s brand.

Above, Garcia backstage at Woodstock, 1969. The photo was taken by the legendary photographer of American music scene, Jim Marshall. Marshall says Garcia just happened to be coincidentally sitting near a Dead End sign.

You Are What Your Profile Is

If she were still alive, this would be Mansfield's profile pic.

J. P. Morgan famously lashed out at them. J. D. Salinger was all the more famous for his aversion to them. The last moments of Bismarck and Diana were marred by them. Only last week I wrote about Jackie O.’s lifelong spat with them. Photographers, photography and privacy. They had a tormented struggle together, and there were a lot of iconic photos that came out of this.

Evidences and indiscretions were exposed. Some careers and lives were tragically destroyed. All of this happened before the arrival of the internet, but the latter greatly facilitated it. When Jayne Mansfield flashed at photographers, it was sensational, but when we see 20,345th photo of Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse doing something stupid, it is time to stop and ask ourselves, “Do we really want to see [insert a third-rate celebrity name]’s bedroom antics?”

This incoherent mess of a blog post is inspired by reading three stories in past 24-hours This weekend, New York Times Magazine published an article called The Web Means the End of Forgetting. It is extremely insightful, and forced me to reconsider what content I am putting online. The second article was on Gawker — not the apex of reporting — and describes the arrest of yet another(!) Russian spy in America, coupled with screenshots from her facebook, and notes those pictures suggest “she likes slutty Halloween costumes and pointing at the camera when she’s drunk.” Sounds typical 20-something to me, but this is apparently news. Lastly, the Independent reports that the Russian media chanced upon a photograph of the Georgian Minister Vera Kobalia in a nightclub and accused Georgia of appointing “strippers” to the cabinet. How did they chance upon this photo (which was made 10 years ago)? Of course, it was on Ms. Kobalia’s facebook. And this is just a week’s worth of ‘iconic’ happenstances on facebook. Such incidents and indiscretions galore… and there are even websites dedicated to this sort of sell-out-thy-friend cyberbullying.

Privacy remains a thorny issue; and social networking adds more complexity to it but what really was not helping here is Facebook’s privacy settings. You want to share the photos from a fun night, but can you trust all of your 2161 friends? Newsmen once used to bribe servants of celebrities to stalk them or go through their trash. Now, they just need to call someone who is friends with them on facebook. Or better yet, add him/her as a friend.

I don’t know about the age composition of this blog, but if I have to guess, I will say most readers are older than me. I don’t know whether the older generations react with amusement, consternation, or aplomb to all this. Personally, I don’t know how to react either. You can’t live without facebook, and even if you don’t post photos of yourself, you can’t prevent others from posting. No matter whether you detag or ask your friend to take them down, the photos will always be online thanks to facebook’s labyrinthine rules.

I very seriously doubt I would have gotten my current job if I apply for it today. Three-quarters of companies now do facebook checks on applicants. Once, life was not solely about accomplishments but also about potentials. Today, it is about indiscretions and what you do outside of 9-to-5. In a world where globalization has opened up new markets, careers and opportunities, we have ironically become a society that never let our pasts go.

Sorry if this post comes off as a rant, but I worry that, if this virtual scarlet letter trend continues, the next generation’s leaders will be today’s blandest, most boring people.

The U-2 Incident

On May Day, 1960, Francis Gary Powers left the US base in Peshawar on a mission to photograph ICBM sites inside the Soviet Union. It would be the twenty-fourth U-2 spy mission over Soviet territory. Although it was a Soviet holiday, all units of the Soviet Air Defence Forces were on red alert as they suspected a U-2 flight and Powers was subsequently shot down.

The United States used NASA to issue a statement saying the plane was a research vessel, but soon Moscow was full of rumors of a downed American spy plane. THe American story was made up using the assumptions that the plane was fully destroyed and that Powers was dead. However, Nikita Khrushchev gave a detailed account of the American version of the U-2’s flight and then disproved it point by point to the Supreme Soviet. It was an international humiliation for Eisenhower administration.

On May 11, the Soviet government suddenly convened journalists and diplomats to the Chess Pavilion in Gorky Park. Khrushchev surveyed the big room filled with aircraft debris. LIFE photographer Carl Mydans was among those invited over, and he began taking photos as much as he could. After some time, two Soviet officers hustled me out the door for the Soviets suspected that he was a spy for he was “taking pictures too systematically.” However, they did not confiscate his film. Although Mydans was not employed by the U.S. government, it didn’t stop the Pentagon from perusing his photos. The designers of U-2 spy plane was able to learn what happened and what sort of missile hit the plane based on their analysis of Mydans’ photographs of the wreckage.

