J. Ross Baughman | Angle


One of the perks about having this blog is the emails I have received from famous photographers. One of them came from J. Ross Baughman, whose photos from Rhodesia and the controversy surrounding them we covered a few years ago.

Now his autobiography, Angle, is out and Ross has sent me an advanced copy. This is a man who has lived almost a cinematic life. Ross has prodigious memory, and at times, the book seems to suffer from a surfeit of minutiae – press cuttings are frequently peppered throughout – it
is nonetheless an enjoyable romp through the late-20th century photography in peace and war.

That was an age dominated by foreign wars and widespread discrimination, and Ross has almost Zeligian presence. He turns his lens towards American Nazis, Klansmen, carnival freaks, transvestites, and mental patients; early crude and grisly days of cosmetic surgery are chronicled. He befriends Robin Moore, the author of The Green Berets, and The French Connection; when Israel invaded Lebanon, his byline tantalizingly read, “North of Israeli Lines, Lebanon,” embedded as he was with Palestinian guerrillas operating out of a secret base in the hills north of Israeli positions (photo above). In Grenada, he defied the US Army’s strict embed photography rules.

All of these were among 200 or so photos inside the book; but even his vignettes about censored photos were exciting. In 1983, his photos of drug-abusing teenagers were not allowed to be published under privacy concerns. Later, Time, Inc. (which owns Life Magazine and acquired Baughman’s photos of Billy Price, a Houston industrialist and Nazi memorabilia collector) was sued by the latter for portraying him in negative light, and the photos were pulled.

The book will be interesting to aspiring photographers who want to learn more about how to become a conflict photographer, as well as to those who want to know how the sausage of photography is made – from assignments and censorship to rivalries and criticisms.

In a dining room adjoining the surgery suite of one of Beverly Hill's most celebrated cosmetic surgeons, the office manager slices into her cantaloupe while the facelift for an aging star gets underway next door.
In a dining room adjoining the surgery suite of one of Beverly Hill’s most celebrated cosmetic surgeons, the office manager slices into her cantaloupe while the facelift for an aging star gets underway next door.

Photography — The Year in Review

Every year, I do a ‘Year in Review’ for a different publication, reviewing the year past and predicting the year ahead (usually with dismal results). This year, I decided to do the same for photography, but it predominantly reads like a litany of deaths:

In the roster of those we lost this year, we saw such familiar names Dennis Stock, the man who made Jimmy live forever; Corinne Day, the discoverer of Kate Moss; Garry Gross, the originator of a thousand controversies; and Felice Quinto, the original paparazzo who served as a template for the aggressive celebrity photographer in La Dolce Vita. Some names harkened back to Don Draper’s America: Louis Fabian Bachrach, the last patriarch of the esteemed Bachrach Photo Studios; and Peter Gowland, “America’s No. 1 Pin-up Photographer,” according to the New York Times, whose pin-up photos graced more than 1,000 magazine covers, from Playboy to Modern Photography.

To remember Bill Hudson, Charles Moore, Elfie Ballis or Jeff Carter is to ponder the fortunes of the voiceless to whom their photographs gave a clear voice. Hudson and Moore captured the most enduring images of the Civil Rights Movement. Elfie Ballis’s monumental work — 30,000 photographs of labor leader Cesar Chavez and migrant farmworkers — highlighted their struggle in the Californian fields. Jeff Carter’s letterhead read “photographer for the poor and unknown”, and so he was to many Australians in the outback.

Music, too, lost those who hailed her ballads through photos. Brian Duffy, though best remembered for his fashion photography, created the iconic “Aladdin Sane” cover for David Bowie. Jim Marshall’s images of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and many others helped define their subjects as well as rock ’n’ roll itself. Herman Leonard defined smokey aura of jazz in the United States while in France, Jean-Pierre Leloir was doing the same for Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet.

And then there were those whose lives were somehow intertwined with the memorable images past and present. Edith Shain was almost certainly the nurse who was the subject of Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous VJ day photograph. In his sympathetic 10-part series in the 1980s, Geoffrey Crawley, the then editor in chief of British Journal of Photography, gently deflated the Cottingley Fairies myth by showing the original cameras were incapable of producing such crisp images.

