Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel | Papua New Guinea

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On Christmas Day, 1942, George Silk, a New Zealand photographer working for the Australian Department of Information, took the photo above a Papuan man leading a wounded Australian soldier. They were near Buna at the trailhead to the Kokoda Track on the island of Papua New Guinea, where the Australian forces had been defending against the Japanese assault across the Kokoda aimed at taking Port Moresby, the island’s capital.

There were many poignant photos and images from Kokoda. Damien Parer won Australia’s first Oscar for his Cinesound newsreel Kokoda Frontline and took an iconic photo of “Wally” — the blinded Digger being led by his mates across a river.  However, general public forever associates Kokoda with ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’ — the native volunteers who helped the soldiers to safety, and Silk’s photo was the perfect exemplar of sacrifice and ‘mateship’ displayed on the track and of those uncertain few months in 1942 and 1943, when war arrived on Australia’s doorstep and the country feared a Japanese invasion.

Only months earlier, a sapper working on the track had written a poem titled ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels’, which was mailed to his mother and widely republished in Australian papers. With Silk’s photo, the press now have a simple and powerful image to accompany the poem. As the great Australian war correspondent Osmar White acerbically noted, “the public image of a New Guinean was transmogrified from that of a bloodthirsty cannibal with a bone through his nose to that of a dusky-skinned, mop-headed, sexless Florence Nightingale.”

After taking the photo, Silk ran back to ask the name of the wounded private (George Whittington, who later died of bush typhus in February 1943)  but not the name of the native. The latter’s identity was not discovered until decades later when he was identified as Raphael Oimbari and made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

In 1943, Silk’s photograph was published in Life, which also recruited him. Frustrated by the strict Australian censorship, and following the example of other local journalists who left Australian agencies to work for the BBC and other agencies where they were given more freedom to report about the war, Silk left to work for Life and remained there until the magazine folded in 1972. His photo was later featured on a war memorial in Port Moresby and the medal the Australian government issued to the native carriers.

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Pinochet in Dark Glasses

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It was a time when most of South America was ruled by dictators, and an archetypal example of them was Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who cemented his image as a thuggish autocrat very early on in his reign, which began with an American-backed coup which deposed Salvador Allende 1973.

On Sept 18, six days after the coup, at Iglesia de la Gratitud Nacional, a Te Deum was held to consecrate the new government. All three living presidents endorsed the Pinochet junta (Allende having taken his own life on the day of the coup), as did the supreme court. The cardinal archbishop of Santiago led the mass, having previously refused to conduct Te Deum at a military school.

Pinochet showed up to the mass wearing dark glasses, and posed for the press. The photo above taken by Chas Gerretsen was widely re-printed on local and international papers and became popular among both the general’s supporters and opponents. Gerretsen, a Dutch-born war photographer who won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for this photo and who would later be arrested by the Pinochet regime for taking a picture of the general drinking at a press conference, remembers the day:

There was a press pass, where the press was invited to photograph the junta. I did not want to cover another of those things, so I did not register, but an hour before I said: “I have nothing to do, why don’t I go?” So I went and when I got to the street of the Church where they were doing the ceremony, there were soldiers everywhere: on the street, on the roofs. And they would not let me through. Then one of Pinochet’s men recognized me and said to let me pass. And at the next stop they stopped me again and they let me pass again and so on until I got to the church with another 10 or 15 photographers and cameramen.

The junta was all sitting with their assistants and I arrived and I started taking pictures one by one right in front of them. Other photographers took pictures of open angles. I think maybe they were afraid to get too close to the generals. If you see the photos you will see that I went one by one taking pictures and the only striking photo is that of Pinochet. It is the Hollywood dream of a dictator. That’s why people like the photo, because it portrays it as what it is. If you see the picture of General [Gustavo] Leigh, for example, he is also sitting on a chair, I think he also has his arms crossed and is wearing glasses, but he looks weak, like nothing. Like most other generals, he is a follower.”

