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Monument Valley, Josef Muench

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Largely forgotten now, there was a time when the name Josef Muench was as much associated with Monument Valley as Ansel Adams was with Yosemite. Born in Germany in 1908, Muench was later to be celebrated for making the picture-heavy Arizona Highways one of the premier photo magazines in the country. Bulk of his work, however, documented the harsh landscape surrounding 30,000 acres of Navajo tribal park starting in 1935.

Also present around the park were the Gouldings who purchased 640 acres of land next to the valley and began trading with the Navajo in the preceding decade. The times were bad for both the Gouldings and the Navajo – the effects of the Great Depression were particularly harsh on this stretch of Arizona-Utah border – but Harry Goulding had an idea. He had heard that United Artists was looking to film a Western nearby.

Goulding commissioned from Muench an album of 8-by-10 scenes of the Valley. Legend had it that he drove off to Hollywood, and insisted on camping out in United Artists’ reception area until he ran into the location manager of the film. The manager was suitably impressed by Muench’s pictures – as was the director, John Ford.

The film they were to make together in the valley was Stagecoach, one of the most influential Westerns ever made – the movie that turned westerns from cheap cinematic fares into sprawling epics; the movie that made a star out of John Wayne. Essential to the movie was the Monument Valley’s mythic landscape — “its prehistoric rock pillars framing the smallness of men” in the words of critic Roger Ebert – a place to which Ford was to return for no less than nine subsequent movies. The film transformed the Monument Valley into a tourist attraction – further movie crews came to the Goulding’s homestead, which grew and grew into a ranch, a lodge, and eventually a hotel. By the time Harry Goulding retired in 1962, the valley had been a protected area for four years.

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A word about Patreon, a fundraising platform. 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. But that research does come with a price tag — in web hosting, books, library subscriptions, and copious coffee. So this Patreon is just to fray some of those costs.

As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) give me a marginal incentive to create more compelling and educational content. 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. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!

Here is the link: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Also, many protected areas in the United States are currently under review and might become unprotected due to the ongoing National Monuments review. The American West has always been at the forefront of the struggle between development and conservation, so please do make your voice heard during the public comment period, here.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 19, 2017 at 2:03 pm

Fairchildern

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Most people would not recognize anyone in the photo above. They have no reasons to. Yet, the eight sitting darksuited computer scientists who posed together for Wayne Miller of Magnum were responsible for fundamentally reshaping the modern life.

There was a happier photo four years earlier when some of them were toasting their then-boss William Shockley for the Nobel prize. But that was 1956. Merely a year later, they would have a fallout with Shockley — a brilliant scientist but paranoid and domineering boss (who would later become an eugenicist) — and went on to found Fairchild Semiconductor, named after an East Coast company that provided the initial funding.

In many ways, it was the prototypical start-up, avant l’heure.  There were eight of them (in the photo, from left to right): Gordon Moore, C. Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni and Jay Last.  They were a diverse crew, having majored in everything from metallurgy to optics. Although Miller’s photo suggested otherwise, the dress-code was relaxed, and there were no assigned parking spaces, fixed office hours, or closed office doors.

They ran their start-up out of a 14,000 square foot building at 844 Charleston Road, between Palo Alto and Mountain View, which initially lacked plumbing and electricity. It was located in an area then known as Valley of Heart’s Delight (a place then known for being the largest fruit production region in the world) but their work in semiconductors there was so groundbreaking that they managed to change the place’s toponym into Silicon Valley.

From this ramshackle office, they managed to mass-produce silicon transistors for IBM; Noyce’s design for ‘microchip’ — essentially transforming bulky circuit boards into layers of silicon and germanium — was so transformational that by the mid-1960s, thirty percent of all integrated circuits in America were Fairchild-made. This chip made NASA’s manned mission to the Moon possible later in the decade.

