Space Walks

It was one of the most famous images of the Space Age. What many people didn’t realize was how far that “untethered space walk” travelled.  

Spacewalking was nothing new by the time space shuttles began to soar. In March 1965, the Russian Alexei Leonov became the first person to take a “walk” in space in an exercise that nearly went wrong. Three months later, American Ed White followed his lead, but  both were tied to their spacecraft.

It was left for two astronauts on the shuttle Challenger, Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart, to try an untied version. With Robert Gibson taking photos from inside the shuttle with a Hasselblad, McCandless achieved this on February 7th 1984, becoming the first “human satellite” traveling at some 17,500 miles per hour.

He reached a distance of 320 feet, with the azure Earth 150 nautical miles below, but McCandless spent just a little more than an hour free-flying. Even today, spacesuits are awkward, unwieldy and uncomfortable; while spacewalks typically lasted no longer than three hours, the astronauts are often trapped in their suits for as long as 10 hours, and had to drink through straws.

Although McCandless’ photo inspired many sci-fi fantasies, his spacewalk would amount to nothing more than a stunt. After McCandless and Stewart, four other astronauts on later shuttles flew untethered, but after 1984, NASA stopped producing the nitrogen-powered jet pack (in that inelegant space jargon, known as Manned Maneuvering Unit). The shuttle’s robotic arm precluded the need for such daring spacewalks.

Today, a modified version of the jetpack is worn only as a emergency backup during spacewalks. It was smaller but by no ways capable of reaching the distances previously travelled.

 And there in a way is a metaphor for the American space programme.


Space Shuttle Program (1981 – 2011)

After three decades, Atlantis which was launched on Saturday will be NASA’s last space shuttle mission. For the next eleven days, it will be orbiting the Earth, and for the next eleven days, the Iconic Photos will feature the most breathtaking images from the shuttle’s career.

Nixon and NASA administrator James Fletcher redefined the space program after the Apollo missions

First, a disclaimer: I am not a fan of the space program; my friends go so far as to say I have “deep-seated mistrust in science and scientific community”. Many articles and pundits this week noted — and will note — the space shuttle program’s extraordinary achievements. While I do not deny this, it is worth reflecting on its failed promises.

When first conceived in the 1970s, the shuttle was to launch once a week. However, since its first mission thirty years ago, only 135 flights were launched, a dismal average of one every three months. So much for a vehicle envisioned as an everyday freight truck.

But it is not very good at freighting either; initially, it was estimated that each kilogram sent into orbit will cost $1,400. Costs spiraled to $1.5 billion a mission, at the cost of $60,000 per kilogram. Although its big selling-point was reusability, extensive maintenance needed after each mission meant that it was never truly reused again.

Its supporters point out that actually less than 1% of the federal budget went to NASA. It is true but in three decades, at the cost of $192 billion, the shuttle program has cost American taxpayers more than the Manhattan Project, the Apollo Programme and the Panama Canal combined. Its safety record — 1.5 per 100 flights — is also not topnotch.

True, its achievements — like delivering the Hubble Telescope and countless other satellites — should not be ignored, but the space shuttle was costly, both in terms of money and human life. Other nations and robots will perform the shuttle’s duties, and American astronauts will hitch rides with Russian rockets. Those are cheaper, safer alternatives, even if they are less magnificent.

The News of the World (1843 – 2011)

The News of the World, Britain’s leading peddler of scandal and schadenfreude, is dead, aged 168.

It is Sunday afternoon, preferably before the war. The wife is already asleep in the armchair, and the children have been sent out for a nice long walk. You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World. Roast beef and Yorkshire, or roast pork and apple sauce, followed up by suet pudding and driven home, as it were, by a cup of mahogany brown tea, have put you in just the right mood.”

With these words, George Orwell opened in his essay, Decline of the English Murder. Over the years, many have questioned its coverage, credibility and practices, but there is no denying that The News of the World, like cucumber sandwiches and cricket on the green, is a British institution. Founded 168 years ago, to bring news to the newly literate working class, the paper reflected whims, anxieties and schadenfreude of Middle England.

Its first historic scoop was on May 18th 1900, when the paper reported the successful Relief of Mafeking during the Boer War, a day ahead of its rivals. During its first decades, it covered real news — from funerals of Queen Victoria and Churchill, to Russian invasion of Eastern Europe.

But soon, it slipped into more lucrative news covering the salacious and the macabre. During the prim 1940s and 50s, it offered sexual assault-trial transcripts. In 1949, it serialized the story of John George Haigh, the “acid bath murderer”. The paper paid his legal bills in return for the handwritten notes he scribbled while in prison.

