Iconic Photos

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Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?

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Even the Dead Have Not Seen the End of Folly

In June 1967, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, was sentenced to three months in prison for possession of a few amphetamine tablets. Jagger was a first-time offender caught with French seasickness pills, which are openly sold in France but required a prescription in England. On July 1st 1967, The Times, and its new editor, William Rees-Mogg invoked Pope and denounced the excessive sentence in “Who Breaks a Butterfly upon a Wheel?” Rees-Mogg criticized the judge for undue severity in a minor drugs case, while arguing that justice ought to be the same for the rich and the poor, for the famous and the unknown. It was an editorial where the establishment and the counter-culture came together.

We are at similar crossroads again. Last month, Charlie Gilmour, the stepson of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, pled guilty to violent disorder exhibited during the student riots over tuition fee increases last December. Gilmour was a male model who was as the Independent put it, “more Beau Brummel than Che Guevara”. As he infamously climbed up the Cenotaph, the Cambridge history student, was oblivious to what the Cenotaph symbolized. (David Gilmour who once famously sang, “We don’t need no education” could probably see some irony here.)

Young Gilmour was sentenced to 16 months in jail — an abnormally harsh punishment for a first-time offender whose indiscretions, while excessive, were committed during a protest march. Twitter is abuzz with outrage, and today, the Times thundered again with indignation. I have nothing but contempt for Gilmour’s acts; I viewed them as pure hooliganism; in Gilmour, I saw a privileged scion protesting against tuition fee increases. First and foremost, it was a selfish act to preserve a broken faux-egalitarian system that handouts free rides to the rich and the privileged.

But as Rees-Mogg would say, it is possible for the guilty to be prosecuted in an entirely unfair way. And now he has. The class-conscious courts which sentence the infringers from poorer backgrounds to community service have felt that Gilmour’s celebrity status would send a strong signal.

Yes, it did. But it was a signal as misguided and disgraceful as the one Gilmour cadenced from the Cenotaph to proclaim. And equally wrong.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 3, 2011 at 8:25 am

7/7

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Today marks the sixth anniversary of terrorist attacks in London; since the 1970s, Britain has seen terrorism — primarily from the Irish Republican Army — and London has braced itself for a potential terrorist attack since 9/11.

Nonetheless, when they arrived, the attacks were shocking not least because its perpetrators were homegrown terrorists but also because they arrived less than 24 hours after London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. On 7th July 2005, four suicide bombers killed 52 people and injured over 700 people in four explosions, three inside London’s Underground and one on a bus.

At Edgeware Road Station, 24-year old Davinia Turrell became an unlikely icon. In the images that many photographers snapped of her as she was being led away from the emergency hospital inside the nearby Marks and Spencer, Davinia was faceless — or rather, it was covered with a white surgical gauzemask — but her face nonetheless lent an unforgettable visage to that tragic day. She was led away by an ex-firefighter Paul Dadge, who remembers:

We were the first out of M&S, and I remember vividly it was absolutely silent outside. As we ran across I could see people stood behind the cordon line.

The photographers hadn’t been able to see people coming out of the Tube station from their position – it was as if this was the ideal opportunity for these photographs.

The one thing I could hear was the sound of the shutters going. Then we started to realise something serious was going on. I remember saying to Davinia, ‘I think your picture’s going to be in the paper tomorrow’.”

Dadge was correct. Likened to Edvard Munch’s painting, The Scream, various versions of the picture were reprinted on the cover of more than 400 newspapers and magazines, including Time, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro and Corriere Della Sera. Dadge would also be interviewed for over 400 interviews.

At least eight photographers covered the eventHere, one photographer remembers her experiences covering the Edgeware Road bombing.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 7, 2011 at 12:00 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Kim Campbell, QC

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When history of Canada is written, Kim Campbell will be remembered for countless glass ceilings she broke. She was the first female student president at both her highschool and university. She was Canada’s first female Minister of Justice, Attorney General and later first female Minister of Defense. When she became Canada’s Prime Minister, she was not only her first female PM, but also the first baby boomer to hold that office, and the first PM to have been born in British Columbia.

