Iconic Photos

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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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dumdum-patreon

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

The Curies

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I was going to write about Patreon as promised, but instead thought what better way to start this new phase of Iconic Photos by talking about one of the first photographers I blogged about — all the way back in 2009: Henri Cartier-Bresson.

HCB occupied an interesting time in history where photography was still not widely appreciated as an art, but mostly considered a medium for communication. From travel to portraiture, his own work straddled both worlds. This was how he recalled the occasion in 1944 when he took the photo above:

When I went to see [Irene and Frederic] Joliot-Curie, there was a plaque by the door which said: ‘Enter without knocking.’ I went in and snapped them before even saying hello. One shouldn’t be too polite. They have a dramatic expression on their faces. They knew too much about the reality of this world. It’s a terrifying portrait – take the position of their hands . . . I can’t bear to look at it for very long.

The Joliot-Curies, the daughter and son-in-law of Pierre and Marie Curie, had a tumultuous war. Frederic, a member of the Communist resistance, used his laboratory to secretly produce molotov cocktails and radio receivers. (He would be credited as the inventor of the “Joliot-Curie” cocktail, made from materials easy to obtain during the war, and particularly effective against tanks). In 1944, when the German cracked down on the resistance activity, he went underground under an assumed name and Irene and her two children fled, first to a country hotel, and eventually to Switzerland.

When the German army finally retreated from Paris in August 1944, Irene returned. Her husband was now the director of the reorganized Centre national de la recherche scientifique, the premier research institute in France. He would soon be appointed the High Commissioner for Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA), the newly formed French nuclear energy agency and go on to oversee to the first French nuclear reactor, the Zoe pile.

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dumdum-patreon

More explanation about 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) give me a marginal incentive to create more compelling and educational content. As far as this blog here is concerned, nothing will change. No paywalls. 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 experiments I will run (on iconicity of images) once we have the volume to make such experiments scientific.

As I just started on Patreon, this post above on the Curies is not ‘charged’, and also, don’t pay too much attention to rewards yet, as I am still figuring them out. They will change as we progress through this process together. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!  (Even non-patrons can vote for this one).

But beyound these tinkerings, a goal I have is sustainability and bigger outreach. 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, not to be too grabby or anything.

I also feel what I wrote was worth sharing. So I wanted to run a few facebook ad campaigns to gain a slightly wider audience. A book as I mocked up in an April Fool prank a while back, might be years away (mostly because of printing rights), but text-only e-book version (with links to photos online) might be possible.

So let’s see how Patreon goes! Patreon is definitely more useful for YouTubers and podcasters who have more engagement than us writers who are a bit reclusive in general, but here is the link: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 30, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Society, War

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

Klarsfeld slaps Kiesinger

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It was a dramatic slap.

In November 1968, as the Christian Democrats met at their party congress in West Berlin, 29-year-old Beate Klarsfeld walked up to the podium and slapped Chancellor Kiesinger. As she was dragged out of the room, she shouted, “Kiesinger! Nazi! Abtreten!” (“Kiesinger! Nazi! Resign!”), alluding to his 12-year membership of the Nazi Party, and employment at broadcasting and propaganda ministries during the war.

For the slap, Klarsfeld was vilified in the local news, but for her, it was a symbolic slap to the face for the West German establishment. Statute of limitations on Nazi crimes were about to expire in little over a year – on December 31st 1969 – but the political class had not make serious effort to persecute former Nazis. Kurt Lischka, the head of Paris Gestapo, was still employing his comfortable retirement in Cologne, though he had been sentenced in absentia by a Paris court. For ten years, Hans Globke, who previously wrote laws restricting rights of German Jews, served as Chief of Staff and close advisor to Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war Chancellor of West Germany. Kiesinger himself was advised by another prominent jurist of the Third Reich, Carl Schmitt and was succeeded as the minister president of Baden-Württemberg by Hans Filbinger, another Nazi era judge.