By 1969, however, the group — then already dubbed Traitorous Eight by Shockley — had disbanded. In another pioneering tradition of the Valley, they would go on to found their own startups, which included National Semiconductor, Amelco/Teledyne, LSI, and Intel. Moore was immortalized by the computing law that bears his name, and Eugene Kleiner by the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers — an early investor in everything from Amazon to Google. Noyce, who co-founded Intel with Moore, mentored Steve Jobs. Other early Fairchild employees included Intel’s Andrew Grove, and Don Valentine, founder of another VC titan, Sequoia Capital, which had invested in Atari, Cisco, and LinkedIn. A 2014 study suggests that 92 public companies could be traced back to Fairchild, totally market capitalization of $2.1 trillion.

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A word about Patreon, a fundraising platform. 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. But that research does come with a price tag — in web hosting, books, library subscriptions, and copious coffee. So this Patreon is just to fray some of those costs.

 

As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) give me a marginal incentive to create more compelling and educational content. 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. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!

 

Here is the link: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 13, 2017 at 5:54 am

J.R. Eyerman at Drive-In

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If you own any photography books, chances are that you have seen the photo above.

Charlton Heston as Moses in Ten Commandments, towering over a neat assemblage of cars.  Taken by J.R. Eyerman at a drive-in theatre in Utah, this photo was published in Life magazine’s special issue on U.S. Entertainment.

According to Eyerman’s family [on Reddit], he sat down with Cecil B. deMille, the director of Ten Commandments to choose the best single frame from the movie. He decided to take the photo in Utah — after all the film was previewed here before its national release, and was helped by the Mormon Church making it a required viewing. (This boon was not because the film was particularly theological, but because deMille enjoyed close friendships with the church elders, and even spoke at Brigham Young University’s commencement the preceding year).

After Eyerman found a drive-in with scenic background, he enticed college students from Brigham Young University with a free movie showing. It was a double exposure shot: he took the first exposure at the sunset, and the second (of the frame deMille chose) after the students had left. (Ten Commandments wasn’t screened for the students; the risque Roger Vadim film “And God Created Woman” featuring Brigitte Bardot was).

Beyond Eyerman’s technical prowess, the photo marked a subtle commentary on America of 1958 when it was published in Life magazine towards the end of the year. Suddenly, it was looking back at the year the post-war baby boom ended, the year Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to West Coast; the year Alaska was granted statehood; the year Nabokov published his controversial Lolita; the year hula-hoop craze swept the nation. But no fad proved as enduring as America’s infatuation with automobile; by 1958 there were more than 50 million cars in America, and the year marked the 2nd anniversary of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act, a massive infrastructure project that was reshaping the way Americans traveled.

Suburbs flourished. Gasoline was cheap. This was the decade of motels and carhops; if places and businesses weren’t drive-ins, they were drive-thrus — banks, restaurants, grocery stores. Even Charlton Heston seemingly proselytizing to “a congregation of rapt, immobile automobiles at prayer” as Time magazine put it, didn’t seem too far-fetched. Starting in 1949, a Lutheran priest in North Hollywood just did that with the first drive-in church service.

But even in times of such excitement, drive-in theatres proved to be a foolhardy exercise. Kerry Segrave reflects in Drive-in Theaters that television wasn’t a factor, but it didn’t help either. Even as the number of drive-in theatres grew to over 4,000 in 1958 (up from around 1,000 in 1950), television was becoming more and more prevalent.  By 1958, 83% of American households had a television set in their homes, up from 9% in 1950. Segrave instead blames the decline of drive-in theatres on quality issues — poor equipment, sound, and maintenance. Economically, they were constrained by space and time of the day. With post-war baby boom ending, there were fewer and fewer needs for movie theatres where a family could bring a infant. By 1963, the number of drive-in theatres was down to 3,500 — a decline that would prove to be irreversible.

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dumdum-patreon

I am doing something crassly commercial here: I just signed up for Patreon. Patreon is a fundraising platform. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.”

As you may notice in last few years, I have been posting very infrequently. But I want IP to go on for a long time and be sustainable. Linking a monetary value to a new post (not a ‘monthly salary’ — which is another way of doing Patreon) should give me a marginal incentive to write more. As far as the blog is concerned, nothing will change. No paywalls.