For all these accomplishments, Kim Campbell was better known in Canada for a 1990 Barbara Woodley portrait in which she stood bare-shouldered behind her justice minister robes. In the late 1980s, Barbara Woodley drove across Canada in a van, sleeping inside the vehicle, to take 66 portraits of famous and powerful Canadian women. On the day she came to take Campbell’s photograph, Campbell had just picked up her justice minister robes. Woodley proposed taking her picture with her cello but Campbell said that another photographer had just taken her portrait in that style and accordingly suggested that she put on her new robes.

Woodley recommended that Campbell hold the robes in front of her. “We both realized that holding the robes while I was fully dressed would look silly, but we had no idea at the time that her photo of me, bare-shouldered and holding the robes on a hanger would become so notorious,” Campbell recalled. The notoriety only began when the National Arts Centre launched an exhibit on the Canadian politicians and included the portrait in November 1992.

At the launch of the exhibition, Campbell bumped into former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. “I had just picked up my QC robes [then]” she said. “Ah, and what were you doing before you picked them up?” responded Trudeau. On its review of the exhibition, the Ottawa Citizen ran the photo on its front page with the caption: “Doing justice to art.” Inside the parliament, MPs likened Campbell’s photos to those of Madonna, which had recently came out in a tome called Sex. The British tabloids also gleefully cover the episode; in Italy, due to a translation error, it was reported that Campbell had posed with “nude men” instead of “bare shoulders.”

For all the clamor surrounding it, Campbell’s premiership was short and tumultuous. It lasted for 132 days — the third shortest in Canadian history. She also became only the third PM — and first since Second World War — to be unseated at the same time that his or her party lost an election. What a tragic end for such a promising career.

In 1993, the Woodley photograph sold for $12,500 at an auction. Woodley remembers the entire episode here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 3, 2011 at 6:28 am

Posted in Politics, Society

Death of a Beautiful Woman

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It almost looks like a glamor shot magazines like Face or advertisers like United Colors of Benetton often throws your way. Her blonde hair looked so soft, her manicured fingernails so red, her glistening bracelet and handbag so readily beside, the red cross aide so solicitous in bending over her that you can almost feel like it has been staged. The woman was an actress named Adela Legarreta Rivas, but she was actually hit by a car and killed on Mexico City’s Avenida Chapultepec in 1979.

She was draped across a fallen pole, her arm hanging like a rag doll’s around it, the bridge of her perfect nose intersected by a single line of blood. It seems as if Edgar Allen Poe, he who elevated deaths of beautiful women into sublime art and said such death is “the most poetical topic in the world”, had taken this photo, but the man who captured this image was Enrique Metinides. Metinides, whose photos often looked like stills from pulp graphic novels and film noirs, is the most accomplished photographer for the Mexican version of tabloid press, the nota roja. As its name (bloody news) suggests, nota roja covers not celebrity scandals, but death and destruction: car crashes, fires, shootouts, suicides, etc.

Metinides is often called Mexican Weegee, but unlike Weegee, Metinides did not tune nightly into the police radio; he volunteered with Red Cross and often arrived at the scene with an ambulance crew. He photographed his first dead body before he was 12, a feat that earned him a nickname El Niño – the Kid – for his precocity. Although his work is not widely known outside of Mexico, this may be changing with a New York show in 2006, and a Time magazine feature recently.

