Rafael Wollmann | Falklands


Taking an iconic photo is sometimes about being at the right place, at the right time. No one could attest to that more than Rafael Wollmann.

The Argentine photographer had taken an assignment from a French photo agency Gamma to take a “geographical” photo-essay on a remote series of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 300 miles east of Patagonia. He arrived there on his 23rd birthday, on March 23 1982 and spent the next week documenting the island life.

On the afternoon of April Fool’s Day, 1982, Wollmann was greeted by the grave voice, coming from the radio, of the island’s British governor, Sir Rex Hunt — whom he had interviewed earlier. “We have apparently reliable evidence that an Argentine task force could be assembling off Stanley at dawn tomorrow. You will wish to make your dispositions accordingly,” Hunt repeated in verbatim a telegram he received from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Wollmann stood in the middle of a pub, where everyone turned around to look at him — the only Argentinian in the pub. The Falklands War had begun.

Accused by Hunt of having being ‘planted’ by the Argentine junta (two days earlier, he had sent some of his films back to Argentina with air mail), Wollmann was detained briefly in Hunt’s chauffeur’s house, from inside which he took pictures. An unknown solider shot at him, mistaking his lens with some weapon, and missed Wollmann by only a few centimeters.

After Hunt had surrendered — in the full ostrich-plumed uniform befitting a British governor — and was bundled off to exile in Uruguay, Wollmann got out into the courtyard and took the photo above of British Marines being forced to surrender. He remembered:

“They were marching towards the courtyard of the governor’s house where they were delivering arms, then they went to the garden and were seated. They were already prisoners of war. I took a lot of caution, and I did not want to be imprisoned or they taking my camera, so I shot a picture and left the scene, not knowing what I was going to find when it was revealed.”

On April 3rd, Wollmann returned to Argentina, where a bidding war for his photos ensued. “I was able to pay for my house overnight” joked Wollmann.  Editorial Atlántida, an Argentine publishing house which had fired him four months earlier, put a private jet at his disposal to return to the islands. Wollmann gave his film to Gamma, which had initially hired him, and in France, another bidding war broke out between Paris Match and VSD magazines, which the latter won. It ran the photo with a deliciously schadenfreude caption: ‘England Humiliated’. In Italy’s L’Espresso, the title was “Hands up, England!”. Some would later argue that these images and captions prompted Margaret Thatcher to act decisively in dispatching troops to retake the islands.




I have started a Patreon. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.” 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. Readers who subscribe on Patreon might have access to a few blog posts early; chance to request this topic or that topic; or to participate in some polls.

Thanks for your continued support!  Here is the link to my Patreon:


Katharine Hamnett meets Thatcher

In 1983, Katharine Hamnett launched first of her protest T-shirts: they were designed to be copied, slogans and all, and read: CHOOSE LIFE, WORLDWIDE NUCLEAR BAN NOW, PRESERVE THE RAINFORESTS, SAVE THE WORLD, SAVE THE WHALES, EDUCATION NOT MISSILES, etc. Thanks to the excess media coverage, she was chosen as the designer of the year by the British Fashion Council the next year and was invited to the Downing Street to meet with the Prime Minister.

Hamnett was not a supporter of the-then PM Margaret Thatcher, and was reluctant to go. But she decided to seize the photo-op to make a political statement. The United States had recently deployed controversial Pershing II guided missile being in West Germany, and Hamnett wore a slogan T-shirt declaring “58 per cent Don’t Want Pershing”, specifically ensuring that the lettering on the shirt would stand out in photographs. She wore it under her stylish jacket, and removed the jacket just before meeting the prime minister. She made headlines the next day.

Vogue magazine called it one of the most iconic moments in fashion, but Hamnett admitted that her fashion statement didn’t make quite the impression on the Prime Minister that she hoped. Hamnett remembers: “She didn’t notice it at first, but then she looked down and made a noise like a chicken. Then quick as a fishwife she said: ‘Oh well we haven’t got Pershing here, so maybe you are at the wrong party’, which I thought was rather rude as she had invited me.”