I will write a longer post about Patreon next week. A goal I have is bigger outreach. I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos. I also feel what I wrote was worth sharing. So I wanted to run a few facebook ad campaigns, and eventually a short book — educating people history using photographs. This will be similar to this book I mocked up for an April Fool a few years ago. I am hoping Patreon can help. Patreon is more useful for YouTubers and podcasters, but let’s see how it goes for me:

https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 20, 2017 at 12:41 am

Female Genital Mutilation, Stephanie Welsh

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Today is International Women’s Day; to mark this, we should look back at groundbreaking photojournalism done by female photographers, here, here, and here. We should also look at this upsetting body of work by Stephanie Welsh.

In 1995, 21-year old Stephanie Welsh landed in Kenya to begin a yearlong internship (which paid $100 per month) with the Daily Nation, a Nairobi newspaper. On her planeride, she read Alice Walker’s Possessing the Secret of Joy, where the female protagonist who submits to female circumcision out of tribal loyalty, and decided the pursue the story.

In Kenya, the practice, now commonly called female genital mutilation (FGM), was illegal but still widespread. FGM involves cutting or removing part or all of a female’s external genitalia, usually when she is just a child or entering puberty. Unlike male circumcision, which at least curbs the transmission of HIV, FGM brings no medical benefit whatsoever.

Welsh traveled to rural Kenya, taught herself Swahili, spent two weeks living with the family of a 16-year-old girl about to undergo the ritual, in a hut of cow dung and straw, drinking goat milk laced with cow blood. Her story of the ritual was heartbreaking — the girl shouted out “Why are you trying to kill me?” and  “I’m dying. I’m going to die,” even as blood ran and curdled on the red mud. Although the Nation published only a watered-down version, they were picked up by in 12 U.S. newspapers. Welsh won a second-place prize in the World Press Photo and a Pulitzer.

The photo raised awareness of FGM; the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that genital mutilation is a form of persecution. Yet the practice persisted; annually around two million girls undergo the procedure even today, oftentimes done crudely with a razor or a glass shard. It was linked to honor, chastity and access to favorable marriages and social networks, and widely supported by women. A recent study showed that the daughters of a mother belonging to an ethnic group where FGM is widespread are more likely to undergo the practice it than those of a mother not belonging to such a group.

Welsh’s photos also became the centerpiece of one such debate, with many anthropologists and African commentators denouncing appropriation of women’s bodies as exhibits (the girl in the photo had not given permission for the images to be taken) and Western ‘cultural and ideological colonialism’. Welsh herself hang up her Nikon in 1999 to devote to anti-FGM causes and become a midwife.

(Due to the upsetting nature of the images, we are posting only one photo, which was the most widely published photo because it was the least violent. In the photo, the mutilated girl examines her excised pudenda. The rest, you can see here; in a blog post, Stephanie Welsh remembers that sweltering April day). 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 9, 2017 at 3:21 am

The North American Indian, 1907

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Seven riders from the Navajo Nation and their dog trek against background of Canyon de Chelley, in an image widely copied in Westerns (1904).

“The most gigantic undertaking since the making of the King James edition of the Bible”, The New York Herald gushed when the first volume of The North American Indian appeared in 1907. Its foreword was written by Teddy Roosevelt and the book was funded by J.P. Morgan. When its last volume appeared, however, its author was broke and his work had been largely forgotten.

Edward Curtis was one of those large-than-life figures — less of a photographer than an explorer. Abandoning his lucrative society photography, he spent three decades photographing and documenting lives and traditions of eighty North American tribes, a monumental task which took him from the Mexican border to Bering Strait.

Curtis felt that he was racing against time; the 1900 census put the Native American population at 237,000, compared to approximately 600,000 a century earlier. Many of their rituals and traditions had been banned to encourage ‘assimilation’. When he documented  a Piegan Sun Dance in Montana in 1900, Curtis realized it might be the last of its kind.

He was relentless, working 16-hour days, seven days a week, against considerable odds. It took up to six years to persuade Sikyaletstewa, the Hopi Snake Chief, to allow him to participate in a ceremonial snake hunt. He bribed the Navajos to reenact a Yei be Chei healing dance, but the dancers performed the ceremony backwards in order not reveal its most sacred parts. Due to his travels, he was largely absent from domestic life, and his wife left him in 1916.