See Time Magazine or Los Angeles Times for more graphic images from Enrique Metinides.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 1, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Mississippi, Matt Herron

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In 1965, at Jackson, Mississippi, Matt Herron took an iconic and ironic image from the civil rights era as a white policeman rips an American flag away from a young black boy, having already confiscated his ‘No More Police Brutality’ sign. Herron remembers the events that surrounded that World Press Photo prize wining photos:

The picture was taken at the side entrance to the Governor’s mansion on Capital Street in Jackson in the summer of 1965. The boy is Anthony Quinn, aged 5. His mother, Mrs. Ailene Quinn of McComb, Mississippi and her children were trying to see Governor Paul Johnson; they wanted to protest aganist the election of five Congressmen from districts where blacks were not allowed to vote. Refused admittance, they sat on the steps. The policeman struggling with Anthony is Mississippi Highway Patrolman Hughie Kohler. As Kohler attempted to confiscate the flag, Mrs. Quinn said: ‘Anthony, don’t let that man take your flag.’ Kohler went berserk, yanking Anthony off his feet.

In the South during the civil rights movement, the American flag was a potent symbol of support for racial integration (and support for federal law). Southerners who believed in racial segregation displayed Confederate flags instead. People were pulled from their cars by policemen and beaten simply for displaying an American flag on their license plates. So the simple act of a small child carrying an American flag represented defiance of Mississippi law and custom.

Anthony and his mother were arrested and hauled off to jail, which was a cattle stockade at the county fairground, since the city jails were already full of protesters. The Quinn protest was organized by COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), an umbrella organization responsible for most civil rights activities in the state. Today Anthony lives in Florida. I believe he is a lawyer. His mother died recently, and when Patrolman Kohler died a number of years ago, his obituary in the Jackson Daily News referred to this photograph and mentioned how Kohler regretted that moment ‘for the rest of his life’.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 25, 2011 at 11:48 pm

We’ll Always Have Paris

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This photo of love-struck teenagers in a cruise ship on the Seine, with a faint Eiffel Tower in the twilight distance, appeared in July 1989 issue of National Geographic. It may be less historically important, or iconic than many other photos featured on this blog, but it speaks to me on a more personal level — perhaps because I feel that sort of carefreeness slowly slipping away from me , perhaps because one of my close friends’ favorite photos, who knows? 

It is just one of those photos that really encapsulate the best practices and ideals of photojournalism. To get this photo, David Alan Harvey spent weeks living among a group of French teenagers. He went to school with, ate with, travelled with and slept in their homes. He recalls his days in France:

About 90 percent of the time, it was really boring. They were just doing homework or taking exams. But they got used to me and I became a mascot, so that they wouldn’t pay too much attention to me, and I was both a part of their lives yet detached enough to take the photographs. 

This picture is the most representative of the culture because it’s just after graduation, and you have the water and the Eiffel Tower in the background. I took more intimate photos too, but this one worked really well for the story. 

This picture also has a special meaning for me personally, because it’s taken very near where the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson lived. The French photographers were my heroes when I got started, and I spent time trying to emulate the street photography of Cartier-Bresson. But eventually I moved away from that and also away from black-and-white toward color photography. Cartier-Bresson wanted to be invisible, but I don’t. I want to be an integrated member of the group, and I think I achieved that with the photos in France.”

As it appeared in National Geographic

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 30, 2011 at 10:10 am

Serbia’s Atrocity, Holland’s Shame

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A Toast to Fratricide: Mladic (left) drinks with Karremans (middle)

I have previously covered the events leading to Srebrenica Massacre. This post continues the discussion.

In the days following the massacre, American spy planes flew over Srebrenica, and took photos showing the ground in vast areas around the town had been removed — a sign of mass burials. Early reports of massacres appeared here and there as the first survivors of the long march from Srebrenica began to arrive in Muslim-held areas a few days later.

The international community was horrified, but the Dutch — who previously enjoyed high reputation as peacekeepers — were almost unperturbed; when the Karremans Garrison which left Srebrenica to Ratko Mladic and his band of butchers returned to Zagreb, they were welcomed back by the Dutch crown prince and prime minister. As the news of the massacre became widespread, the Dutch newspaper the Telegraaf featured a photograph of twelve cheerful Dutch soldiers in Novi Sad, enjoying a post-hostage meal provided by the Serb government on 24th July. “A toast to freedom” read the headline, and the article now ironically reads, “Their dedication shows once again how well-equipped for its task the Dutch military is, when it comes right down to it”.