Gerretsen requested Pinochet to take off his sunglasses, but the general refused, however, with the words: “I am Pinochet.” Later, he told Maria Eugenia Oyarzun, a journalist writing the book Augusto Pinochet, Dialogues with his History that, “The reason for the shades was simple. It was a way of telling things. Lies are discovered through the eyes, and I lied often.”

Two days after the mass, Pinochet gave a press conference, where he claimed that once the country recuperates and overcomes chaos, the junta will hand power back. Instead, Chile languished under his dark glasses for another 17 years.

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Aberfan Disaster | 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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Venice. 1902.

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It was where Galileo first displayed his telescope to the Doge and where Goethe first saw the sea. By the time it collapsed in 1902, Campanile di San Marco, the sixteenth century bell tower overlooking the piazza of the same name in Venice, had seen various historical and weather turmoils.

Margaret Plant recounts in Venice: Fragile City that although a crack had been seen on the tower at least a week before the collapse, no precautions had been taken. The visitors were still allowed to climb up the weekend before, even as cracks visibly multiplied, even reaching the fifth floor. On Sunday before the collaspe, the orchestras in the piazza (a planned concert by the 18th Infantry Regiment band) were finally silenced to avoid vibrations, but it was too late. On the early hours of 14 July 1902 (some said 9.47 am, others 9.52 am), the tower collapsed, injuring no one but killing a caretaker’s cat (named Mélampyge, weirdly after Casanova’s dog).

Various fake photos claiming to show the collapse circulated, and became famous around the world. The photos below are fake montages by Antonio De Paoli (left) and Giovanni Zanetti (right), both of which showed people running in the piazza away from the debris. The above more dramatic photo, produced by Angelo Zaghis, was more accurate in its portrayal of an empty square but is also likely to be fake, eventhough it was reproduced in many books on Venetian history, including Plant’s.

Despite some grumbles — most notably from Giosue Carducci, the anti-clerical unofficial poet laureate of Italy (who would soon win the Nobel Prize in Literature) — the Venice city council voted unanimously to rebuild it.  The mayor Filippo Grimani famously proclaimed, “com’era e dov’era (as it was, where it was)”. In a solemn ceremony befitting the pomp and maritime history of the Venetian Republic, the rubble from the Campanile were taken by ship for a ‘funeral’ in a ceremony that mimicked ‘La Sensa’, the annual ceremony where the Doges of Venice dropped gold rings into the sea. Tower itself was rebuilt — using many of the bricks which survived the collapse, crowned by the Marangona, the only one of the five original bells to survive the collapse (other bells were recast from the recovered fragments) — and was reopened on St. Mark’s Day 1912, exactly 1,000 years after the very first bell tower on the site was built.

 

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The Gladiators

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At the end of each season for National Rugby League (NRL) in Australia, the winning team is given a trophy fashioned after one of Australia’s enduring sporting images. Two mud-soaked men embracing each other — a symbol of camaraderie and ‘mateship’ in rugby league.

Two men were Norm Provan (left) and Arthur Summons, after whom the current trophy has been named since 2013 (earlier versions of the trophy also featured them, but was named after the cigarette manufacturer Winfield, which was forced to withdraw their sponsorship of the Premiership, following the ban on cigarette advertising). Provan and Summons were respectively the captains for St. George and Western Suburbs, and despite the photo and its subsequent history welding two men together, the giant second-rower and the diminutive halfback initially did not get along. Summons noted that he had refused to swap jumpers with Provan amidst the rumors that the referee had bet £600 on a St George win, and that the photo captured the moment when he complained about the referee’s decision to Provan.

The photo, later known as The Gladiators, was taken by the Sun-Herald photographer John O’Gready on 24th August 1963 when St George beat Western Suburbs 8-3 for the eighth of their consecutive championships premierships. Another photographer Phil Merchant took a similar picture for the Daily Telegraph but his editors chose not to run it, because Merchant took the photo vertically, which didn’t fit the horizontal space available.