Curtis compiled over 40,000 large format photos of Native Americans, recorded 10,000 Indian songs on wax cylinders, and collected vocabularies, pronunciation guides, and myths in 75 languages. He became the first person to conduct a thorough historical autopsy of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, from both the Indians side and that of the cavalry.

For a documentary on the Kwakiutl in the Pacific Northwest, who had a reputation as headhunters and cannibals, he participated in the native rituals, bedecking his boat with a human mummy and skulls. Rumors swirled that he participated in a secret cannibalism ceremony — something Curtis mischievously refused to admit or deny.

In other ways too, Curtis was an unreliable narrator. At Piegan lodge, he airbrushed out an alarm clock present in a native tent — a technique he practiced on modern clothes and other signs of contemporary life. He staged a Crow war party on horses, even though there had been no Crow war parties for years. Of the Hopi Snake Dance, he wrote, “Dressed in a G-string and snake dance costume and with the regulation-snake in my mouth I went through [the ceremony] while spectators witnessed the dance and did not know that a white man was one of the wild dancers.” It is now believed that this claim may have been exaggerated or untrue.

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An Oasis in the Badlands. Chief Red Hawk pose atop a white horse at a watering hole. 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 6, 2017 at 4:04 am

Empire of the Stage

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Last week, when covering the news of Lord Snowdon’s death, we briefly mentioned the work he did for Vanity Fair, covering British theatre, in November 1995.

John Osborne, the playwright who transformed modern English theatre with his plays “Look Back in Anger” and “The Entertainer”, had died previous December and Vanity Fair sent John Heilpern, a theatre critic who would later become Osborne’s authorized biographer, to cover his memorial service. Heilpern quotes, “It is impossible to speak of John Osborne without using the word ‘England'” and adds, “So it is impossible to imagine England without its theater.” Fittingly his article was accompanied by Snowdon’s photos.

It was a bravura effort — the largest photographic portfolio Vanity Fair ever commissioned. He flew back and forth between Britain and New York to photograph theatre luminaries, from the 22-year-old Jude Law to the 91-year-old Sir John Gielgud.

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They were atmospheric portraits, sometimes in costume, sometimes in personal private moments. Alan Rickman stood arms akimbo on the Albert memorial as a clan chieftain in honor of a Highland play he directed. Ian McKellen embraced a statue of Bacchus; Derek Jacobi posed as Pope Hadrian, John Hurt as a pantomime dame. He got Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh — former collaborators, now competitors — together in a group shot. “That needed a fast shutter speed,” Snowdon remembered.

“There are a lot of little private jokes,” Snowdon reflected. Jonathan Pryce, the actor and Lexus spokesman, was photographed in a Mercedes. Michael Gambon scowled in Poets’ Corner as a languid Shakespeare looked on. Patrick Stewart, looking Picardian, posed at Heathrow Airport. Peter Ustinov sat in a bath chair outside Theatre Royal in Bath, where he led a fundraising program for a studio which now bears his name.

[I couldn’t find the portfolio online, which was a shame, so I did digging around in old family cottage’s damp basement for a physical copy. The resulting scan is huge at 60 MB, but linked here.]

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 21, 2017 at 4:41 am

Posted in Culture, Society

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Whaling, Faroe Islands, 1970.

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In 1970, Adam Woolfitt captured the above image on Tindhólmur, a small island in Sørvágsfjørður fjord in the Faroe Islands. Tindhólmur itself was a surreal place, its rock jutting defiantly into the skies, and Woolfitt’s photo was equally otherworldly: skies were foreboding, boats float on a bloodied bay, surrounded by whale carcasses and children.  Dante could have penned a verse about the scene. Bruegel could have painted it.

The image, taken on Kodachrome II and printed in The National Geographic, was immediately controversial. Anti-whaling movements reproduced it. Two years later, fifty two countries voted in favor of a ten-year global moratorium (which didn’t take place because the major whaling countries were not signatories).