And Middle England enjoyed it. On June 18th 1950, the paper set the world-record — never broken, and probably never will –for the largest print-run: 8,659,090 copies. Even the paper’s takeover by puritanical Rupert Murdoch in 1969 didn’t change its direction. In 1960, it paid ₤ 36,000 (₤ 600,000 today) for lurid memoirs of Diana Dors, whom the Archbishop of Canterbury called a “brazen hussey”. Three years later, it was the turn of Christine Keeler.

It exposed its fair share of paedophiles, murders and white slavers, but in pursuing its scoop, News of the World never shied away from illegal practices — hidden microphones and cameras, wiretappings, bribery, etc. In 1973, it outrageously installed its own cameras to expose Lord Lambton’s affair when the pictures it obtained were not good enough. Its “named and shamed” campaigns led to mobs attacks on convicted paedophiles (and sometimes, innocent bystanders). The paper always snubbed its nose not only at authorities but also at the principle of “presumption of innocence”, once going “undercover” inside a jail to take photos of a man who was later convicted of murdering two girls.

Vicars, politicians, actors and sportsmen were stalked and scrutinized with a zeal unseen outside totalitarian dictatorships. Their private lives were exposed and denounced. It ruined the careers of Frank Bough (“I took drugs with vice girls”), Angus Deayton (“drugs romp with vice girl”), Jeffery Archer (“pays off vice girl”), Alan Clark (“affair with a judge’s wife and her two virgin daughters”), Mark Oaten (“hires male prostitutes”) and Max Moseley (“Nazi Orgy”). A familiar tag often was “See pages 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6”.  In recent years, “sting operations” by the “Fake Sheikh” — an undercover reporter who posed as a wealthy Arab businessman caught the Countess of Wessex making candid statements about Tony Blair and the Duchess of York selling access to Prince Andrew.


If its life was the story of fetor and contempt, its demise was that of betrayal and hypocrisy. In the past, the public has gleefully, salivatingly followed the paper’s transgressions — when they were directed against private lives of public figures — but when the families of murdered girls, dead soldiers and terrorism victims became targets, News of the World seemed to have crossed an invisible line.

The public once condoned the paper’s illegal practices as long as they were targeted upon those who “deserved”, blithely ignoring the fact that no one — not even the most hated celebrity — deserves having his/her privacy invaded. And the public revels in this hypocritical (and often indiscernible) divide between “them” and “us”, and it’s this divide that News of the World obligingly exploited.

For most of its life, News of the World hid behind sensational headlines, “justifiable intrusions”, and false incentives; nowhere was the paper’s “end-justifying-means” attitude more clear than in its proud announcement that it was responsible for more than 250 convictions in recent years. Ironically, in coming weeks and months, that figure is likely to go up.

News of the World is survived by its equally sordid brethren across the world, and tens of millions of enablers.

Betty Ford (1918 – 2011)

Betty Ford, briefly America’s quirky First Lady and its perennial therapeutic icon, is dead, aged 93. 

When we say the name Betty Ford these days, it almost always refers to her eponymous center in Southern California frequented by adulterous evangelists, drug-abusing athletes and misbehaving celebrities. Dubious though this honour was, it was something Betty Ford cherished.

If her husband’s road to the American Presidency was unconventional, Betty Ford’s First Ladyship was equally unconventional. In those heady days before rehab was “cool”, Ford openly talked about her breast cancer, then her mastectomy, and finally her addiction to pills and alcohol.

Betty Ford was a dancer and (like her husband) fashion model; she studied at the Bennington School of the Dance, joined Martha Graham’s company, founded her own dance troupe, and taught disabled children dance. During her short and mostly absent stay at the White House, Ford would dance through the halls of the White House. Her dance on the Cabinet Room table amidst ashtrays and notepads was a fulfillment of a long-harboured wish.

The moment was captured by David Hume Kennerly, who encouraged her to jump onto the table

I said, ‘Well, nobody’s around.’ She said, ‘I just think I’m going to do this.’ Then she’s on the table. She’s a tiny woman, really, in very good shape. Very graceful, as a former dancer with the Martha Graham company. She got up there…. Very few women have had a seat at that table. I bet you could count them on one hand at that point, and knowing her support for the Equal Rights Amendment, she was tap-dancing in the middle of this male bastion. She was storming the walls of the gray suits and gray-haired eminences….

I did not want people to put a martini glass in her hand and say here she is drunk on the Cabinet Room table. That would just be wrong. Because that is not what happened.”