The O’Gready photo went on to win numerous international awards, including the British Sport Picture of the Year award (the only Australian photo to be so honored thus far) and was considered one of the greatest sporting images. In 2007, Provan and Summons reunited to cover themselves in vaseline and pigment instead of mud to reproduce the photo for a charity.

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Y.A. Tittle (1926-2017)

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What a crazy and tumultuous year it was! Many arenas of public life were rocked, by storms political and literal, by recriminations and distrust, by escalating wars and ethnic conflicts, tarnished by sexual assault revealations, buffeted by the rising nationalist, racist, and toxic rhetoric. I thought we should end the year with a fitting image of exhaustion, resilience, and hope.

Y.A. Tittle, the quarterback for the New York Giants, who died earlier this year showed all those qualities in his last game as a pro footballer. 1964. It was Sept. 20, 1964, and ‘Big John’ Baker – 6-foot-7, 279-pound Pittsburgh Steelers lineman – had ploughed through him. Tittle, suffering from a concussion and bruised ribs, knelt in the end zone, his helmet gone and bleeding from two cuts on his forehead. He looked double his 37 years, many newspapers commented, and he soon retired.

The moment produced one of the most enduring images in sports, a photo which earned a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Adding to the humanity was the background: a handful of fans sitting on the lawn chairs at field level, and mostly empty end-zone bleachers. It encapsulated the agony of defeat so well that it was for the longest time one of only three pictures in the lobby of the National Press Photographers Association headquarters, alongside with the Iwo Jima and the Hindenburg photos.

The photo was above taken by Dozier Mobley covering the Steelers-Giants game for The Associated Press. Another photographer, Morris Berman, took an almost identical image for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but his editor refused to publish it ‘because of its lack of action’. Berman instead entered his photo in a contest later, and it won the 1964 National Headliner award for best sports photograph. Two versions of the photo are frequently mistaken for one another, not least by Tittle, who used the Berman photo and credited it to Mobley in his autobiography, Nothing Comes Easy: My Life in Football.

Mobley remembered that day inside the Pitt Stadium: “But I missed the best shot, we all did. After that picture, we put our cameras down. Then, there he was, looking up at the sky with a terrible grimace. And there was no time to get it.”

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Deep Sorrow, 1968

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When Coretta Scott King discovered that the press pool covering the funeral of her husband included no black photographers, she let it known that if Moneta J. Sleet Jr. was not allowed into the church, she would let no photographers into the church.

Sleet’s photo of Bernice King tearfully clasping her mother inside the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where her father had been the pastor for the last eight years won a Pulitzer Prize, making Sleet the first African American journalist to win that award. He remembered that emotion-fraught moment, five days after Dr. King was shot dead:

“I looked over and saw Mrs. King consoling her daughter. I was photographing the child as she was fidgeting on her mama’s lap. Professionally, I was doing what I had been trained to do, and I was glad of that because I was very involved emotionally. If I hadn’t been there working, I would have been off crying like everybody else.”

Sleet had known the Kings for over a decade, since 1956, when he photographed the couple with another daughter on the steps of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He even travelled with Dr. King when the latter went to Stockholm to collect his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964.

The photo was titled Deep Sorrow by Sleet and was first featured in Ebony Magazine, for which he captured Dr. King and other leading African American celebrities of his day – from Muhammad Ali to Stevie Wonder. He accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon’s tour of newly independent Africa nations, and took a famous photo of Kwame Nkrumah on Ghana’s independence day. Before King’s funeral brought him the Pulitzer, he had been at another forlorn occasion when he also photographed Betty Shabazz at the funeral of her slain husband, Malcolm X. His Pulitzer also transcended photography: he was the first black man to win the prize (after poet Gwendolyn Brooks in 1950 who was the first African American to win), and the first black person to win the Pulitzer for journalism.

 

Morning Mist, Franklin River

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“Could you vote for a party that will destroy this?” asked the bold headline in white above the photo in 1983. The party in question has been in power in Australia since 1975, led by patrician Malcolm Fraser. Fraser was a transformative prime minister, who gave the aborigines of Australia more control over their traditional lands, encouraged immigration from Asia, welcoming the Vietnamese boat people, and led the pressure against apartheid in Rhodesia and South Africa.