But the most egregious of all, at least for appearances’ sake, was Heinrich Lubke, the seventy-three-year-old president of West Germany, who was accused of helping to build concentration camps. The East Germans made the accusations in 1966, but these claims were largely ignored as false, until Stern, a West German magazine, hired a handwriting expert to verify that it had been Lubke’s signatures on concentration camp plans. By February 1968, things were getting out of hand: two students were expelled from University of Bonn for breaking into the rector’s office and writing “Concentration Camp Builder” next to Lubke’s name on the university honor roll. Lubke meekly responded, “Naturally, after nearly a quarter of a century has gone by, I cannot remember every paper I signed. It was not part of my duties to sign blueprints for wooden barracks. Nor do I recall ever having given such signatures.” He clanged onto power for ten more months before forced to resign.

Kiesinger too was on his way out. He was called as a witness to the war crimes trial of Fritz Gebhard von Hahn, accused of murdering thirty thousand Greek and Bulgarian Jews in 1942-43, and the media was keen on putting him on trial instead; he failed to get re-elected the following year.

As for wider West Germany, the reckoning was still a few years away. A slow but dramatic revelations of Filbinger’s Nazi crimes was to occupy German media in the following decade. Kiesinger’s successor as chancellor, Willy Brandt would drop to his knees at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial. This, combined with the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics and the German telecast of the ‘Holocaust’ mini-series in January 1979, finally placed the Jewish suffering firmly at the heart of the German consciousness. Even then, some myths endured.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 11, 2017 at 2:47 am

Posted in Politics, Society

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Geronimo Surrenders

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During his last days at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Geronimo became one of the most photographed of all Native Americans. He became a tourist attraction, and once even photographed in a car. It was therefore fitting that his titanic struggle against the United States army created “the only known photographs of American Indians as enemy in the field”.

Born Goyathlay (The-One-Who-Yawns), the Apache Geronimo was among the fiercest opponents of Mexico and the United States. His family was killed by Mexicans, and he waged intermittent warfare in the south-west until the mid-1880s. By the time, even the clairvoyant medicine man himself knew the end was near. He sent word to General George Crook — America’s most aggressive Indian fighter — that he was ready to surrender.

He chose the site: Cañon de los Embudos in the Sierra Madre Mountains, just south of the Mexico-Arizona border. It was a shallow ravine from which he could flee easily at the first sign of trouble. Geronimo came with his remaining troops, now numbering only 115. As demanded, Crook arrived with a small group of officers, scouts, interpreters, and a photographer, Camillus Fly.

During the three days Geronimo and Crook negotiated, Fly walked around the Apache camp and took photos. Finally, Geronimo agreed to Crook’s surrender terms, with historic words: “Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all.”  However, later that night, camp rumours abounded that they would be murdered as they crossed the border back into Arizona, and Geronimo and 40 of his followers slipped away during the night. Five more months of fighting followed. It was the last Indian war the United States was to fight.

As for Fry, he took 15 photos at the camp, including those of Geronimo with his two sons, and of a white boy abducted from his New Mexico home previous September. Fly was just 36 when he took these photos. Seven years earlier, he had moved to silver-boom town of Tombstone, Arizona to open a “portrait-making” shop. In 1881, he was a peripheral eyewitness to a mythic event which took place in the vacant lot by his photography studio (and not in the livery stable six doors away as frequently mis-remembered): The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 31, 2017 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

Tagged with , , ,

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

Back to the Middle Ages, Picture Post

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When Picture Post published “Back to the Middle Ages” November 26th 1938, the magazine was less than two months old. Launched on October 1st, it was from the very beginning staunchly anti-fascist, thanks to the editorship of Stefan Lorant, an Hungarian refugee who had been previously imprisoned by the Nazis in Munich.