The U-2 incident marked the birthpangs of another era of Soviet-American confrontations after a few years of calm following Stalin’s death. Coming just over two weeks before the scheduled opening of an East–West summit in Paris, it poisoned the atmosphere around the meeting. An invitation to the President to visit the Soviet Union was abruptly withdrawn, and Eisenhower finished his presidency with his dreams of ending the Cold War unfulfilled. In August 1960, the need for the U2 disappeared with the use of US Discoverer spy satellites; Powers’s was the last U2 flight over Soviet territory.

The Empire State of Leap

It is said that a guilty person sees shadows everywhere. I am fast becoming like that — i now see iconic photos everywhere, even when i don’t. I was watching Stranger than Fiction last night (a good movie, by the way) and a character talks about suicide: “There’s a photograph in the book called The Leaper. It’s old, but it’s beautiful. From above the corpse of a woman who’d just leapt to her death. There’s blood around her head, like a halo… and her leg’s buckled underneath, her arm’s snapped like a twig, but her face is so serene, so at peace. And I think it’s because when she died, she could feel the wind against her face.”

Although they may or may not be talking about the above photo, it is the first thing that came into my mind. It was Life Magazine’s Picture of the Week on May 12, 1947, and was also reprinted in The Best of Life. Andy Warhol used this photo in his work Suicide (Fallen Body) (See below), and Machines of Loving Grace put a recreation of the photo in their album cover for Gilt. There are also some colored versions of this photo, which remind me of one of those Tamara de Lempicka paintings.

The photo was taken on May Day, 1947 at the bottom of the Empire State Building. Photography student, Richard Wiles, was across the street, and heard a loud crash. He rushed to the scene and took the photo four minutes after one Evelyn McHale jumped off from the Observation Deck. Like the movie said, the picture is sad, but it is simultaneously serene. It isn’t full of gore, and Evelyn looked as if she was sleeping. Her calm repose contrasted greatly from the grotesque wreckage of a bier she herself created beneath her.

Life magazine wrote at the time: “On May Day, just after leaving her fiancé, 23-year-old Evelyn McHale wrote a note. ‘He is much better off without me … I wouldn’t make a good wife for anybody,’ … Then she crossed it out. She went to the observation platform of the Empire State Building. Through the mist she gazed at the street, 86 floors below. Then she jumped. In her desperate determination she leaped clear of the setbacks and hit a United Nations limousine parked at the curb.”

Read the story on the Empire State Building’s Observation Desk here.

Suicide (Fallen Body): She had her 15-minutes of fame, Warhol would have said.

Snap Judgments

Owen Thomas wrote this intelligent, and quite cheeky view of photography in Incomplete Education. I agree with his assessment on most parts, and it is a very engaging read.

No one really knows that much about photography, and no one is even particularly sure what he likes. The history of the medium is so short—Nicéphore Niépce made the first photograph, a grainy litde garden scene, in 1827 (though if you point out that Thomas Wedgwood might have been first, in 1802, many will be impressed)—that its salient points can be picked up in an afternoon. And the exact nature of photography is so much in dispute that you can call it an art, a fraud, or a virus without much danger of being provably wrong. Indisputably, however, there are categories, giving such comfort as categories do, and here’s what you ought to know about each.


Not long ago, everything you needed to say about landscape photography was Ansel Adams. The straight, somewhat unimaginative wisdom holds that Adams is the greatest landscape photographer ever. The revisionist stance is that Adams is passé by about a century, and that after Timothy O’Sullivan photographed the West following the Civil War, landscape was played out as a theme anyway. Neorevisionism, however, says it’s OK to like Adams even if he is the Kate Smith of photography. Or you can end the discussion by saying that the only great landscape pictures nowadays are being made by NASA robots in the outer limits of the solar system.

A trendy group of landscapists now shows up at environmental disasters like Weegee homing in on a gangland hit in 1940s New York City. Poisoned horses and sheep, shot and skinned deer, and other gloomy slices of outdoor life are what the full moon rises on in the pictures of such as Richard Misrach and James Balog. It pays to know that nowadays, pretty pictures of awful scenery are a lot hipper than plain old pretty pictures.