But by early 1983, the economy was in a rut, Fraser’s parliamentary majority had been reduced and the future of his government rested on an attempt to dam a river in Tasmania. For years, this dam had been festering on the public consciousness: a fledgling Green movement was trying to save the river through concerts, candle-lit vigils and a write-in campaign, which reached its feverpitch in late 1982 when 42% of voters wrote in “NO DAMS” at a by-election in the state of Victoria.

Central to these campaigns were photographs of Tasmania by Peter Dombrovskis, who photographed the state for widely-subscribed annual wilderness calendars. Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River showed a section of the Franklin River which would be submerged by the proposed dam; environmental groups took out full-page color advertisements featuring the photo in Sydney and Melbourne papers a few days before the election.

The photo was often cited as the reason behind Fraser’s Liberal Party’s unexpected defeat — there was a swing of 24-seats, the largest defeat of a sitting government in Australia since 1949. Ironically, in Tasmania, the Liberals held all five seats, revealing the stark dichotomy between locals who preferred economic development and outsiders who wanted to preserve a national patrimony — a divide that is still present in many a conservation debate today.

A court case followed, pitting the local government against the incoming Labor government which promised to cancel the dam. In the seminal Commonwealth vs. Tasmania, the High Court of Australia stopped the dam’s construction, but Tasmania was given a hefty subsidy as compensation. The high profile campaign to save the Franklin and the ensuing fracas ended further dam proposals in Tasmania, and in wider Australia too, there had been no major dam constructions ever since.

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Yesterday, President Donald Trump signed two orders announcing his plan reduce the amount of federally protected land in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. I visited the area earlier this year, and do understand the economic arguments around them. Yet, this act sets a dangerous precedent for other National Parks in the United States. This corner of America had been here before, most notably when the Glen Canyon dam destroyed 250 square miles of rock cliffs and canyons, prehistoric and Native American settlements, and a natural amphitheater of almost mythic beauty — the Cathedral of the West. If you are outraged about it, please do reach out to your elected representatives.

 

 

 

Cyprus, 1956

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Sometimes a photo is famous, not just because of the contents of the photo, but also because of the photographer behind the lens. Nicos Sampson has a dubious claim as an established photographer who had the most (in)famous second career. In the 1950s, as a reporter and photographer for the Times of Cyprus, Nicos Sampson would run to the scene whenever a policeman was murdered in Nicosia. His photos were raw and timely, as if he preternaturally knew where the next murder would happen.

In many instances, he did. Cyprus was then still ruled by Britain, and a militant group called EOKA was calling for an union with Greece; EOKA would regularly attack and killed civilians and British policemen in Nicosia’s Ledra Street. Nicos Sampson would scoop Ledra murders time and again, as he was secretly a member of EOKA and involved in the killings. He would twice face the death sentence as “the executioner of Murder Mile”, as Ledra Street was then infamously known.

Later, Sampson would also be accused of atrocities during the 1964 post-independence fighting that tore the Greek and Turkish communities apart on the island. He conspired with the Greek junta to violently overthrow Archbishop Makarios, the moderate president of the island who was amenable to both communities. After this overthrow, Sampson was himself president — something in the words of one Turkish Cypriot leader, “as unacceptable as Hitler’s becoming president of Israel”. In any event, Sampson’s presidency lasted for eight days, as Turkey invaded Cyprus and his patrons the Greek junta fell.

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I could not find Nikos Sampson’s photos, but both photos on this page were taken by Robert Egby, also working at The Cyprus Mail. The photo above was taken on September 28, 1956 just outside Cyprus Mail office on Ledra Street. Two slain men were newly-arrived British intelligence officers. The assassin, who ran away just out of frame, was thought to be Sampson himself.