Situations had gotten worse in Germany that November. An assassination of a German diplomat in Paris provided the Nazis with the pretext for the Kristallnacht, an antisemitic pogrom. To cover the event, Lorant thought he should juxtaposed the faces of the Nazi leadership alongside those of the writers, actors and scientists they were persecuting.

Four central figures loomed large above the headlines, three still well-known, one less so. Alongside Hitler, Goebbels, and Goering was Julius Streicher whose newspaper Der Stürmer was the centerpiece of the Nazi propaganda. A former schoolmaster who was expelled from his profession, Streicher was anti-Semitic, almost to a comical degree: he wrote anti-Semitic books for children, and frequently repeated the medieval accusation that Jews killed Christian children to make matzoh. An early practitioner of what you would today call ‘Fake News’, Streicher argued that since his articles were based on race, not religion, they were protected by the German constitution.

When Picture Post went to press, Streicher was at the height of his noxious power: at Nuremberg, where he was the local Nazi party chief, he was treated almost as an absolute monarch. During Kristallnacht, he ordered his followers to sack the Great Synagogue of the city. But Kristallnacht also proved to be his downfall: he was accused of keeping Jewish property seized after Kristallnacht in November 1938, and his enemies within the Nazi party hierarchy — especially Goering whose daughter he once accused of being conceived by artificial insemination — were all to glad to denounce him. Hitler also grew tired of Streicher’s hysterical tirades, and would travel to Nuremberg only in secret, in order to avoid having to dine with Streicher.

In 1940, Streicher was finally stripped of his party offices, although his paper continued publishing until the war’s end. But Der Stürmer, like its publisher, itself limped into the 1940s. Once its pages were full of denunciations of Germans who were friendly to Jews or patrons of Jewish businesses, and exaggerated stories about misconduct and crimes by Jews, but as deportation of Jews intensified and Jewish life all but disappeared across Germany, there was little material for the paper. After 1940, this was literally true as paper restrictions were imposed on Der Stürmer.

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The photo on page 19 read: Humanity at its Lowest. Young Nazis look on smiling while Elderly Jews are forced to scrub Vienna streets. On the back of this picture, the agency circulating it had felt it necessary to print: “Under no circumstances whatsoever may the source from which this picture was obtained, be revealed.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 20, 2017 at 5:19 am

The Boat of No Smiles

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Are there faint echoes of Vietnam in modern migrations? 

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In the late 70s and the 80s, “Vietnamese” was almost invariably followed by the term “boat people”. Between 1975 and 1992, around two million people (nearly four percent of the country’s population) fled Vietnam by boat to escape poverty, oppression, and war. It was a perilous journey — up to 250,000 people died at sea from storms, illness, food shortages, and piracy.

Photographer Eddie Adams, now better known for another iconic photo, remembers being on the frontline of this exodus, and getting into a refuge boat which was turned away:

No one, no country, was letting the refugees land. You couldn’t even find out about them. At first, I went back and said the story was impossible to cover. Then I had an idea and got in touch with the Thai Marine police (I knew Thailand very well) who had been shoving the boats right back offshore to certain death. I told them would like to go with them on patrol in the Gulf of Siam.

They OK’d it, so we headed for the most likely point in northern Thailand, getting there at 4am when a refugee boat had just pulled in; the Thai authorities were getting ready to cast it off again. It was Thanksgiving Day in 1977. I suddenly asked the Vietnamese if I could go with them— I bought gas and rice – they had no fuel or food. There were forty-nine people aboard that fishing boat, including children— in the hold that same day a baby was born. The Thais towed us back out to sea and set us adrift. On that boat, there was no room to lie down, so they all had to sit up straight, waking or sleeping. I cannot describe the despair. There were dramatic pictures of mothers with half-dead children in their arms but something even worse was there.

Whenever you go to refugee camps in a war zone where terrible things have happened, where bodies might be stacked up, and disease everywhere, you still find children who gather before the camera with a smile. This was the first time in my life that no child smiled. I called the pictures, “the boat of no smiles.” The boat was hardly moving- they didn’t even know where to go.

