Iconic Photos

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Archive for February 2010

The Falklands War

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Above, during the Falklands war, HMS Antelope was under attack from Argentinean fighters but the ship fended them off. After the attack, an attempt to remove unexploded bombs from the hull of the ship was blotched and the ship’s magazines exploded and she sank. The above photo taken in this moment of her magazines exploding was one of the most memorable of the original Falklands conflict. The Ministry of Defense’s tight control over the press photos backfired as the above photo was splashed on the front pages by the world press which was starved of any genuine war images.

I have written a lot about the Falklands already (here, here). War clouds are gathering over the Falkland Islands again. From the viewpoint of the Civil Service, these are policy actions Mr. Brown can take:

Doing Nothing: Although it is predicted that the Falklands sit over 3.5 billion barrels of oil, the odds of finding oil in the Falklands are slim. The terrain there is similar to the North Sea, but the independent studies put the chances of finding oil there at 17%.

Take it to the polls: The islanders don’t want Argentinean rule. Britain should stage a referendum there and the results will be the same as they were in Gibraltar, which shut the mouths of the Spanish.

Ignore Americans: Barack Obama doesn’t really believe in the special relationship with Britain. It is not important, but what is important that Gordon Brown wants to believe in such a relationship. Instead of wobbling, Mr. Brown should convey to Washington that if the US does not support the British claims in the Falklands, he can also say goodbye to the British troops in Afghanistan.

Diplomacy: Britain needs its EU business partners (Royal Dutch Shell, Total of France) to lobby for its claims internationally. With Russian gas always unpredictable, a simple British pledge to make Europe its primary buyer (if oil is ever found in the Falklands) would immediately unite the 27-member EU behind it. The EU is Argentina’s second-largest trading partner (after Brazil, with which Argentina runs a deficit) and Argentina will easily yield to pressure with its current debt problem.

Gunboat Diplomacy: Britain still has four nuclear submarines sitting idle at the naval base in Clyde. The Ministry of Defense should mobilize at least two of them to the South Atlantic. Assembling an expeditionary force will send a strong signal while simultaneously deterring a war.

Electioneering War: Mr. Brown is a lameduck premier. This Falklands crisis is god-send to him. Tories will unite behind him if he choose a drastic course, and a war can lead to an election victory in still jingoistic Britain. It is imperative that the civil service should convey this information to its representatives in the United Nations. The international community must be convinced not to push the British government so far as to force Mr. Brown to send a naval task force.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Esther Williams Trophy

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Esther Williams was a swimmer-turned-movie star of the 1940s, but Esther herself was less important to her story than Sir David Stevenson, Vice Admiral and Chief of Australian Navy. When he was a lieutenant in Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War, Stevenson wrote “To my own Georgie, with all my love and a passionate kiss, Esther” on a photo of Esther Williams, and gave it to his fellow lieutenant, Lindsay George Brand, who had recently been spurned by the girl he loved.

Brand put the photo over his bed; it was stolen to another ship by a fellow officer; and, became a ‘trophy’–an object of constant amusement and rivalry among the officers of some 200 US, British, Australian and Canadian ships serving in the Pacific theatre. The original photo became the “trophy copy” kept in a safe location, while the second “fighting copy” was to be stolen or taken by force. After the “fighting copy” had been successfully removed from the custodial ship, the “trophy copy” would be presented to the new owners with appropriate ceremony. The new holders would fly an Esther flag or sent naval signals (signed ‘Esther’) to other ships to indicate where the trophy is. After the war, Esther herself would be a good sport and send a genuine signed photo to the ship that captured the trophy.

Fourteen years and 4000 nautical miles later, in 1957, “Esther” was retired and sent to the Australian Naval Historical Collection. Now residing behind a frame, the trophy was only brought into circulation again very rarely.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 26, 2010 at 12:51 am

Posted in Sports, War

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Taft plays Golf

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The first American president to openly play golf was William Howard Taft. At that time, golf was considered a game for the rich and many politicians kept their golfing private, including Taft’s predecessor Teddy Roosevelt.

Roosevelt thought Taft brought shame to the office of the president by privately engaging in golf. It was Taft’s proclivity for participating in golfing exhibitions and speeches on golf that especially angered Roosevelt. The last straw was said to be the above photo, where overweight Taft made “a mockery of himself, and a mockery of the presidency”.