Though it was discovered only recently that fashion photographers might be artists, no one has ever mistaken them for plain working stiffs. The first fashion photographer of note was Baron de Meyer. His title was suspect, but useful nevertheless; he created the archetype of the social photographer, the inside man who not only knew about haute couture, but knew the women who could afford it. Then Edward Steichen came along and did a better de Meyer. (Steichen always did everything better; when in doubt, say Steichen.) Then a Hungarian photojournalist named Munkacsi appeared in the mid-Thirties and revolutionized fashion photography by making his models run along beaches and jump over puddles. Then Richard Avedon got out of the Coast Guard and did a better Munkacsi. And from then on, wannabes like Patrick Demarchelier, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel have been raking in mind-boggling fees trying, unsuccessfully, to do a better Avedon. Only Avedon could really manage that trick, however, reinventing himself right up until his death in 2004.


The answer to the tedious and irrepressible question “Is photography art?” is yes, but almost never when it thinks it is. Most of the avowed art photographers of the nineteenth century are considered quaint at best, grotesque at worst, while the pictures that have pried money out of the arts endowments look like what Fotomat used to promise not to charge you for. The great photographic art has been made by people doing something else: by Eugène Atget, trying to document Paris, or August Sander, trying to codify all the faces in prewar Germany, or Irving Penn (arguably America’s greatest artist/photographer since Steichen) dutifully helping fill the pages of Vogue. It’s perfecdy safe, then, to dismiss any art photographer as hopelessly misguided. Except Man Ray, who was really a painter, and so can’t be blamed for his failures. And Lâszlo Moholy-Nagy, who discovered that the more things you did wrong, the better the photograph looked.

The great muddler of art photographers is also the medium’s most revered saint, Alfred Stieglitz, who, early in this century, encouraged his fellow Photo Secessionists to blur, draw on, scratch, or otherwise manipulate their pictures to ensure that the hoi polloi would know they were artists. Stieglitz, by the way, was not Steichen, though even people with vast collections of lenses continue to think so. Steichen was a disciple of Stieglitz who fell out of favor when he began to make a bundle in advertising. (Stieglitz, being a saint, was not much fun.) In 1961, Stieglitz discovered Paul Strand’s unmanipulated masterpieces, decided that his followers were hopeless and misguided, and consigned them to oblivion. The resulting confusion has never quite cleared up.

The photographers most likely to be granted acceptance by the haute scribblers of the art world are those who have been careful to stay clear of the low-rent precincts of the world of photography. David Hockney, whose cubist collages of Polaroids command rapt respect, is one of these drop-ins. And William Wegman, a painter who makes unspeakably kitschy dogs-as-people pictures, is another. As is Cindy Sherman, high priestess of high concept who time-travels through female stereotypes with a few props—wigs, go-go boots, girdles—to create provocative reflections of the American psyche. My advice: When a photographer uses the word “artist,” reach for your gun.


Abstract photography is a disaster, invariably boring. Though photography is by nature an abstract of reality, it’s always of something, so attempts to make it of nothing seem silly. The viewer wants to know what he’s looking at, leans closer and closer, and ends up frustrated and peeved. The closest thing to true abstraction a photographer can manage is to take something and make it look like nothing. Most grants are awarded to photographers who are good at doing that.


The most overrated still-life photograph in the universe is Edward Weston’s jumbo-sized pepper, made in the classic More-Than-Just-a-Vegetable style that has since accounted for more than half a century of abysmal amateur efforts. (Weston is probably the most overrated photographer, too, in large part due to the efforts of sons, lovers, and half the population of Carmel, California, to keep the legend alive.) The real contest for World s Greatest Still-Life Photographer is between Irving Penn, who studied drawing and illustration with Alexei Brodovitch in Philadelphia, and Hiro, who worked as a photographer for Brodovitch at Harpers Bazaar. (Remember Brodovitch—he was tough, selfish, often drunk, said, “If you look through the viewfinder and see something you’ve seen before, don’t click the shutter,” and was guru to two generations of great photographers.) Everybody knows about Penn; his prints are at least as good an investment as Microsoft stock. Few people know about Hiro except the knowing.


This is the most problematic kind of photography for everybody, especially Susan Sontag, who couldn’t bear the idea that the camera might tell an occasional fib. It’s what most people think of when they think of photography at all, and what most photographers start out wanting to be, and then spend a lifetime trying to retire from. The word—an awful-sounding hybrid (why not “journography”?)—was invented by Henri Cartier-Bresson so that he wouldn’t be accused of making art while he made art, and it wrongly implies that one or more photographs can tell a story. Without words—usually a thousand or more—pictures are powerful but dumb.