Among the lesser stars, we find those whose names are forgotten, but whose works are instantly recognizable: Lee Lockwood, the untiring chronicler of life in various Communist countries, Martin Elliott, the herald of teen angst via his saucy picture of the Tennis Girl; Alfred Gregory, the official photographer of the British expedition which made the first ascent of Everest; John Hedgecoe, the royal photographer whose photo of the Queen graced over 200 billion postage stamps. The year that saw the drawn-out saga of Ansel Adams prints also witnessed the passing of Joe Deal, who rejected the sweeping romanticism of Adams and Edward Weston to embrace the modern American landscape and its degradation at the hands of developers, corporations and suburban colonisers.

There would also be no more photographs courtesy of Alejandro López de Haro, Alexander Sliussarev, Balthasar Burkhard, Bahman Jalali, Běla Kolářová, George Pickow, Mario Pacheco, Mark Ellidge, Marty Lederhandler, Rigmor Mydtskov, Sigmar Polke and Werner Forman.

Lights were a little dimmer for photojournalism and print media themselves, but Time kept the beacon alive. The Tea Party photoshoot, and Platon’s assignment in Burma were just two recent examples; genius of the magazine’s new phono director Kira Pollack shone through as Time produced pictorials and portraits that harkened back to the Golden Age of Photography throughout 2010.

To learn of Margaret Moth’s death was to be reminded of this courageous photographer who barely survived being shot in the face in Sarajevo in 1992. But dangers for photographers didn’t diminish with more cameras; governments still oppress and struggles still claim collaterals. Those who died in 2010 — a dangerous year for journalists — lost their lives in places where no casual traveller would stroll, where no cellphone camera would be allowed to snoop: places like Caracas, Ciudad Juarez, Gaza and Baghdad. With the incapacitation by an Afghan land mine of Joao Silva, the former member of the Bang-Bang Club, the world lost a photojournalistic talent prematurely.

Afghanistan, with its election, its mercurial leader and general chaos of its existence, provided enough fodder of photojournalists like Silva. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most memorable picture of the year came from Afghanistan. On August cover of Time magazine was a shocking image: Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. If the photo was intended as a pastiche of Steve McCurry’s National Geographic cover, it succeeded in providing not only a face to anthropomorphize the dire situation there, but also a haunting Ur-text to contemporarize Afghanistan, still tragically war-torn thirty years after McCurry poetically depicted another Afghan Girl whose eyes had seen it all.

Strictly speaking, a faithful facsimile of McCurry’s photo could not possibly be made anymore. When McCurry took it in 1984, he used Kodachrome, a method that was de facto retired in 2010. Kodak officially discontinued the film two years ago, and Kodachrome’s death-knells had been sound exceedingly louder as many labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome closed one by one. In December, a shop in Kansas — the last lab for Kodachrome — stopped processing it. Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome was once nonetheless valued for its availability, economy, and radiance. It offers a rich palette of color and light and “makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” as Paul Simon famously sang in his eponymous 1973 hit. Even as they more and more abandoned it for digital cameras, many photographers remembered Kodachrome’s unique treatment of light as being incomparable. Kodachrome and eras and events it chronicled are irreplaceable. The same can be said for lives and works of those who left in 2010.


A. S. H.

31. 12. 2010. San Francisco


Tinker Tailor President Photographer

In hundreds of thousands of photographs taken of politicians and of the political theatre, one may be hard-pressed to find a single photo showing a politician wielding a camera, let alone a photo taken by a politician. Perhaps because photography is considered expensive, elitist and intrusive, it remains an unusually rare hobby among world leaders. Stalin, one of the most heartless of dictators, spent his free time sketching and drawing human body but never once directed his artistic talents towards photography. Hitler used photographs to aid his quite unremarkable drawing, but he delegated the responsibility of documenting the Fuhrer family to other hagiographers. Some of lesser strongmen, such as Tito and Ceausesu, were ‘photographers’ in the inflated doublespeak of their Orwellian lands, where the leader is the capable dilettante of almost any trade, but left behind only amateurish family albums.

In today’s politicians, there is Patrick Leahy, an American Senator from Vermont, who is quite accomplished and who has tremendous access. But perhaps the most famous politician-cum-photographer working today is the current president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev. In January 2010, his photograph above was sold at a charity auction for 51 million rubles ($1.75 million), making it one of the most expensive ever sold, and propelling the quirky Russian president into record books.