The photo was taken as Taft opens the Corpus Christi Country Club in Texas. For years afterwards, the club displayed the presidential golf club, ball, and photo in a glass case.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 25, 2010 at 12:19 am

Jack Straw-Robert Mugabe Handshake

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Britain always has a soft spot for its former colonies. In 1994, Prime Minister John Major recommended Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the knighthood. During his visit that year, he was awarded the honorary knighthood. With international outrage growing, Mugabe was stripped of his knighthood only in 2008. (Mussoulini, Ceaucescu, Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt were all so honored too).

More embarrassing incident occurred when UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw shook hands with Mugabe and said “nice to see you” when they met at a lunchtime reception hosted by South African President Thabo Mbeki at the UN in New York in 2004. Just minutes before, in an address to the UN General Assembly, the Zimbabwean president delivered a virulent attack on Britain which had recently expelled his country from the Commonwealth.

Straw’s explanation was more shocking: “I hadn’t expected to see President Mugabe there. Because it was quite dark in that corner, I was sort of being pushed towards shaking hands with somebody as a matter of courtesy, and then it transpired it was President Mugabe. But the fact that there is serious disagreement between Zimbabwe and the UK does not mean we should be discourteous or rude.” (Straw had earlier refused to bar the Zimbabwe cricket team from playing in the International Cricket Council trophy in Britain.)

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 24, 2010 at 6:05 am

Posted in Politics

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Greg Louganis smashes his head

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As last week’s tragic luge incident showed us, the Olympics are never free from mishaps. Yet, Vancouver seems to be leading the competition: the Olympic torch malfunctioned and it was fenced off from the public, prompting a headline, “Mr. Furlong, tear down this fence!“. Warm weather caused a lot of trouble while millions of tickets were cancelled.

Probably not as bad as 1996 Games in Atlanta though, when overloaded trains and traffic jams kept athletes and journalists from getting to the events. Many Olympic bus drivers quit while various teams moved out of the Olympic village. Heat, lack of air-condition (even inside the subway) and water created hell for visitors, while various escalators broke down.  The city demanded the computer provider, IBM, to use ‘proven’ technology–i.e., technology that is more than 2 years only–which led to massive computer glitches. It described an Angolan basketball player as three feet tall and another gymnast was 97 years old. It was so poorly managed that France-Soir noted: “Africa has been deprived of the Games since their creation with the pretext that African countries don’t have the necessary infrastructure. After Atlanta, any country in the world can apply to host the Games.” In his closing speech, IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch described the Atlanta Games as “most exceptional”, an ambivalent departure from traditionally speech that has to describe the Games he was closing as the “best ever”.

Perhaps the most famous olympic mishap was at Seoul Olympics in 1988. Normally during an opening ceremony, white doves are released, but during the Seoul opening ceremony, a few of them settled in the cauldron that housed the Olympic flame as it was being lit. (This caused the cancellation of the dove-releasing tradition). Also in 1988, US diver Greg Louganis smashed his head on the board on his ninth preliminary springboard dive, while attempting a 2½ somersault pike. He received stitches before completing his tenth dive. He overcame the head injury to gain the highest score in the preliminaries and qualify for the final and wins a gold medal in Seoul. This extraordinary come-back made Louganis “Athlete of the Year” for ABC. In 1995, it was revealed that Louganis had been HIV positive at the time of the accident and had not informed the doctor treating him for the head injury. The doctor subsequently tested negative for HIV.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 24, 2010 at 1:22 am

Posted in Sports

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Sur La Tour Eiffel

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You can tell how famous a photograph is by looking at the photos it inspired. The above picture, of Lisa Fonssagrives at the Eiffel Tower is one of such photos. Translucent and ephemeral, Fonssagrives’ pose was emulated innumerable times in fashion photography. In 2008, Peter Lindbergh revisited the scene with Marion Cotillard for a Dior handbag advertisement. (below)

Erwin Blumenfeld’s original set of photos featuring Lisa Fonssagrives swinging from the girders of the Eiffel Tower in a Lucien Lelong dress appeared in May 1939 Vogue.

Lisa Fonssagrives marked the beginning of an era when the muses of the yesteryear gave way to a new diaphanous form of feminine beauty — the supermodel. The Swedish blonde for whom the word ‘svelte’ seems especially fitting, she crafted iconic portraits with Horst P. Horst, Blumenfeld and Irving Penn, whom she married. Her career spanned three decades; she retired with her image gracing more Vogue covers than any other model and the appellation, “Billion Dollar Baby.”