Although she later became increasingly skeptical of whether T-shirts can make a difference, Katherine Hamnett enjoyed the idea of the copiers of her T-shirts unwittingly promoting her messages. In 2003 Hamnett sent models down the catwalk in London wearing T-shirts shouting “No War, Blair Out”, and thousands wore copycat T-shirts to the anti-war march before the invasion of Iraq. Hamnett concedes that there is also a danger with T-shirts (and marches) that they “give people the feeling that they have done something when they haven’t”.

Margaret Thatcher

My father called Maggie Thatcher ‘that woman’, and I learnt from a very young age that my parents never liked her. Their objection was probably more classist than anything else; she cut subsidies to art, music and culture and ignored with their favorite institutions: Civil Service, local governments, Oxbridge — the dinosaurs from an era when Britain was a feudal state. She privatized everything including the family silver — railways, sugar, shipbuilders, iron, coal, steel, electricity, water supply, oil, gas, electricity, airlines, freight transport, telecommunications — angering the establishment which lamented the loss of esteemed British institutions. But they were bold, decisive and necessary moves. Nationalised monopolies were uncompetitive, extremely inefficient, and run by bureaucrats who were able to hide and manipulate the costs. In 1979, subsidies to nationalised industries accounted for 60% of GNP.

Despite huge GDP losses from privatizations, during Thatcher’s tenure, GDP per capita tripled and GDP doubled (only 23% in real terms however). Productivity doubled, manufacturing quadrupled. By the end of the decade, Britain had one of the highest GDP growth rates of any European nations, a dramatic turnaround for a country that survived on IMF loans in 1979. She reduced the national debt from 43% of GDP to 25% — the lowest since 1914. However, privatizations were a thankless job: unemployment jumped from closure of inefficient factories and coalmines, and remained high until the last three years of her rule. In 1984, she won the famous annual rebate from the EEU (rebate of 66%, the difference between Britain’s EU contributions and receipts), a legacy that remains in effect, until Blair reduced it.

Her approach to coalminers’ strike had been well-known, but less known was that the strike was caused because the government decided to shut down mere ten uneconomic mines. The annual cost to taxpayers by coalminers had reached £1 billion at this point. The ending of National Graphical Association (one of the most wasteful and hilarious trade unions ever conceived) and like created a huge expansion of print media as we know today.

Oxford refused her a honorary degree because of her deep cuts in education, but she ushered in the era of decentralization of education. Parents can now select schools without regard to location, and her reforms increased university education access (20,000 more first degrees earned every year). She began an initiative to put a desktop computer in every secondary school, and reduced the power of local authorities and politicians in schools. She attacked local governments, who like union leaders were on ego trips, and whose spendings were unregulated. She restricted their spending, and huge numbers of council houses were sold to their tenants, and home ownership grew to 67% from 55%. Although she is now being accused of making cuts to social security, under Thatcher it actually increased from 72 billion pounds to 85 billion pounds. Health and community services increased by 37%.

She made mistakes too, of course, with Westland, Chile, Rhodesia, South Africa and West Germany, but she kept Britain out of the Eurozone and on that afternoon when the teary-eyed prime minister left the Downing Street in disgrace, she left behind a richer and stronger Britain. The days of unburied dead and uncollected garbage were over. Britain was ready for a new era.

Chunnel Treaty Ratified


Socialist French President François Mitterrand and conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Together, they were the titans of European and world politics in the 80s. Together, they harkened back to the era when the fate of the world was decided by the statesmen of Europe in her chancelleries. … and they didn’t get along well.

Thatcher was taught as a child by her grocer father that the French were both Roman Catholic and Communist and riddled with sexual disease; Mitterand said that Margaret Thatcher had ‘the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe’. Thatcher’s finest European hour came in 1984 when she marched into Fontainebleau to demand the ‘British rebate’–66% rebate from the French and the Germans who wanted to give only 50%.

However, these two statesmen accomplished one monumental project together: the Chunnel. Thatcher said she had no objection to a privately funded project to bridge the English channel, and in 1981, Thatcher and Mitterrand agreed to set up a working group to look into a privately funded project. Four submissions were shortlisted and in 1986, the Eurotunnel bid was selected. Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries signed the Franco-British Treaty in Canterbury, which was ratified in 1987 by Thatcher and Mitterrand (above) inside the famed Chapter House, in Canterbury Cathedral.

The tunnel was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and Mitterrand in a ceremony held in Calais on 6 May 1994.