Life magazine started the whole myth of photojournalism’s storytelling power, but in truth Life was just a very good illustrated press, in which photographs were never allowed to wander unattended. The patron saint of photojournalists is Lewis Hine, who made pictures of child laborers and sweatshops at the turn of the century. Its greatest hero was W. Eugene Smith, who combined an honest concern for human suffering with a canny eye for dramatic composition and lighting, and a very cranky disposition. Now the reigning saint of the form is Sebastian Salgado, whose harrowing coverage of starving Ethiopians and miserable Third World workers manages, somehow, to be as glamorous as any high-fashion shot. When the question arises about whether this sort of agony ‘n’ ecstasy is ethically and morally proper, it’s best to mention Picasso’s Guernica, which ought to derail the conversation long enough for you to slip away.


Cartier-Bresson (not to mention Coco Chanel) observed that after the age of forty, we have the faces we deserve. Portrait photographers tend to divide up between those who hide the evidence and those who uncover it. Bachrach and Karsh represent the first group, Avedon and Penn the second. Portraits of known people are more interesting than all the rest because we have a chance to decide whether what we see jibes with what we think we know about them—thus the outrage and/or delirium caused by Avedon’s warts-and-all celebrities. The best of the nineteenth-century portraitists, and one of the best ever, was Nadar, a Parisian hobnobber whose pictures of that great self-imagist Sarah Bernhardt are unparalleled. Then again, since faces are the landscapes of lives, the best portrait ever made is probably mouldering in your family attic. Should an argument develop over who is the Greatest Portraitist of Photography, come down staunchly on the side of the aforementioned August Sander, a German who wandered the Wàlder before World War II, chronicling his countrymen in a series of haunting stereotypes. Add Manhattan neurosis and the Age of Anxiety and you have Diane Arbus. Throw in mud-wrestling sitcom stars, body-painted movie stars, and the blithe belief that anything celebrities do, however silly, is worth recording for the ages, and you have Annie Leibovitz. Pile on hype and homosexuality and you have Robert Mapplethorpe.


In one way or another, all photographs are documentary, so all photographers are documentarists. Some, of course, are more so than others. A documentary photographer is a photojournalist whose deadline is a hundred years hence; posterity is the point. The first great large-scale documentary work was done by Matthew Brady and a group of photographers he hired to cover the Civil War (including Timothy O’Sullivan, who, as has been noted, later played the first, best notes in what has become the Ansel Adams songbook). The most famous and exhaustive documentary project was the misery-loves-company team put together by Roy Stryker to photograph sharecroppers, sharecroppers, more sharecroppers, and occasional other types during the Great Depression. This led to the discovery of the bribe in photography: If we take everybody’s picture, maybe they’ll go away and leave us alone.

Ironically, one of the great working-class heroes of documentary photojournalism was Walker Evans, a patrician sort who did much of his paying work for Fortune magazine. It seems highly likely that Evans viewed the whole idea of photography with some embarrassment, since many of his pictures show empty rooms, or people photographed from behind. Much of the devotion and energy that used to fuel documentary photographers has been co-opted by television. Generations X, Y, and Z figure that it’s way cooler to gather up old photographs, film them, add music and the voices of movie stars, and get famous. After all, Walker Evans never won an Emmy.


In one way or another, all photographs are surreal, too, since that isn’t actually Uncle Frank smirking on the beach, but just a little slip of paper coated with chemicals. But some photographers insist on being official surrealists. The harder they try to put things together in odd and unsettling ways, the more miserably they fail. Jerry Velsmann’s cloud-covered ceilings are pretty obvious stuff. The problem is that life as we know it is already odd and unsettling. So for true surrealism, we are right back with documentary photography—especially when done by people who know where to look for the kind of juxtapositions the rest of us pretend we don’t see.

Robert Frank is one of the great unofficial surrealists (his shot of a glowing jukebox certainly has the Magritte touch), as was Diane Arbus. Bill Brandt wasn’t bad, though the credit is due mostly to the fact that he’s a genius at the terrible print. The reigning king of the form these days is Joel-Peter Witkin, a masterful monster monger with a disturbing taste for amputees, dwarves, and severed heads. Somehow, Witkin presents your worst nightmares and makes you want to shell out big bucks to take one home. Surreal, isn’t it?


The best of all women photographers is my aunt Isabel, who for several years was the only person on earth who could take my picture without causing me to vanish instantly.

Other notable women are: Lisette Modell, one of the world’s smallest photographers, who had such a gravitational attraction to large people that her first pictures made in the resorts of southern France look like monuments come to life. As is the case with certain gifted photographers, Modell was as good as she would ever get on the first day of her career. She has been called the mentor of Diane Arbus, which she used to admit and deny at the same time, for reasons known only to her.