Being a camera-toting politician comes with its own complications. Last week, Medvedev caused a diplomatic incident during his visit to some islands disputed between Russia and Japan. If his visit — the first by either Russian or Soviet leader since the-then USSR seized the islands in the last days of the WWII — were not bad enough, Mr. Medvedev took some pictures of the island with his trusty DSLR and posted them on his Twitter, with the caption, “How many beautiful places there are in Russia!” The Japanese were outraged, and temporarily recalled their ambassador to Moscow. Even before his photographic jaunt, Mr. Medvedev got into a different photography-related kerfluffle when he and the Italian Prime Minister posed in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. For several minutes, the cameras flashed, despite the fact that the Milanese Church which housed the photosensitive mural clearly prohibited flash photography.

Fred with Tires

Fame came early to Herb Ritts. One of the best-known fashion photographers before he was out of his twenties, Ritts was an instant darling of the newer generation of edgier designers. With his ability to make almost any subject look dramatic and interesting, Ritt created what he called Retro-Neo-Deco style and almost singlehanded wrestled Neo-Hellenistic male form back into fashion.

The image that comes to mind when Ritt’s name is mentioned was Fred with Tires, the above image of an impossibly muscular young man clad only in jeans that sag slightly below his waist. A rough and virile sexuality set against an evocative environment, the image became a runaway hit as a poster and was named one of the photos that changed fashion. The original photo shoot was intended for an Italian designer, but when Ritts received the clothing, he and his stylist rejected it and dressed his model in overalls instead. The pictures were not what the magazine requested, but it was so powerful they ran them anyway causing a sensation.

Ritt eschewed realism in making Fred appealing in the midst of all the sludge and grunge — makeup turned into grease and tires into something intrinsically mysterious. There were many details/entendres: converging lines of the torso, diverging lines of arms and tires, the oversized zipper, but the photo was not really posed. Ritts remembers:

“Each time I did assignments or editorials, I realized that I wanted to do something more. I saw that it wasn’t just about the clothes. Starting in 1984, I had an assignment for Franca [Sozzani], for a magazine called Per Lui, which was the counterpart of Lei. Lei was the most forward magazine in the early eighties, and it was because Franca was so great in encouraging everyone. I did a story called “The Body Shop”, which is where Fred with Tires emerged from. Franca had sent these really hideous raincoats, and I just hated them. I had hired an editor, a freelance named Michael Roberts, who now works at the New Yorker. We ended up going to Western Costumes and getting vintage jeans and overalls. We decided to do the body shop story at a greasy gas station. It was great fun. We turned in the pictures, and Franca almost had a heart attack. But she ran it, and it was a huge success. I still don’t know why it happened. It was just one of those honest pictures. I remember when we were shooting it. Poor Fred, who was a student, had to swing these heavy tires around, and at one point he was so tired he just turned around and stood there. It was the last frame of the shoot.

Indeed the photo happened in a moment of repose when the exhausted model just stopped and was saying, “Do I need to continue doing this? It’s killing me.”

(I rewatched Zoolander this Friday, and being who I am, instantly noticed a pastiche of this photo: Owen Wilson’s character who is a male model has a photo of him holding two tires).

Self Portrait as a Drowned Man


One of the earlier photo-pioneers, Hippolyte Bayard (1807–1887) was persuaded to postpone announcing his photographic processes to the French Academy of Sciences by François Arago, a friend of Louis Daguerre, who invented the rival daguerreotype process. Arago’s dealings cost Bayard the recognition as one of the principal inventors of photography. He eventually gave details of the process to the French Academy of Sciences on February 24, 1840 in return for money to buy better equipment.

As a reaction to the injustice he felt he had been subjected to, Bayard created the first staged photograph entitled, Self Portrait as a Drowned Man. In the image, he pretends to have committed suicide, sitting and leaning to the right. Bayard wrote on the back of his most notable photograph:

“The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. As far as I know this indefatigable experimenter has been occupied for about three years with his discovery. The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre, has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself. Oh the vagaries of human life….! … He has been at the morgue for several days, and no-one has recognized or claimed him. Ladies and gentlemen, you’d better pass along for fear of offending your sense of smell, for as you can observe, the face and hands of the gentleman are beginning to decay.”

He managed to send the death picture to his antagonists with this suicide note attached to the back. Two years later, the Societe d’Encouragement pour I’Industrie Nationale gave Bayard 3,000 francs. Today, death features large in war, disaster and famine photography and it usually sends a stronger message. With a 12 minute exposure, Bayard did just that by playing dead 170 years ago.