Photography — 2011 in Review

Iconic Photos bid fond farewells to those we lost in 2011.

The big photography news of the year was deaths of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros during a mortar attack in Misrata, but among the Arab Spring’s other unfortunate victims were a few photographers: Lucas Dolega, who died from injuries sustained on day of Ben Ali’s departure from Tunisia; Ali Hassan al-Jaber, the Qatari photojournalist who had the dubious honor of being the first foreign journalist to be killed during the Libyan war, and Anton Hammerl, who was abducted and executed by pro-Qaddafi forces.

But those who want some reminding that the world has already been an inhospitable place to journalists and photographers need only to look at the lives of those old masters who died this year. As Rashid Talukder was documenting the birthpangs of Bangladesh, the retreating Pakistani army was massacred thousands of his compatriots. Guy Crowder, that acclaimed chronicler of black LA for five decades, and Shel Hershorn, who captured iconic images of the civil rights movement and retired traumatized after photographing a fatally wounded Lee Harvey Oswald, both lived and knew that era of inequality and segregation.

The Golden Age of black-and-white photography once again flashed in front of our eyes with the depatures of many master lensmen of that era. There was Leo Friedman, who captured many of the iconic images of the golden age of Broadway. There was T. Lux Feininger, the younger brother of the great Andreas Feininger, who documented the artistic avant-garde in interbellum Germany. There was Richard Steinheimer, known as Ansel Adams of railroad photography.

And then there was Goksin Sipahioglu, the Turkish photographer who covered the Cuban missile crisis, the Prague Spring and the Munich Olympics attacks, and who more famously founded the renowned Paris-based photo agency Sipa. Most singularly, Miroslav Tichy, the Czech voyeur who died this year, took surreptitious pictures of women in his hometown of Kyjov, using homemade cameras constructed of cardboard tubes, tin cans and other at-hand materials.

On popculture side, two great music photographers who were known for their bold album covers died: Barry Feinstein, whose close partnership with Bob Dylan produced the singer’s most iconic photos and Robert Whitaker, who shot The Beatles’ butcher album cover. Gunther Sachs, bon vivant, playboy, and photographer, committed suicide.

Also dimmed are lens and flashes of Ken Russell, Deano Risley, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, Jerome Liebling, Lázaro Blanco, Milton Rogovin, Brian Lanker, Pete Carmichael, Steve Gladstone, M. Y. Ghorpade, Heiko Wittenborn and Franke Keating. Michael Abramson, who took photographs of patrons at nightclubs on the south side of Chicago during the mid-seventies and LeRoy Grannis, the godfather of surfphotography, are also no more.

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(To be concluded tomorrow, other photography stories of 2011 and my picking of the Best Photojournalism Apps). 

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To Those We Lost

Fifty-seven years ago today died one of the first and brightest stars of photojournalism — Robert Capa, the Hungarian-born visionary who defined the word “war photographer”. In addition to covering the course of the Second World War in London, North Africa, Italy, Normandy Landings and the Liberation of Paris, he reported from four different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, Arab-Israeli War and the First Indochina War. The above photo was the last one he took before he stepped on a landmine in Indochina on May 25th 1954.

On the Huffington Post, David Schonauer, the former editor-in-chief of American Photo Magazine, wrote a tribute to all the war photographers we lost, from Capa to Hetherington and Hondros: (To that list, we must now add Anton Hammerl).

They join the likes of Ken Oosterbroek, a member of the so-called Bang Bang Club of photojournalists immortalized now in a new movie. Oosterbroek was killed in 1994 while covering the violence in South Africa during the final days of apartheid. They join Olivier Rebbot, killed in El Salvador in 1981 while on assignment for Newsweek. Rebbot was a model for the photographer played by Nick Nolte in the 1983 film Under Fire. They join Robert Capa, killed near Thai Binh, Vietnam in 1954, who was the model for all who would follow in his profession. If the war photographer has come to be seen as a romantic figure, we have the Hemingwayesque Capa to thank.

It was Capa, famed for covering the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and the photographers who followed him into Vietnam took his advice. Vietnam was a particular deadly place for photographers, who jumped aboard helicopters alongside soldiers to fly into firefights. The names of the dead — Larry Burrows, Gilles Caron, Henri Huet, Robert Ellison, Dickie Chapelle, Charles Eggleston, and Oliver Noonan among them — have become legend. The haunting 1997 book Requiem memorialized these journalists — 135 photographers from different nations known to have died in Vietnam.

One Night in Tal Afar

In January 2005, photographer Chris Hondros was embedded with the US troops in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar; the town had seen frequent clashes between US forces and insurgents, and just after dusk, as the curfew was coming into force, a red car ignored the warning shots and rushed past the patrol. The soldiers believed that it was a suicide attack, and opened fire.

Inside the car was an ethnic Turkoman family rushing to the hospital for a treatment for their ill-son, Rakan; the parents were killed, and five children in the back — the oldest a teenager, the youngest, 6 — were left bloodied and traumatized, before the soldiers realized that it was a civilian car. They carried the traumatised children to the pavement and started binding their wounds. Hondros’s photographs of the incident revealed not only the tragedies suffered by so many civilians in Iraq, but also tough decisions the soldiers faced under duress. Especially haunting was the picture of the youngest girl, Samar Hassan, crying and covered in the blood of her parents. The blood on the pavement, her hands and face, as well as the red of her dress, makes this photo an instantly disturbing image.

Hondros was working for Getty, and the photos were quickly distributed, and became some of the most iconic pictures to come out of the Iraq War. While the photograph led to him being sent to Boston for treatment, Rakan was accused of being an American spy on his return. Three years later, he would be killed in a bomb attack. Samar Hassan had never seen the photo until last week, when The New York Times traced her to the northern Iraqi town of Mosul. Samar, now 12, told them that the picture showed, ““the sad thing that is happening in Iraq.”

Equally sad is the fact that the general public does not see many such pictures; the U.S. military, which tend to keep many graphic images away from the public eye, was deeply bothered by Hondros. The New York Times claimed that he was removed from his embedded assignment, although Hondros conceded that he left on his own accord after a spat between Getty, his employer, and the military over the pictures. Hondros would go on to win the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Iraq, and to cover natural disasters and military conflicts across the world, including the current crisis in Libya. Two weeks ago, Hondros was killed, alongside Tim Hetherington, in Misrata. He was 41.

See the full gallery here.