Imogen Cunningham, who lived so long that rumors circulated that she had been archivally processed. Like photographs, photographers almost inevitably benefit from great age (although they fade, their value inevitably rises). Cunningham was never better than just all right, but she had covered so much time and territory that eventually she became the art-photography world’s unofficial mascot, a position she labored at by becoming adorably “feisty.” As a result, feisty old Johnny Carson displayed her to the world on The Tonight Show, shocking the millions who thought women photographers looked like Faye Dunaway in The Eyes of Laura Mars.

Berenice Abbott, who made the best portrait ever of James Joyce, single-handedly saved the work of Atget from the trash bin, and who, whether she liked it or not, became an institution without ever being a great photographer.

Helen Levitt, almost unknown, shy, brilliant, virtually invisible in shabby coat and furtive mien, who crept around New York for forty years or more taking in street life. She’s a genius in black-and-white or color, and when you state emphatically that Levitt is America’s greatest woman photographer, you will have the rare pleasure of being both esoteric and right. The natural inheritor of Levitt’s mantle (and shabby coat) is Sylvia Plachy, a Hungarian immigrant with a wry, Frank-like eye but a far kinder heart. For years Plachy chronicled life at ground level, from sex workers in Times Square and tourists in Central Park to peddlers in Romania and refugees in war-torn Eastern Europe. Today, Plachy has moved uptown from the Voice to work for the New York Times, but she retains her edgy downtown sensibility, cranking out images that are sharp, surprising, and slightly off-kilter.

Finally, we’d better mention Nan Goldin, a photographer whose body of work is the antithesis of Plachy’s (and who has famously shed her coat—as well as the rest of her clothing—for a series of nude, postcoital self-portraits). Goldin has internalized the personal-is-political mantra of Sixties feminism to spin intimate stories shot in tight, interior spaces. Drawn to the social underbelly, she explores it through pictures of herself and her close friends; her photo diary is both an intimate snapshot and the portrait of an era. One Goldin series documents the trajectory of her relationship with an abusive partner; another chronicles the demise of a friend from AIDS; still others capture the world of drugs and drag. The beloved poster child of the seedy counterculture, Goldin is not likely to age into an adorably feisty guest on the Jay Leno show.


Last and least among photographers are the paparazzi. But while it’s perfectly all right to hold them in contempt, it’s not OK to ignore them; they know where life is going, and for that matter Life (or what’s left of it), People, and Vanity Fair. Andy Warhol predicted that someday everybody would be famous for fifteen minutes—the paparazzi work hard at reducing that to l/125th of a second. Valedictorian of all celebrity photographers is Ron Galella, who has been sued by Jackie Onassis, punched by Marlon Brando, and deplored by even the most deplorable of his subjects. None of this has affected him adversely. Jackie and Brando are gone, and Ron, whose photos have recently been legitimized by an expensive art book, a major gallery show, a museum retrospective, and the sheer passage of time, now gets star treatment himself. Let’s face it—celebrity snappers may be pond scum, but pond scum evolved into the likes of Albert Einstein and Greta Garbo, so there’s still hope. On the other hand, in the age of Rupert Murdoch and reality TV, the ever-smarmier paparazzi would have to catch Al and Greta doing the nasty in the back of a Hummer to win a few minutes of audience attention. So much for evolution.

Tokyo Stabbing

October 12th, 1960. It’s election season in Japan. Three thousand people cram Tokyo’s Hibiya Hall to hear socialist party chairman Inejiro Asanuma debate the incumbent Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda. Ikeda was inspired by the Nixon-Kennedy debates, and decided to hold his own with his opponents. Asanuma critcized the government for its mutual defense treaty with the United States and right-wing students in the audience began to heckle and throw pieces of paper at the burly chairman.

Police rushed in, and one student 17-year-old son of a Self-Defense Force Colonel, Otoya Yamaguchi ran out of the police cordon carrying a samurai sword. Before anyone could stop him, he plunged his sword into Asanuma, pulled it out and speared Asanuma again — through the heart. Less than three weeks after the assassination, while being held in a juvenile detention facility, Yamaguchi used his bedsheet to hang himself. He lived his samurai tradition to the end: his suicide was owabi—or an apology to those inconvenienced by his assassination.

