Reagan Assassination Attempt Contact Sheets

Continuing our year-long series on Contact Sheets, Iconic Photos looks back at the assassination attempt at Ronald Reagan in 1981. 

Mike Evans is best remembered for his 1976 photo of Ronald Reagan wearing a cowboy hat taken at the then candidate’s California ranch while Evans was working for Equus Magazine. The genial photo was later used for campaign buttons and as a model for a statue at the Reagan presidential library, and on the president’s death, appeared on the covers of Time, Newsweek and People magazines.

Starting with that photoshoot, Evans and Reagan established a strong rapport that the president asked him to be his personal photographer. It was in such capacity that Evans captured an assassination attempt on the president just 69 days into the Reagan presidency, and narrowly evaded the assassin’s bullets himself. His contact sheets clearly highlighted the wide chasm between the quotidian nature of the trade union event at Washington Hilton where Reagan was previously speaking and the chaotic enormity of the assassination attempt and the brawl that immediately ensued outside.

Evans went on to capture other terse moments, such as Reagan’s heated finger-pointing exchanges with Tip O’Neill inside the Oval Office. His other work during the White House Years, a monumental attempt to document the D.C. denizens — from Supreme Court justices and socialites to the Capitol pages and a janitor (see list in pdf here) — in stark black-and-white portraits rivaled what Richard Avedon did a decade earlier. This work was later published in People and Power: Portraits From the Federal Village

Here, Mike Evans who died in 2005 remembers his Reagan Years. Follow me on twitter.

Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Twenty one years ago today, the former prime-minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in India. IP looks back on how the night’s events unfolded.

First Two Frames: photo of the crowd was used by police to look for back-up bombers and conspirators
I couldn’t find third and sixth frames but here are frames 4, 5, 8, and 7 (clockwise from top left)
Last Two Frames: You can see the woman in orange and green approaching

He was a prince of Machiavellian proportions, there was no doubt about that. First scion and then head of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for 32 of previous 37 years, Rajiv Gandhi became India’s prime minister in 1984. He tried to modernize and deregulate the Nehruvian state, intervened in Maldives and Sri Lanka, and placed Punjab under martial law for “terrorism”. He was a skillful orator, a masterful charmer, and after his fall from grace in 1989 in the aftermath of a corruption scandal, a political spoiler and kingmaker.

In 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was back on the campaign trail, after fracturing the coalition government — his second such attempt in as many years. On the night of May 21st in the southern town of Sriperumbudur, his dynamism was rudely stopped by a woman who bent down to touch his feet (an expression of respect among Indians) and detonated herself. Rajiv Gandhi and at least 14 other people were killed.

The assassination was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed insurgency fighting for a separate state in Sri Lanka against whom Mr. Gandhi had previously intervened. The above photos were taken by Haribabu, a 21-year-old local free-lance photographer who died in the blast, but whose Chinese-made 35-mm camera was recovered. The last photo showed a harrowing red explosion.

The photos were developed and sent to India’s most advanced military lab to be thoroughly examined. Haribabu was thought to have been paid $5 by the Tamil conspirators to document the assassination, and hence his first photo showed the bomber and her co-conspirator; the assassin was second from left, dressed in orange, and disguised behind glasses. The mastermind behind the attack, Sivarasan, posed as journalist on rightmost.

Subsequent three-month manhunt ended with a cornered Sivarsan and six others killing themselves on would have been Mr. Gandhi’s 47th birthday. As for the late lamented Rajiv, he would continue to haunt the Indian politics for many more years: in 1997, after the investigation on the assassination revealed that an Indian political party secretly supported LTTE, another coalition government fell.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jnr

Arguably , the Founding Fathers of the American Republic aside, no other single name has affected the imagination and the parlance of the latter generations more than that of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, the name today carries with it so much gravitas, symbolism and power that it’s hard to believe that when he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968, Dr. King was only 39 and had only been on national consciousness for only 13 short, albeit turbulent and transformative, years.

It’s also hard to believe that King’s popularity was already declining before that fateful April morning, and the charismatic preacher himself was a tired man. Negative ratings for him gradually increased since 1964, and in 1967, for the first time in almost a decade,  King’s name was left off the Gallup-poll list of the 10 most admired Americans. His foreign policy initiatives such as trying to mediate in the Nigerian-Biafran War were not well-received; supports from his financial backers, universities and publishers were dwindling.

It was only partially because of FBI bullying after Dr. King refused to yield to FBI’s blackmails and accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. As Michael Eric Dyson wrote, “The more he protested poverty, denounced the Vietnam War and lamented the unconscious racism of many whites, the more he lost favor and footing in white America…In many ways King was socially and politically dead before he was killed. Martyrdom saved him from becoming a pariah to the white mainstream.”

Indeed, by shooting him in Memphis, James Earl Ray created a martyr, complete with an iconic photographic relic. The iconic image of Dr. King dying was captured by Joseph Louw, a young black South African photographer who was working with King on a documentary film. He was staying at the same motel just a few doors away, and when Louw heard a shot he ran out to see King lying on the balcony floor, and his aides signaling to police below the direction from which the assassin’s bullet came. Afterwards, Louw asked the Memphis-based photographer Ernest C. Withers (known as the “original civil rights photographer”) the permission to use the latter’s darkroom to develop the film.

The next day, it was on the front pages all over the world.