Thanks Fredi for suggesting this picture.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 23, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Signing the Armistice

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On November 8th 1918, the German delegation crossed the frontlines to negotiate an armistice to end the First World War. Instead of directly driving them to where the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, Marshal Ferdinand Foch was waiting, the French gave them a 10-hour tour of the ruined countryside. The talk took three days and the terms from the United States included the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II. This was agreed and Wilhem abdicated on Novemeber 10th while Germany slowly descended into riots and unrest.

Foch appeared only twice in the three days of negotiations: on the first day, to ask the German delegation what they wanted, and on the last day, to see to the signatures. The armistice was formally signed in Foch’s carriage on 11 November. Above is the only picture of the signing ceremony. The armistice initially ran for 30 days but was regularly renewed until the formal peace treaty was signed at Versailles the following year. Before the Treaty of Verseilles, the Allies kept their armies ready to begin hostilities back again within 48 hours.

In 1940, Hitler exacted revenge by forcing the French to sign an armistice in the same railway carriage. The Nazis destroyed the building housing it, the Clairiere de l’Armistice and took the carriage to Berlin. With the Allied advance into Germany, the carriage was removed to Ohrdruf, where it was destroyed.

More information about armistice, see here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 22, 2010 at 1:31 am

Posted in Politics, War

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Alexander Haig (1924-2010)

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After the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in March 1981, his Secretary of State Alexander Haig went into the White House press room to address the inevitable anxieties. The Vice-President was travelling in Texas, and he is the highest ranking executive-branch official in Washington D.C. When a reporter asked who was making the decisions, Haig (above) declared, “As of now, I am in control here in the White House.” Although the full speech acknowledged the constitutional requirements, some immediately thought he was a megalomaniac, while for others he was a legal illiterate. The press, which had previously pinned on him the word “arrogant”, had a field day. On the cover of Time, Haig, chin high and arms akimbo, appeared above the words “Taking Command”.

Whatever your interpretation was, this incorrect statement of the chain of presidential succession forever disqualified him from further high office. The bottomline was that Haig lacked linguistic clarity, which didn’t help when he tried to defuse the Falklands crisisin 1982. His clumsy mediation and mishandling of the crisis eventually led to his dismissal from the Reagan Administration, the group which he came to view as conspiring against him.

Alternately the man who as the Chief of Staff held the presidency together during the darkest days of the Nixon White House, and the self-serving aggrandizer who aimed for the imperial presidential powers, Alexander Haig lived as a man of epic contradictions, and died as one yesterday. He mused that “the third paragraph of his obit” would be about his disastrous press conference. In this assessment, he was correct.

See also http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/us/politics/21haig.html

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 21, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Side note | Site Note

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I have been planning to write this for weeks. Ever since I came back from my Christmas holiday, I had been in some jam of one sort or another. Firstly, I had been superbusy, juggling work and my ever-deteriorating relationship. Moreover, as I noted before, there is iconicity shortage in air–the very notions of decisive moment or iconic image are challenged by the plethora of photos and videos we see each day online, while I feel increasingly unsure what to post after some 600 of them. Another development is that I had been contacted by some heirs of some photographers to take down some posts.

The primary purpose of this post is to ask you to name photos that you deem iconic (provided that the photo has not been covered by this blog). I know I haven’t covered some really famous photos–Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima one, because so much had already been written about it, and some more (Batterments’s Grief, Leibowitz’s Lennon) because they had always been on my back-burner. Currently, I would like to hear the audience’s import. For those who lived through a pre-internet age, the images can be more poignant and memorable, and I would like to hear what their ‘iconic’ memories are.

A. S. H.

Calais. February 21st 2010.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 21, 2010 at 11:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Sharon and Dayan

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Arial Sharon, with bandage on his head, shares a joke with Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Defense Minister during the Yom Kippur War. It was a seminal moment as captured by David Rubinger, and in some ways a parting of ways too.

Dayan, sometimes called Lord Nelson of the Desert, was the hero of Six-Day War, but during the Yom Kippur War (1973), he would be caught off-guard and the Israeli army suffered heavy defeats in the first two days. Although the tide eventually turned in his favor, Dayan testified before the Agranat Commission investingating the Yom Kippur War, insisting that he lacked the necessary military qualifications to make decisions as a defense minister: “I’m not a tank man, I’m not an artillery man, I’m not a paratrooper, and I don’t have a staff… I am not and was not a military man for 10 years, and I didn’t return to dealing with the army after that, but rather to political defense issues.”