On Faroe Islands, whaling continued, although the hunts were often disrupted by the environmental activists. To this day, the islanders would drive pilot whales into shallow waters to slaughter them. This annual ceremony is called ‘grindadrap’ (whale hunt in Faroese), and locals insist that ‘grindadrap’ is not done for commercial purposes, as the meat can not be sold and is divided evenly between members of the local community.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 16, 2016 at 1:08 am

Posted in Culture

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Iran Before the Revolution

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Passing of an Iranian actress was good time as any to reflect on regress of women’s rights in the Middle East. 

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Forouzan’s death last month was as her last thirty-seven years had been: quiet and unremarked. Before that, however, she was one of the biggest stars of the Persian cinema. For a brief period in the 1970s, voluptuous Forouzan (whose name meant bright light) represented a liberated Arab womanhood, which has all been extinguished since at least in the Middle East.

Her death brought to fore various magazine covers in which she appeared — and other contemporary Persian magazines where Western and local models were frequently portrayed showing a bit of skin. Sophia Loren smiled wearing just a fur coat from one cover. The famed Henry Clarke posed several models at Iranian mosques in 1969 (an activity which could have gotten him into deep trouble just a decade later). One week, Forouzan appeared on the cover of Weekly Ettelaat with the headline: “Forouzan and the latest fashion; Will people of Tehran approve it?” (above).

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Iran before the Revolution was hardly a tolerant liberal democracy, but in many ways it was more relaxed socially. A woman cabinet minister was first appointed in 1968, and just before the Iranian Revolution of 1979, women made up a third of university graduates. The Revolution rolled back these small accomplishments: hijab was introduced, and women were removed from the judiciary (Islam posits that women are unqualified to be judges). Because women’s role was to be at home solely, government–run day care centers were shut down, making it difficult for women to lead professional lives. In a telling brutality, the aforementioned first woman to serve in the cabinet was executed. (Only in 2009 and 2015 that Iran appointed its first female cabinet minister and ambassador since the 1979 revolution respectively). 

Forouzan herself was banned from acting again — anyway, there wasn’t much need for actresses anymore as all women were covered under hijab, including on the silver screen. Although in reality, Iranian women do not need to be covered under hijab at home, the movie censors force actresses to wear hijabs for both indoor and outdoor scenes. In a crowning absurdity, women in Iranian films wear hijabs even when they sleep in bed.

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Alas, Iran was not the only country in the region where women’s rights have regressed since the 1970s. In his grand retelling of the pivotal events 1979 ushered, Strange Rebels, Christian Caryl remembers seeing a postcard of a glamorous Afghani model posing on a grass-lawn in a dress of “1970s psychedelia and ethnic chic”. He writes:

“It was easy to dismiss the cigarette-smoking model as an outlier, a solipsistic stand-in for a superficial program of Westernization with no organic connection to the surrounding society. But this is lazy. The Afghanistan she stood for was real. She may have belonged to a minority, but it was unquestionably a growing minority that many wanted to join… This Westernizing, secular, hedonistic Afghanistan was not a phantom; it represented a genuine dream for many Afghans.”

The same could have been said of  Forouzan and her Iran.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 13, 2016 at 6:05 am

The Man in the the Hathaway Shirt

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During a late night movie recently, I told a couple of friends that Nick Fury, the cyclopean leader of The Avengers is the modern Hathaway man. Blank stares greeted me — the Hathaway man has left modern culture references as quickly as it had entered them.

There once was a time he captivated the whole chattering classes. A brainchild of David Ogilvy, the legendary British ad-man whose name is still plastered on one of the world’s largest marketing firms, the Hathaway man promoted a New England shirt company which was both literally and figuratively starchy.

In 1951, when CF Hathaway engaged Ogilvy, the company has never advertised before; their budget was an ad-campaign ($30,000) was small compared to those of bigger American conglomerates. Wishing to do something unique, Ogilvy remembered Lewis Douglas, the American ambassador to UK, who wore an eye-patch after a fishing accident; he built the story around the eye-patch, creating an interesting narrative, and put the ad in The New Yorker. Within a week, every Hathaway shirt in whole New York was sold.

Ogilvy quipped, “For some reason I’ve never known, it made Hathaway instantly famous. Perhaps, more to the point, it made me instantly famous.” Indeed. For next two decades, subscribers to The New Yorker developed a habit of flipping through the magazine first thing to find the Hathaway ad; each week they were treated to a different story: the Hathaway man getting his mustache trimmed, composing music, playing chess, drinking wine, stepping off a plane, conducting the Philharmonic, etc. — typical activities associated with a debonair man of leisure. Appropriately, the man in the ad was Baron George Wrangell, émigré nephew of a White Russian general.

The ad quickly entered the cultural landscape. Manhattan’s James McCreery & Co. department store, advertising a “girdle,” depicted a young model clad in nothing but a girdle, a halter and an eyepatch. Nick Fury himself who debuted in 1963 perhaps owe a thing or two to the baron. And modern advertising campaigns, which shows well-heeled attractive people doing improbably daring/quirky things (Old Spice’s Smell like a Man; Dos Equis’s The Most Interesting Man in the World) share a lot of their DNA with Ogilvy’s creation.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

October 16, 2015 at 5:49 am

Falkland Road, Bombay

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Mary Ellen Mark, chronicler of society’s sad underbellies, died last month, aged 75. An ugly world she photographed limps on.

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Altamont and Falkland Roads are just a couple of miles away from one another in downtown Bombay. However, they seemed to belong to different worlds. Magnates, celebrities, and ambassadors live in the upscale residential neighborhood around Altamont Road. Less exulted is the area around Falkland Road, known as Kamathipura, one of the largest red-light districts in the world. Frequented by lower classes since the days of British rule, the area remains a brutal epicenter of abuse, exploitation, and sex trafficking even in independent India. Laws and diktats of the authorities stopped outside the so-called Fuckland’s labyrinthine network of brothels, warrens, and cages.

To this world arrived Mary Ellen Mark in 1968. She would go on to become a humanistic portrayer of the society’s harsher corners — street-gangs, runaway children, psychiatric patients — and the scenes she witnessed in Bombay haunted her and she kept returning to document the district in a book that The New York Times called, “intimate but not bawdy, sad but not damning, and more seductive in its passionate mix of colors than in its offerings of flesh”.

Viewed as an interloping foreigner, she was unwelcome and the reception was downright hostile. She remembered: “Each time met with hostility and aggression. The women threw garbage and water and pinched me. Crowds of men would gather around me. Once a pickpocket took my address book; another time I was hit in the face by a drunken man. Needless to say, I never managed to take very good photographs.” But she persevered and during a visit in October 1978, stayed in the district for two months, befriending prostitutes, pimps, madams, and transvestites alike.

That project, released as Falkland Road: Prostitutes of Bombay, was a haunting chronicle of abject lives. Girls were kidnapped from their families in rural villages. Desperate families who didn’t want female offsprings sold them off to brothels. Pimps preyed on young and attractive beggargirls. Girls as young as thirteen were forced into prostitution, and into cages to prevent them from escaping. Neglect — and worse fates — beckoned children born to prostitutes within the district. Photos, taken in vivid colors in dramatic contrast from Mark’s black-and-white usual, showed filthy mattresses surrounded by filthier walls.

Many others followed Mark’s footsteps to document the district (see a great modern expose here). The area had survived to this day, although many whose lives Mark documented didn’t, as AIDS took its toll in the following decade. Due to increased awareness, international aid organizations were allowed to set up anti-trafficking shelters and children’s homes. There are estimated 20,000 sex workers in Kamathipura today — although down for its dizzying heights (of 50,000) in the 1990s. Now the area is overlooked by gleaming skyscrapers, and the area’s recent redevelopment plans mean Kamathipura’s days might be numbered. However, the unholy network of pimps, madams, and traffickers will simply move somewhere else, with their cages and virgin auctions.

(Most of the photos from the book are on her website here).

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 2, 2015 at 6:45 am

Kings of Horror

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(Above photo was taken by Terry O’Neill on the set of the 1983 horror comedy, House of the Long Shadows, the only film which co-starred four great master horror actors: Vincent Price, John Carradine, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee.)

Christopher Lee, the world’s most interesting man and the last king of horror, died aged 93. 

There was always something rakish about Christopher Lee. His movie career — and late life affectation for death metal — proves it. But Lee’s exciting adventures began when he volunteered to fight for Finland at the beginning of the Second World War. He was soon chosen for elite clandestine outfit called ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’, more commonly known as Churchill’s Secret Service. His work there is still classified (though the ministry was involved in skirmishes such as an assault that destroyed the German top secret nuclear weapons development facility in Norway) but Lee came out of the war as a highly decorated veteran to live a second life as an acclaimed actor.

For Hammer Horror, a British studio which churned out series of thrillers which luxuriated in camp and melodramatic moments, he portrayed an array of accursed protagonists of Georgian and Victorian imaginations: the Mummy; Frankenstein’s monster; Count Dracula; Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; and Fu Manchu. He was cast as Henry Baskerville against Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes, then as Holmes, and even as Holmes’ cerebral brother Mycroft.

Later, filmmakers remember him whenever they needed to portray men of apocalyptic air and larger-than-life ambitions, real or imagined. Thus he was Pakistan’s tormented founder in Jinnah; a debonair assassin with a third nipple against James Bond; an intergalactic aristocrat in Star Wars; a misguided holy fanatic in Rasputin, the Mad Monk; a powerful wizard corrupted by evil in Lord of The Rings; and an icy, pagan-worshiping leader of a windswept Celtic island in The Wicker Man.

His colorful life intertwined with those of whom he played. As a child, he met Rasputin’s killers. One of his stepcousins was Ian Fleming, who partly modeled James Bond on Lee’s wartime experiences and who hoped Lee would play titular villain in Dr. No. Lee also knew Tolkien, and was the sole member of The Lord of Rings’ cast and crew to have met its writer. In playing Saruman’s death, Lee quipped that he knew how dying from being stabbed in the back sounded like, from his classified work during WWII.

He maintained a productive, prolific life to the end: on his last day of filming Lord of The Rings, Lee was 92.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 12, 2015 at 3:38 am

Borneo, 2001.

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DAYAK CHARLES

(contd. from the previous post)

After East Timor gain its independence, Indonesia’s descent into chaos continued; a shocking nadir was reached in 2001, when the Dayaks of the Borneo Island began butchering the Madurese migrants. The tribal war between Madurese and the Dayak began in late 1996, when over 300 people died in ethnic violence in West Kalimantan which lasted for six weeks. Madurese women were beheaded by the Dayaks and their heads were paraded around town. (The ancient Dayak custom claims that bringing home a victim’s head and burying it with their ancestors’ bones will ensure that the victim will be their servant in the afterlife.)

While the re-flaring of tensions only followed after General Soeharto stepped down, his coercive policies were the cause. Madura island, in east Java, is famous in Indonesia for its barren soil and as a place to leave. Soeharto continued — and escalated — the Dutch policies of transmigrating people from more populated Javanese islands to the less populated tribal lands in Irian Jaya and Kalimantan. In latter case, the government granted the Madurese logging rights and allowed them to clear forests for palm oil cultivation, even in the forests that were sacred to the animist Dayaks.

In December 2000, there was a murder in Kereng Pangi, a small village near Sampit. A group of Madurese allegedly tortured and then killed a young Dayak after a gambling brawl. The murderers, the Dayak elders claimed, bribed the police to escape justice. Decades of bitterness at the Madurese control of businesses and markets turned violent as a tribal reprisal by the Dayak followed; atavistic feelings are invoked in this ‘land of head-hunters in a perpetual state of war with one another’, as the Economist wrote. The police, as it had in East Timor, was unwilling to save the persecuted.

The iconic photo was the conflict was taken by Charles Dharapak, an AP journalist. In the photo above, Fabian Charles, a Dayak gang leader, stands in front of two Madurese settlers he said he and his gang killed and beheaded.  The photo made the cover of Time magazine, whose Indonesian distributor refused to distribute it.

(For more on the collapse of plural society in Southeast Asia, read this).

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 17, 2015 at 5:55 am

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