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Another famous Egby photo showed the death of a Turkish Cypriot man Bonici Mompalda. Momplada’s Greek Cypriot fiancée Drosoulla Demetriadou sat beside the body in a photo which made the front page of all British dailies (except The Times, which didn’t feature a photo on the front page until a few years later). Egby received an Honourable Mention in The British Press Pictures of the Year 1956 for this photo. Sampson was again thought to be the culprit for this murder.

More details here.

 

 

 

Tunisia | Dominique Berretty

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After the defeat at Diên Biên Phu, France’s attention turned to its African colonies, whose soldiers had fought in Vietnam and saw the imperial power humbled and humiliated. The insurrection in Algeria began on November 1954, just fourteen weeks after France signed the Geneva Accords, ending its disastrous war in Indochina.

Rather than face a series of conflagrations throughout the Maghreb, the new Socialist government of Guy Mollet gave Tunisia and Morocco independence in March 1956. Algeria was to be held on at all costs, but Tunisia and Morocco were dispensable, and thus they became first countries in Africa to regain their independence from a colonial power.

Yet France maintained a selection of bases across Tunisia (although the Fourth Republic fell and General de Gaulle was returned to power, he evacuated five bases and 50,000 soldiers off Tunisia), most notably at Bizerte, a strategic naval base on the Mediterranean, through which France was to conduct its operations during the war in Algeria. For the Tunisians, the base was an affront to their sovereignty, and in July 1961, they surrounded and blockaded it. De Gaulle’s response was swift and decisive — a rapid strike which killed 700 Tunisians — so decisive that by October, the Bizerte town council was able to crow: “Today’s Bizerte is essentially a French creation….. France managed in less than eighty years to change the face of Bizerte more than the preceding millennium had done.”

In a little over two years, an exhausted France would return Bizerte to Tunisia, as its war in Algeria unraveled.

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The photo above is taken by Dominique Berretty who was propitiously in Tunisia as the Bizerte crisis began. Berretty took many famous war photos throughout the 1950s and the 60s, covering the border crisis between India and Pakistan, and later the war in Vietnam, where his photo taken in 1965 of an American soldier watching a burning Vietnam village became a visual shorthand for inhumanity of war.

 

 

Pedro Luis Raota

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

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

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

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

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William Albert Allard’s West

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National Geographic named it one of the “greatest photographs of the American West.” David Schonauer, the famed editor-in-chief of American Photo wrote, “there is a fine line between cliche and archetype….. [this is] the latter,” noting that the photo reminded him of the elegiac song, “The Street of Laredo.” The photographer, William Albert Allard remembers taking the photo in Nevada in 1979:

“We are in this little Mountain City bar …. one of the buckeroos a big man named Stan Kendall, he was sitting on the bar stool at the very end of the bar. He had this kind of look on his face and I am always looking at faces because I think they are so revealing and faces are a part of so much of my photographs. When it comes down to it, what i really wanted to do in my pictures is to look into someone, rather than to look at them.

You know by looking at this photograph you get the feel of this place, the feel of the life, his attitude. Was I thinking consciously when I was looking into Stan Kendall? No. Oh, hell, no. Wasn’t thinking that. But I am reacting to what I am seeing.

This one is a moment. Everything there is absolutely a moment. And that look on Stan Kendall’s face — he kinda had that leaving look. And in fact, the next morning, Stan Kendall rolled up his bedroll and gathered up his saddle and his gear and he just left the ranch, to go on further down the road.”

William Albert Allard was a keen documentarian of hardscrabble landscapes. He started out at National Geographic as intern, taking photos of an Amish community in Lancaster Country, including a memorable one of a young boy and his pet guinea-pig.

Mountain City where he took the above photo was an epitome of these small marginal communities. For Gregory Martin’s memoir about growing up in this unincorporated town of thirty or so people, the New York Times wrote, “Life is Social Security checks, memories and the losing battle with time and the gale-toothed cold”. Allard worked for National Geographic for 50 years until the magazine closed down their staff photography department in 2015 to merge with Fox.

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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: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos.