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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

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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

Silician Mafia, Letizia Battaglia

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(continued from a previous post)

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As the Italian state unraveled in ever-widening gyre of political choas, that other threat to law and order was again resurgent in the south.  In Sicily, the Commission — a central organization of mafiosos — was resurrected. Several competing factions were now preparing to fight and claim territories for protection rackets.

At the center of this was Letizia Battaglia, a journalist and photographer for L’Ora newspaper in Palermo. For eighteen years, she documented mafia murders of judges, politicians, police, and members of rival families. She would find herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Here, she remembers taking the photo above (link)

They murdered Nerina, a young prostitute who had started drug-dealing independently from the mafia cartel, and her two male friends. Allegedly, she had disobeyed the mafia’s code of honour. Naturally, the killers were never found.

It was 1982, and I entered this little room in Palermo against the will of the police. They did not want me – a photographer and a woman – at the crime scene. When I realised there was a woman among the victims, I started shaking. More than usual, I mean. I was overcome by nausea and could hardly stand. I only had a few seconds to take a couple of pictures: there were men shouting at me to work fast.

It isn’t easy to be a good photographer when you’re faced with the corpses of people who were alive and kicking only minutes before. In those situations, I would often get all the technical things wrong. But I did my job, I photographed, trying to keep the image in focus and the exposure correct.

Since Nerina, who is slumped in the armchair, had been the main target, I found myself thinking about her. In that small room, her still body was at everybody’s mercy, more objectified than ever. My contact with her lasted only a few moments and was filtered through the lens of a cheap camera. But I saw her alone, lost in an eternity of silence. In that short time, I started to love her. I find women beautiful and courageous, and I love photographing them. They hold so many dreams inside themselves.

It was just one of 600,000 photos she took of mafia crimes; throughout her career, Battaglia received many death threats, but continued on. Her “Archive of Blood”, as she called it, grew and grew as the mafia activity spread. Judge Cesare Terranova, a member of the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, was killed in an ambush in 1979. Battaglia remembers: “This was one of the most important men in Sicilian politics. When he was killed, I said nothing worse could happen. Nothing. It was not true.” [Photo below, graphic].

The Italian state, which had unscrupulous connections with the mafia, was slow and reluctant to respond, even when the mafia detonated a half-ton of explosives under the highway in May 1992 to assassinate a judge (who was a close friend of Battaglia). The next year, Giulio Andreotti, who had been prime minister of Italy seven times, was indicted for corruption.He had flatly denied ever meeting or having any dealings with the mafia, but among Battaglia’s archives were photographs of Andreotti and other Christian Democrat party leaders with Nino Salvo, a powerful Mafia figures who was believed to have been a principal link between the Mafia and Andreotti.

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Battaglia has recently published a book “Anthology” which recounts these haunting years. (Amazon).

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 30, 2016 at 6:51 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with , ,

Living With the Enemy

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In the time it will take you to read this blog post, around 50 people in the United States would have been victims of domestic violence. For the longest time, even to the days of our parents, domestic violence was an act which not only went unreported but also simply taken for granted. The apocryphal rule of thumb — whereby a man is allowed to beat his wife so long as the rod used was no thicker than his thumb — was routinely assumed to be part of the British common law.

In 1982, Donna Ferrato was on assignment to photograph swingers for Playboy Japan at New York’s famous sex club, Plato’s Retreat, when she befriended Garth and Lisa, a polyamorous couple from Saddle River, New Jersey. On the surface, they have a successful marriage. However, Ferrato discovered a physically abusive husband who routinely beat his wife. She remembers:

I heard Lisa screaming and things breaking. As soon as I entered the bathroom Garth raised his hand to slap his wife in the face….

I said: ‘What are you doing? You are really going to hurt her.’ He threw me down and said: ‘I’m not going to hurt her — she’s my wife. I know what my strength is but I have to teach her that she can’t lie to me.’

The contact sheet shows every frame of the first fight I witnessed between Garth and Lisa. The most important thing on my mind was to take pictures to prove that what I was seeing really happened. Without a photograph there would be no evidence.

Ferrato approached her editors to publish the images, but they all refused.

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For the next decade, Ferrato went around the United States visiting shelters, police stations and hospitals, and documenting the scenes and aftermaths of domestic abuse, compiled in her 1991 book Living With the Enemy. The book propelled an oft-neglected topic into a national sensation: she was invited to the White House for a private meeting with Hillary Clinton. Her work was featured on the cover of Time twice, following the Rita Collins murder case in 1993 and on a cover story called “When Violence Hits Home,” published after O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his wife.

“Americans are confronting the ferocious violence that may erupt when love runs awry,” Time wrote then. Donna Ferrato’s photos underlining criminality and brutality inherent in domestic violence suggested otherwise.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

December 19, 2016 at 11:42 pm

14 July 1936 | Willy Ronis

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One million people marched in Paris on July 14 1936, to celebrate the Bastille holiday and celebrate the victory of Front Populaire in the general election months earlier. Willy Ronis (who took the photo above) called that “It was a party like it had never known before”; soon-to-be a famed photographer, Ronis was just 26 and the above photo was one of his first photos to be sold to a Parisian newspaper.

The photo became the symbol of Front Populaire in that summer of great hopes for social change. The Front, a coalition of Communists, trade unionists, and socialists had won the general election in May and the Socialist leader Léon Blum became the first Socialist — and the first Jewish — Prime Minister of France. He formed a government which included three women ministers at a time when women hadn’t yet gained suffrage. (Women’s suffrage was granted in France only in 1944).

With vigor, Blum’s government set about reforming the French state — many of the measures, good or ill, that we associate today with France where first implemented during his short premiership. He granted the right to strike and collective bargaining, two weeks of paid annual leave (which led to a boom in tourism), and reduced the working week to 40 hours. It was to begin a series of economic intervention that set precedents for the Vichy and postwar governments to consolidate France into a statist nation.

Blum himself was forced out of office in June 1937, as his government divided itself over whether to choose a side in Spanish Civil War.  Blum was briefly Prime Minister again twice (for four weeks in 1938 and five weeks in 1946), but his legacy was made during his first ministry. Despite its bravura reforms and widespread popular support, the Popular Front is now judged as inadequate leaders while Europe darkened into war: “Disappointment and failure,” says Julian Jackson in his seminal Popular Front in France: Defending Democracy 1934–1938.

Centre-left Le Nouvel Observateur was a little more enthusiastic: in 2006, for 70th anniversary of the Popular Front, it called Blum’s first months in office, 100 Days That Changed Our Life.  On the cover of that issue was Ronis’ photo taken on that Bastille Day brimming with expectations and excitements.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 12, 2015 at 7:05 am

Kim Il Sung

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In recent history, Kim Il Sung holds an unique position; dead since 1994, he remains North Korea’s official leader — an Eternal President, embalmed and ennobled in a massive mausoleum in Pyongyang. His son and his grandson who dynastically succeeded him are merely de facto heads of the country that he had led to ruination and that he remains constitutionally the de jure president.

In 1950, when his ruinous rule began North Korea’s GDP per capita was $650, compared to South Korea’s GDP per capita at $870. At his dead, North Korea’s GDP per capita was just slightly over quarter of the South’s, at $2500 compared to $9,000 per capita. [In 2014, it is one-twentieth the size of the South’s GDP per capita]. See here.

As his Stalinist experiment with Communism failed, he refashioned it into a weird mixture of politics, religion, and eugenics; the ideology — later a cult — was called Juche (and alternatively in that eponymous fashion beloved by despots, Kimilsungism), which his son and grandson further aggrandized. In this system, Kim Il-Sung was the father of the nation, his birthday a national holiday, and his name sacrosanct (it must not be split into two parts by a page break or a line break). A massive highway was built to his birthplace, which was declared a national shrine. The Gregorian calendar was replaced by a Juche calendar, where the birth of Kim Il-sung was year 1; songs were written about 10,000 battles he fought (4,000 during one particularly busy year — one every 2h10m I guess) and won.