The Queen and her Prime Ministers


1985. The Queen at 10 Downing Street to celebrate 250 years of it being the official residence of the British Prime Minister, with those who occupied the most famous address in the world. From left to right James Callaghan, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Macmillan, HRH, Harold Wilson and Ted Heath.


April 29th 2002: Queen began her Golden Jubilee celebrations with a special 10 Downing Street dinner party with Tony Blair and past prime ministers. From left to right, Tony Blair, Baroness Thatcher, Sir Edward Heath, HRH, Lord Callaghan, and John Major.

In 54 years on the throne the Queen has had eleven prime ministers: Churchill, Eden, Macmillan, Douglas-Home, Wilson, Heath, Wilson (again), Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown. The first, Winston Churchill, was 77 when she became Queen, and had been 20 years her father’s senior. Tony Blair was born only four weeks before the Coronation.

Margaret Thatcher opens Torness


The last of the nation’s second generation nuclear power plants to be commissioned, Torness at Dunbar in East Lothian, Scotland was not a very popular venture. Although the construction was approved before the conservatives and Thatcher came to power, the completion of Torness (which along with Hunterston would provide half of Scotland’s electricity eventually) not only finalized the political and social transformations Thatcher brought to the United Kingdom but also marked the end of the social turmoils that plagued England in the 70s and the 80s

In 1978, when Torness construction was greenlit, 4,000 people marched from Dunbar to occupy the site. Coincidentally on the day, Thatcher became PM, there were protests at Torness too. People numbering in thousands protested Torness (whose disapproval ratings hovered around 50 percent) throughout the 80s, but on 13th May 1989, when Thatcher opened that plant, only 150 demonstrators were on hand to protest. Britain had moved on from a country of complainers and protesters. Thatcher dedicated, “Nuclear is very good – not only as an alternative source of power, it is also very environmentally conscious and it is very safety conscious.” Deeply distrusting coal miners and Arab oil sheiks, Mrs Thatcher was an ardent advocate for nuclear power. She wanted to build 10 plants, one a year but by the time she published her nuclear White Paper in 1981, this plan had been scaled back to five, at an indefinite rate. In the end only one was finished 15 years later at Sizewell.

The photographer Rod Fleming took this picture of Thatcher for Scotland On Sunday. Because of the controversial nature of the plant, the Prime Minister’s minders had pushed the journalists and photographers as far away as possible. The PM was touring the site and she finally looked up at the assembled photographers who had been shoved onto a tiny platform above the containment unit. “Would you like a picture?” said she, and when the photographers agreed, she stretched her arms and asked, “Will that do?”.

Thatcher in A Tank


By 1986, the popularity Margaret Thatcher gained during the Falklands War was slowly withering away. Her ardent wave of privatization and antagonistic stance against the power of the unions didn’t make her too popular either. The Westland Scandal  — whereby her government forced the helicopter manufacturer Westland to merge with an American company instead of an European one — was already unfolding in the background. She was even being accused of going soft on defense and ignoring strategic British industries (like arm industries) as she went on campaigning for an unprecedented third term.

A watershed moment for her re-election campaign came on 17th September 1986. On that day at NATO training camp at Fallingbostel, south of Hamburg, Mrs. Thatcher scored a photographic coup when she had been photographed in a Challenger Tank. [The big picture is by Jockel Fink, AP.] Although somewhat out of character, the tank and the scarf re-cemented her reputation as “the Iron Lady”. Thatcher looked like a “cross between Isadora Duncan and Lawrence of Arabia,” wrote the Daily Telegraph.

What was unreported on that September day was that the prime minister was being accompanied by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl on her visit to the British forces stationed in Fallingbostel. Kohl also test-drove a Challenger, and both leaders fired  6-lb. practice shell 1,000 yds. directly to their marks using laser targeting.

“I loved it!” exclaimed Thatcher. Asked about whether women should be frontline soldiers, she answered: “I’m sure after today you would approve of having a woman Prime Minister, who, after all, has to make some very difficult decisions should things ever get problematic.” The tank moment surely helped Thatcher’s re-election campaign. She was re-elected and as per her electoral promises, she saved the British tank industry by ordering British-built tanks over its American rivals.