An assassination’s aftermath was always traumatic. The Socialists have tried to make the assassination the top issues in the election. They paraded Asanuma’s widow in hope of a sympathy vote. After Yamaguchi’s death, the Socialists pointed out that the fact that an important criminal was able to commit suicide exposes the utter irresponsibility of the authorities in charge and jadedly noted that Yamaguchi had the only detention cell in Japan with a light fixture strong enough for hanging oneself. They also tried to link Yamaguchi with the ruling party, the United States and the CIA. Yamaguchi, in fact, belonged to an ultranationalist group called the Great Japan Patriotic party, which reportedly worships Adolf Hitler as well as the Japanese Emperor. Although the Great Japan Patriotic party was quick to distance itself from Yamaguchi, they called Asanuma’s killing as “a heaven-sent punishment.” Perhaps of all the coverages, none is more telling of prejudices and sensations of the time than this article from TIME magazine.

Despite all the benefits of democratic government. Asia’s highest literacy rate and the world’s fastest-growing economy, Japan still often seems a nation with one foot planted in the fanatic past. Chief worry of responsible Japanese is that Asanuma’s murder may be only the first of a renewed wave of political killings in a country where, before the war, political assassination was almost a tradition.

Although the predominantly right-wing audience reacted strongly to Asanuma’s opposition to the mutual defense treaty, the treaty was sure controversial. The new treaty on long-term basing of US troops in Japan signed in January 1960 was so unpopular that strikes and clashes followed the ratification. President Eisenhower canceled his state visit, the prime minister responsible for the treaty Kishi Nobusuke had to resign.

Although many reporters, TV crews and photographers were present, only one man took the photo of the decisive moment: Yasushi Nagao, staff photographer for the Tokyo Mainichi newspaper, who took this picture with his last remaining shot in the camera. The United Press International widely distributed the photo under the title, “Tokyo Stabbing” and it was reprinted in many American newspapers. Life magazine dedicated a spread. Nagao became the first non-American photographer to win a Pulitzer in photography.

See the youtube clip for what happens when photographers flock in after a major event.


Bill Hudson, who died yesterday was an AP photographer who covered the civil rights movement. Hudson was in Birmingham, Alabama when police turned their dogs on demonstrators who defied a city ban on protests and again in Selma, when the choice of weapon was fire hoses. Like many other iconographers of the era, he documented police brutality and helped galvanize the public, both domestically and internationally.

The most famous of Hudson’s photos was taken in Birmingham on May 3, 1963, it seemingly showed a police dog attacking a young protestor. The officer’s dark sunglasses, his clenched teeth. his grabbing the youth by his sweater as he lets a police dog bury its teeth into the youth’s stomach, and the youth’s passive, lowering of eyes seems to suggest that totalitarian state has finally come to America. The New York Times published the photo across three columns above the fold the next day.

Like so many other photos on the blog, the image, however, has a complicated backstory. The youth was a high school senior Walter Gadsden; he was not even a protestor but merely a bystander. The officer was Dick Middleton, a mild-mannered policeman, who arrested Gadsden earlier for refusing an order to leave the street. Yet unlike others photos, some information in the photo; either the audience is distracted by other visual cues (dark sunglasses, absence of Gadsden’s look) or it just chose to ignore the inconvenient facts that didn’t fit the narrative of a peaceful protest.

Gadsden had his gaze lowered not because of passivity, but because the gaze was on the dog, whom he would subsequently attack. Middleton was not setting his dog on Gadsden but separating the dog away from Gadsden. Hudson’s photo captures the moment as Gadsden plunges his left knee into the dog’s throat. Gadsden also was seen clenching Middleton’s hand in an apparently defiant gesture. In addition, almost tranquil nature of people in the background suggests that this was neither the centre of the protest nor the scene of widespread police brutality.

This is not to suggest that the police brutality didn’t happen in Birmingham. But with Hudson’s death yesterday, we will never know what exactly the photo shows. The image, which merely showed two unruly dogs, was an icon for an event it may not represent.

Dead Iraqi Soldier

The Gulf War had a great deal of TV coverage, but it was heavily restricted. Supposedly this was to protect sensitive information from Iraqi military tuned to CNN but the Pentagon also feared a Vietnam redux. The top military brass felt the war in Indochina was lost because of the press’s unrestricted access to the war. To reduce the number of reporters working on ground, the Iraq war was conducted under a pool system, where any press organisation that was a member of that pool had access to everyone else’s work. On the other hand, the Pentagon tightly controlled the pools with government approved reporters and provided military escorts for any field reporting.

Just a few hours before the 1991 Gulf war ceasefire, photographer Ken Jarecke was heading back to Kuwait from Southern Iraq. Jarecke came to cover the war for Time magazine twelve hours after the air campaign began and ended up staying throughout. Now, his journey nearing its end, Jarecke came across a single truck burnt out from airstrike in the middle of Highway 8. It was a place remembered as the “Highway of Death”, where the Allied aircraft pulverized the retreating Iraqi troops.