Inconveniently for the divine narrative, Kim developed a calcium deposit on his neck in the late 1970s. Its closeness to the brain and spinal cord made it inoperable. Juche ideology scoffs at physical disability and this growth was an embarrassment. North Korean photographers were forbidden from taking photos of Kim which showed the growth. Kim was depicted from his left side to hide the growth from official photographs and newsreels (in his official portrait, he cranes his neck to the right as if to hide it). As the growth reached the size of a baseball by the late 1980s, it got increasingly difficult to hide, and photos were doctored to airbrush it out. [It got to ludicrous degree when Jimmy Carter visited; western news agencies received doctored photos from Korea News Agency.]

By the time Carter was in Pyongyang, Kim’s rule has been thoroughly discredited. Even as he clung to power as Communism imploded elsewhere — in Eastern Europe, in Mongolia, and in the Soviet Union — and as China embraced market economy, he was a lone anachronism from a bygone age. Subsidies from fellow travelling nations stopped, and his isolation was clear when soon-to-be-former-Communist countries ignored his tantrums to participate in the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea. By 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev was paying a state visit to South Korea.

Yet his thuggish regime limped on, under a potent mixture of propaganda, cultist control, and downright repression, to become a nuclear power. A suitably noxious legacy for a man who nearly got two American presidents to drop atom bombs on him.

[Above it one of the few photos where the lump was in display. Most North Koreans living today (and many outside Korea too) probably didn’t even know about this. Astonishing if you think about it: Kim died only 21 years ago.]

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 6, 2015 at 10:07 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Tagged with , ,

Murder of a Reporter | Jose Luis Cabezas

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On February 16, 1996, Cristina Cabezas posed for her husband on the beach in Pinamar. Her husband, Jose Luis, pretended to take photos, but the subjects were not his wife nor his daughter. Pinamar is an exclusive beach resort the Argentina’s Atlantic coast, visited by influential people, and also on the beach was the tycoon Alfredo Yabrán and his wife.

Reclusive Yabrán had been in news for six months. It began when Minister of Economy Domingo Cavallo accused Yabrán of being “head of a mafia entrenched in power.” Embattled Cavollo, who was about to be scapegoated for his ambitious reforms which had soured due to the Mexican financial crisis, blamed the then President of Argentina, Carlos Menem and cronyistic cadre of corrupt businessmen who surrounded Menem, of whom Yabrán was the most prominent.

Up to this point, Yabrán had been linked to only a handful of small companies, but Cavallo accused him of owning, through proxies, other major economic entities, including postal, printing, logistics, and security concerns. This network, Cavallo revealed, was used to traffic drugs and weapons.

The press did not have any pictures of Yabrán and struggled to get any: “My picture to me is like shooting myself in the forehead,” he once told an interviewer. “Not even the intelligence services have a picture of me,” he boasted. In his rare interviews, he demanded that the journalist be not accompanied by a photographer.

José Luis Cabezas got the photo, but it cost him his life. The photo was published on the cover of the magazine Noticias on March 3rd. Noticias was known for its exposes on corrupt politicians and businesses, and his appearance on the cover did not please Yabrán. Within a year, Cabezas was kidnapped, tortured, and killed with two shots to the head. The body was placed inside a vehicle rented by Noticias, and burned.

The scandal and gruesome murder that ensued led to series of events which doomed many of its participants. Menem forced Cavallo to resign; Cavallo was later briefly jailed on trumped-up charges of weapon trafficking. Menem’s attempt to run for a third term was ruled to be unconstitutional, and his party was thrown out of the office. After Cabezas’ murder, publicity forced Yabrán to come out of his reclusive lifestyle and face public scrutiny.  Under a judicial investigation, Yabrán committed suicide on 20 May 1998.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

November 4, 2015 at 6:23 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

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