Then we were approached by another Thai boat with a megaphone ordering me off at gunpoint— they were afraid someone would let them dock knowing there was an American aboard. I had mixed feelings about getting off. I wrote the story and sent the pictures immediately, and they ran. Peter Arnett did a story also and a few others. Within a couple of days the administration asked the AP to present the photos to Congress. And Carter said let them come to America. The Congress had been thinking about it, sure, but the pictures did it, pushed it over.

The photos convinced the American government to allow 250,000 refugees to enter into the United States. Tragic drownings were to mobilize public opinion and a coordinated plan led to resettlement of over 1.3 million refuges across the developed world (China also took in 300,000 Vietnamese of Chinese blood).

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In 1978, Adams and Arnett traveled to the Malaysian island of Bidong, “once a paradise with blue waters, white sandy beaches fringed by coconut palms, topped by a verdant hillside,” but by then one of the most crowded refuge encampments in the world — where 40,000 refugees huddled in a space the size of football field.

Here, tales evoking Sophie’s Choice were played out, as the developed nations selected who could migrate where, with varying criteria. For instance, the United States gave priority to those who had served in the South Vietnamese military and their families. An acquaintance of mine had to choose between migrating and his 10-year old brother-in-law (as the latter, not being his blood relative, was not accepted by the US). Making the choice all the harder, his newborn son was dying from dysentery: it was a decision between leaving behind a 10-year old boy or condemning their newborn child.

It has perhaps glib to compare the boat people to modern refuges, except to note that migrant experience was never easy. Yet there are faint echoes of Vietnam in modern migrations: in both United States and Australia (where the Vietnamese were the first non-European emigrants of significant size), the arrival of foreigners who worshiped different gods, from a country which espoused an ideology antithetical to Western values, and a country which until recently had been at war with them, initially caused great social disquiet.

Four decades on, these fears are a distant memory. By forgetting them, however, we condemn ourselves into repeating same mistakes over and over again.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

February 11, 2017 at 1:42 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

Tagged with , ,

Antony Armstrong-Jones

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Anthony Armstrong-Jones, society photographer and royal paramour, is dead, aged 86. 

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As royal portraits went, it didn’t get more intimate than this. In 1962, Anthony Armstrong-Jones sat on a toilet and took a photo of his wife Princess Margaret soaking in the bathtub in full makeup and tiara. His feet and hand were reflected in the mirror in the photo.

The couple was then just two years into their marriage. Theirs was the first royal wedding ceremony to be broadcast on television, and Armstrong-Jones became the first commoner in four centuries to marry a British princess. But he could never shake the perceptions that he had been Margaret’s second choice — her earlier romance with a divorcee was stopped by the establishment — and the couple separated in 1976.

This sensational divorce was also record-breaking: it was the first royal divorce in England since Henry VIII. It would set the tone for later royal break-ups of Princes Charles and Andrew. Yet Armstrong-Jones maintained close personal relationships with the British royal family post-divorce, and remained a favorite photographer of the Queen long after his marriage to her sister had ended.

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Already a society photographer before his marriage, the royal connections opened doors. He took photos of Ian McKellen, Serge Gainsbourg, Salvador Dali, Vita Sackville-West, Laurence Olivier, David Bowie, Barbara Cartland, and Marlene Dietrich among others; his portraits of J.R.R.Tolkien, previously featured at Iconic Photos here, and Agatha Christie were iconic. For Vanity Fair in November 1995, Snowdon put together a photoessay on British Theatre, photographing Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Julie Christie, and others, in a 56-page spread—the biggest photoessay Vanity Fair had ever ran. (In a spread from that essay above, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole share tea and private moment at the Dorchester).

An excellent obituary from The Globe and Mail here. A scanned version of the theatre portfolio is here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 15, 2017 at 5:05 am

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