Jarecke told his military escort that “If I don’t make pictures like this, people like my mother will think what they see in war is what they see in movies”, and went over to the burnt tank and took the above photo. At that time, it was an image challenged the prevailing notion that the Gulf War was a ‘clinical’ attack avoided ‘collateral damage’.

Jarecke’s photo was sent to the AP office in New York. The AP thought that the photo was too sensitive and too graphic even for the editors of the newspapers that are part of the co-op, and that the decision on whether or not to print the photo should not be left for the editors. They pulled it off the wire. Because of AP’s decision, the photo was unseen in America (although AP staffers made copies for themselves and privately distributed it among the photo circles).

In the UK, the London Observer and the Guardian published it, and public debate was not only on “Is this something we want to be involved in?” but also on how graphic pictures should be. Jarecke responded: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

Harold Evans, the editor-in-chief of The Times of London wrote a strong essay on why photos (and graphic photos) matter, over the moving documentary photos in 1997:

It was a solitary individual in the transfixation of a hideous death. In the absence of a photograph of this power, it had been possible to enjoy the lethal felicity of designer bombs as some kind of Video game. It had been possible to be caught up in the excitement of people rushing to escape the Scuds. There was no escape from the still silence of the corpse in Jarecke’s photograph. Once seen, it has a permanent place in one’s imagination. Anyone who can replay moving images in his mind has a very rare faculty. The moving image may make an emotional impact, but its detail and shape cannot be easily recalled. Anyone who saw that still photograph will never forget it.

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The Simpsons do iconic photos

I saw the following photo in one of the Simpsons reruns the other day and thought why don’t I look into the Simpsons’ parodies of iconic photographs. The problem was although I used to watch the Simpsons, I stopped watching it. (That is not entirely true. I restarted watching the last one (their 21st — wow!) which is definitely better than their last few seasons. But I digress…). So I used Google to see if they had used any other iconic images in their equally iconic show and here they are:

This photo of Abe Simpson in Woodstock started it all. As seen in D’oh-in In the Wind (Season 10, Episode 6). Original. It is funny how they even had the butterfly and some spectators in similar poses.

Although Bart was leading Martin Prince in polls, on the election day only Prince and his friend Wendell bothered to vote, handling the class presidency to Prince by two votes. As seen in Lisa’s Substitute (Season 2, Episode 19). Original.

At the height of Boy Band craze in the 90s (oh, seems so long ago, ain’t it?), Bart, Nelson, Millhouse and Ralph Wiggum forms a band. This inevitable parody of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo was part of one of their music videos. (New Kids on the Blecch, Season 12, Episode 14).

In one of the more random gags, Homer buys the New Yorker magazine because it has Lenny’s photoshoot by Richard Avedon(!). As seen in The Sweetest Apu (Season 13, Episode 19).

The Simpsons family dog destroys Marge’s ancestral quilt, which has this Capa photo as one of the patterns. As seen in Bart’s Dog Gets an F (Season 2, Episode Sixteenth). Original.

Homer is more interested in catching this Nessie like catfish General Sherman than going to a Christian marriage counseling class. As seen in The War of the Simpsons (Season 2, Episode 20). Original

When Mr. Burns sells his nuclear power plant to the Germans, he leaves this photo for Smithers. As seen in Burns verkaufen der kraftwerk (Season 3, Episode 11). Original.

Season 4, Episode 4, Lisa the Beauty Queen has the most references. Bart strikes a Betty Grable pose as he teaches his sister how to win a beauty contest. When the tournament winner was eventually incapacitated, Lisa was sworn in as Little Miss Springfield like Lyndon Johnson did after the JFK assassination. (Marge wears a similar dress Jackie Kennedy wore). Meanwhile, Barnie drives Duff Blimp and turns it into a Hindenberg. Kent Brockman was there to provide neccessary, “Oh, the Humanity!”

This is a couch gag from Season 14: The Dad Who Knew Too Little (Episode 8 ) and The Old Yeller Belly (Episode 19).

When Bart’s antics offend the whole of Australia, the family and the staff leave the U.S. embassy in a Saigonesque fashion. Bart vs. Australia (Season 6, Episode 16).