Earlier with David Ben-Gurion, Dayan enabled the rise of Sharon as a practitioner of the disproportionate strike to deter Arab aggression. Now Sharon had turned against Dayan and criticized the minister for hesitating to use extreme force. (Dayan believed doing so would alienate the allies in the west). For Dayan, it was the end of an era. Deeply depressed, he imposed political exile upon himself, only returning three years later to become the foreign minister for Menechem Begin. In that capacity, he was instrumental in drafting Camp David Accords, which ceded back to Egypt the lands which he once helped to conquer.

Sharon who was called back to active duty from retirement for Yom Kippur was relieved of duty immediately too. Aggressive and controversial, he would remain on the backbenches on a while before becoming a controversial minister of defense and even more divisive prime minister.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 18, 2010 at 3:54 am

Devon Loch

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Devon Loch was a racehorse owned by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, which entered history books when it collapsed 45 meters before the winning post at the 1956 Grand National steeplechase. It was in the lead but suddenly the horse decided to jump up over an invisible hurdle and collapsed. On his belly, his forelegs out in front, Devon Loch tried to get back onto his feet and more or less collapsed again. Its jockey dismounted. It was over. Another horse, E.S.B. had won. However, the mystery surrounding its collapse elevated the jockey Dick Francis to front-page status, now Britain’s favorite failed hero.

Some claimed Devon Loch suffered a cramp or a heart attack. Others (including Francis) thought a shadow thrown by the hurdle on the other side of the race confused the horse into thinking another jump was required. Confused as to whether he should jump or not, Devon Loch half-jumped and collapsed. Dick Francis also notes the irony of the situation: “I’m afraid it was because of his owner that we lost the race. A quarter of a million people were at Aintree that day, all cheering for the Queen Mother. A crescendo of noise hit him, his hind quarters refused to react for a split second, and down he went.”

Devon Loch was Francis’s eighth and last ride in the National. Although the Queen Mother jovially dismissed the incident as “That’s racing,” her horse trainer urged Francis to retire at the top of his game. He did, but remained good friends with the Queen Mother, who once fetched him water personally when he choked at a dinner. The media on the other hand never let him forget the unfortunate incident. Devon Loch became eponymous with sudden, last-minute failure in the sports world.

Dick Francis found a second career as one of the most famous thriller writers of the 20th century and in fact one of its richest,too–an unbelievable achievement for a sportsman who grew up on gin to preserve his diminutive structure and whose education was rudimentary. In fact, there had been accusations that his wife did all the writing for him and it was under this dark cloud that Dick Francis died this weekend, taking the secret to his grave.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 18, 2010 at 1:28 am

Comrade Brezhnev

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I have a lot of jokes about General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. I mean they had a lot of jokes about Brezhnev. People made fun of his love for shiny medals, which he awarded to himself on his birthdays: (Leonid Ilyich is in surgery.” / “Heart again?” / “No, chest expansion surgery: to fit one more Gold Star medal.”) They thought he was semi-illiterate (At the 1980 Olympics, Brezhnev begins his speech. “O!” — applause. “O!” — more applause. “O!” — yet more applause. “O!” — an ovation. “O!!!” — the whole audience stands up and applauds. An aide comes running to the podium and whispers, “Leonid Ilyich, that’s the Olympic rings, you don’t need to read it!”)

Towards the end of his life, he was not quite there anymore in head. More jokes ensued. (He came to address a Party meeting, and began: “Dear Comrade Imperialists.” An advisor walked over to the podium and pointed to the speech for Brezhnev. “Oh…” he muttered, and started again: “Dear Comrades, Imperialists are everywhere.”) He would go down to a meeting on science and would deliver a speech about culture. (“After a speech Brezhnev shouts at his speech writer: ‘I ordered you to write a 15-minute speech, but it took me a whole hour to read!’ ‘Sorry, Leonid Ilyich,’ he answered, ‘there were four copies, and you read them all.'”)

The Master of Kremlin, who loved foreign cars and fine clothes and who was oblivious of economic stagnation, was quite removed from the people too. (“Comrades,” he said, I have a plan to overtake the U.S. in the space race — you will land on the sun!” / “But Comrade Brezhnev,” the scientists protested, “we’ll burn up!” / “Don’t take me for a fool,” he said, “you’ll land at night!”) By the time of the 26th Party Congress, in 1981, his speech had deteriorated to a near-incoherent mumble — even if his audience remained as publicly respectful as ever.

Above, during a visit to the United States in 1973,  Brezhnev gives US actress Jill St. John the eye at a poolside reception in California hosted by President Nixon. Photo by Wally McNarnee.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 16, 2010 at 6:16 am

Posted in Politics

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