It was Gerald Ford’s last full day in office and the picture disappeared into Ford Archives. It was first published only in 1995 with Kennerly’s book Photo Op . Kennerly remembers showing the photo to the former first couple before its publication:

And it’s like one of those cartoon moments where his eyes come bulging out, and he goes, ‘Oh, Betty isn’t going to like this.’ Remember, he knows her better than anybody. I’m sunk. But he doesn’t say anything when she comes in, and she looks at the picture and she starts laughing. She says, ‘Oh, I forgot all about this. That is so great.’ And I ask her, you won’t mind? And Mrs. Ford says, ‘No! It’s a terrific picture.’ Then President Ford says, ‘Well, Betty, you never told me you did that.’ And she smiles at him and says, ‘There’s a lot of things I haven’t told you, Jerry.’ “


(Kennerly interview from the Smithsonian Magazine) 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pomp, Pageantry — and Monarchy

The Royal Wedding in London two months ago makes me chuckle a little bit, not least because Britain used to be quite horrible at royal pageantry. In 1817, at the funeral of Princess Charlotte, the undertakers were drunk. At Queen Victoria’s unrehearsed coronation in 1838,  two train-bearers talked all through the ceremony, the clergy lost their place in the Order of Service and the ring was too small for Victoria’s finger. After the funeral of Prince Albert at Windsor in 1861, the special train back to London was so crowded that Disraeli had to sit on his wife’s lap.

The same year, watching the Queen open Parliament, Lord Robert Cecil bemoaned, that while many nations had a gift for this sort of thing, England did not: “We can afford to be more splendid than most nations; but some malignant spell broods over all our most solemn ceremonials and inserts into them some feature which makes them all ridiculous … Something always breaks down, somebody contrives to escape doing his part, or some bye-motive is suffered to interfere and ruin it all.” However, other monarchies that ‘had a gift’ — France, Germany, Russia and Austria (whose capital cities were better adapted to processions than London) — simply dropped out of monarchic race, leaving the Britons alone in the field.

On the other end of this pomp and circumstance are bicycling monarchies — more informal and modest personal styles of the royal families in Scandinavia and the Low Countries. One of the most famous exemplars of a bicycling monarchy was that of Olav V of Normay, known as “People’s King.” An accomplished skier who won an Olympic gold medal, Olav skied with no entourage but his dog. He also drove himself, and would drive in the regular highway lanes though he was allowed to drive in the public transportation lane. During the energy crisis in the 1970s, when Norway banned driving on certain weekends, the king would take a tram to go skiing — a practice he continued even after the crisis ended. In above photo, Olav tried to pay for his tickets, as the conductor told him that his adjutant further back had already paid for him.

— via Gisle from Norway

Kim Campbell, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death of a Beautiful Woman

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

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

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

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

Twitter and all that …

Twitter also has become a place where iconic photos are shared.

So I decided to join Twitter. Again.

A few years ago, I tried to experiment with Twitter. That amounted to nothing – and I soon gave up. But now, I have substantial following on IP, I think I should try again.

So here it is: aalholmes – that’s me on twitter. Hurray.

What I post in the next few days – and weeks and months to come, if all goes according to plan – will not be solely limited to photography and photojournalism (although they may play a huge role). It will be just a general interest feed to share what I read, what I thought, and what I liked.

Another reason for twitter is so that I can interact with online readers. Be free to do so.

In the past, I got political, and subsequently polemical, when I blogged. The 140-characters should temper that. (Or so I hope).

So here we go again…

Mississippi, Matt Herron


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

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

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

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

Hitler’s Little Jig

Seventy-one years ago today, Adolf Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government at a ceremony in Compiegne, France. On June 21, 1940, Hitler melodramatically received France’s surrender in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed the 1918 armistice that had ended the First World War, thereby adding an additional flourish to century-long rivalry between France and Germany. (In 1918, the Armistice was singed in that railcar because it had once belong to Napoleon III, who lost the Franco-Prussian War).

It was an episode full of pointless symbolism. Hitler sat in the same chair in which Marshal Foch had sat when he faced the defeated Germans in 1918. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler – in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates – left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to General Wilhelm Keitel (who ironically would sign a surrender of Germany five years later).

After stepping outside, while talking to his generals and aides, Hitler stepped backwards; however, this is not what audiences in the Allied countries saw. John Grierson, director of the Canadian information and propaganda departments, noticed that Hitler raised his leg rather high up while stepping backwards. He looped this moment repeatedly to create the appearance that Hitler was childishly jumping with joy.

In those days of newsreels before films, the scene was played over and over again in movie theaters, and served the purpose of provoking popular disdain towards Hitler. 

The Armistice site was destroyed on Hitler’s orders three days later; the monuments, which included a German eagle impaled by a sword, and a large stone tablet which read “Here on the eleventh of November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German Reich, vanquished by the free peoples which it tried to enslave”, were destroyed. A statue of Foch was left intact so that it would be honoring a wasteland. The Armistice carriage was taken to Berlin, but later destroyed in war. See here for Hitler’s reaction to the Armistice site.