I know this is not a comprehensive list. (I left out the photos from the episode where Krusty pastes his head on many iconic photos for his election campaign (Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington).  Then, there is Marge’s photoshoot with Playboy (related to The Devil Wears Nada), and I also saw this while surfing the ‘Net. I think I might cover that O. Winston Link photo in the near future.) I might do another post like this again, but this post is probably the one I took the most time to complete — I have been ‘researching’ (and having tremendous fun rewatching) on this for like three months. If you know more photos, be sure to leave a comment.

E. J. Bellocq and Storyville

In 1897, New Orleans, Louisiana passed a law that confined and regulated prostitution into a specified district of the city. Named after the alderman Sidney Story who proposed the idea, the district “Storyville” was home to legalized prostitution from 1898 until 1917, when the federal government and the Navy shut it down as ‘bad influence’ during WWI.

Ernest J. Bellocq was born in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Although he was of a wealthy white Creole family, he made living primarily through photography, establishing a studio and taking pictures of landmarks and of ships and machinery for local companies. However, Bellocq is more famous for photographs taken of the hidden side of the city, from the opium dens in Chinatown to the prostitutes of Storyville.

Although somewhat of a dandy, Bellocq was a hideous hydrocephalic who lived lone and acquired a reputation for eccentricity and unfriendliness. He frequented brothels, as if he could identify himself only in such community. Although there were no evidence that he used their services, Bellocq move freely among the prostitutes and take photographs, mostly nudes, which are considered among the finest works of photographic art nineteenth century America produced. Many of the negatives were deliberately damaged (perhaps by Bellocq himself) to conceal the posers’ identities.

Bellocq was eventually forgotten and most of his collection was destroyed in the decades following his death. His Jesuit brother was responsible for destruction of most of his work. However, some photographic plates were later found concealed in a sofa, and in 1966, photographer Lee Friedlander purchased the surviving 89 plates, and had them displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1970. In 1978, the film Pretty Baby, based on E.J. Bellocq’s life, was released.

Honoré de Balzac

Famous French writer Honore de Balzac (1799-1850) had a “vague dread” of being photographed; the above daguerrotype by Nadar is the only photographic print we have of him. Like some primitive peoples, and cranky autocrats, Balzac thought the camera steals a part of the soul. Balzac told a friend “every body in its natural state is made up of a series of ghostly images superimposed in layers to infinity, wrapped in infinitesimal films.” Each time a photograph was made, he believed, a layer would be stripped off to become not life as before but a membrane of memory in a sort of translucent antiworld.

What a curious notion indeed. If only he were half as concerned about his daily food intake as he was with photos. During his all too frequent creative bouts, Balzac would lock himself away, only drinking coffee and eating fruit. When he finally took a break, he would consume huge quantities of food. One record noted that Balzac ate “a hundred Ostend oysters, twelve cutlets of salt-meadow mutton, a duck with turnips, two partridges and a Normandy sole,” at one sitting, not to mention the desserts, fruit and liqueurs.

In 1834, he was diagnosed with arachnoiditis, an inflammation of brain and enlargement of his heart, both caused by consumption of huge quantities of black coffee. When the above photo was taken in 1842, his body had became flabby, his skin sallow, and he developed nervous twitches in his face — and ironically, that is how we remember him in mind, and on stamps and currencies. (Rodin even made a sculpture out of this pose). By the time of his death, he was a broken man; years of illness and working by candlelight had made him blind. Deeply superstitious (as you can see from his notions about photography), Balzac was hurt psychologically by the menthal breakdown of his servant, remarking, “What an omen! I shall never leave this house alive.” As he lay delirious on his deathbed as his heart slowly stopped working, he invoked a doctor-character in his unfinished La Comedie Humaine, “Send for Bianchon. He’ll save me.”

Ryszard Siwiec

On September 8th, 1968, a Polish teacher Ryszard Siwiec attended a traditional Harvest Festival celebration at Warsaw’s Stadion Dziesięciolecia. Dousing himself in petrol, Siwiec set fire to himself in front of the film cameras to protest against communist rule in Central Europe. The stadium was packed with 100,000 spectators, including Polish government officials and representatives from other Warsaw Pact nations.

Siwiec died in a hospital a few days later. The Polish government obfuscated the reasons for his self-immolation, and declared Siwiec was suffering from mental illness. Siwiec was the first of a series of Communist Block citizens to perform self-immolation. His death foreshadowed the more famous self-immolation of Jan Palach in Prague’s Wenceslas Square four months later. Since news about Siwiec’s sacrifice were suppressed, it is doubtful that Palach knew about it and Siwiec’s death became widely known in Czechoslovakia only when Radio Free Europe reported it two months after Palach’s death.

See an incredible footage of this event here. I don’t know how these pictures and footage survived the Communism.