In the late 1995 — this after Miguel Gil Moreno, Dusko Tubic and David Rhode had covered and photographed the killing fields of Srebrenica — Karremans was promoted to the rank of colonel. More shockingly was the fate of a roll of film shot by a Dutch soldier, with photographs of the events in Srebrenica, which was destroyed in a darkroom in an action the Dutch parliament deemed as a “cover-up” by the Defense Ministry.

On 13th July, just before the massacre, a girl fetching water for her family in Potocari found nine bodies in a stream across the street from the UN base. A Dutch warrant officer Be Oosterveen was approached by a young local, who led him and another soldier towards the bodies. The Dutch soldiers both videotaped and photographed the bodies. However, the videotape was later destroyed by Dutch soldiers under orders from an officer because it also had video of top-secret Dutch air defense equipment. The photographs were “accidentally destroyed” during their development in a military film-processing lab.

Considering all this, the Netherlands’ fight to make Serbia’s EU accession dependent on the capture of Ratko Mladic seems pompous and ironic. Mladic, who was finally caught yesterday, was mainly responsible for Srebrenica (and many other atrocities during that excessive and brutal war), but the Dutch garrison, which wanted to go home; the UN high command, which wanted to end enclave problems in eastern Bosnia; and the Bosnian army which saw no value in protecting strategically unimportant Srebrenica must also share some of the blame. Srebrenica was a sad episode; it is a dark stain of Europe’s history, made all more tragic because it could have been averted.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 27, 2011 at 10:49 pm

Photographing Fabienne

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One thing I loved about reading old Life magazines is that they featured deep investigative reports with their evocative photos. It made you feel as if you were there, right at the centre of all the action — and I think this is something that was sadly lost with the demise of magazines like Life or Picture Post. So, this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find a piece of photo-investigative journalism that reminded me of those halcyon days of photojournalism. And it was online.

It is a fifteen-part (and growing) report on death of a young girl named Fabienne Cherisma in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake last year; the fifteen year old girl was shot three times — twice at point blank range — by the Haitian police, who thought she was a looter. No less than fourteen photographers captured the aftermath of Fabienne’s death, making it one of the most poignant images to come out of the Haitian tragedy.

As I have noted before, in such cases, photographers working for big news agencies usually have advantage; the most widely circulated image what that of Carlos Garcia Rawlins, who worked for Reuters. Vivid headwound, flowers that were peeking out from the pictureframe, her pink argyle sweater, and incongruously bright and attire were contrasted clearly against the drab ground and sky in Rawlins’ and many other photographers’ photos.  Soon after the photos were published, when Nathan Weber released the photo below — which showed multiple cameramen pointing their lens at the lifeless body of Fabienne — that hoary old chestnut of a controversy concerning the ethics of disaster photography popped up again.

On Prison Photography, Pete Brook closely followed the controversy and meticulously reconstructed the milieu surrounding her death. He talked to many photographers who were there in a series of compassionate, humane and insightful interviews. Like a detective, he analyses the gradual change of trickling blood and body and picture frame positions between different photographs and photographers to understand the event timeline, and ponders whether it would be possible to determine who fired the fatal shot. Equally interesting is Brook’s continuing coverage of the photographers’ fortunes after Haiti; three — James Oatway, Olivier Laban-Mattei and Fredric Sautereau — were honored for their work in Haiti; two others — Lucas Oleniuk and Paul Hansen — won awards for their photos of Fabienne.

Nathan Weber offered a different perspective

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 16, 2011 at 5:21 am

When Hitler Met His End

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“For seldom had so many millions of people hoped so implacably for the death of one man” wrote Time magazine. The magazine was of course writing about Adolf Hilter, whose death was announced by the Hamburg radio at about 10.30 pm on May 1st 1945, almost 66 years to the hour of bin Laden’s death-notice.

There were many karmic similarities between the ignominious ends of this and last century’s greatest villains. Bombed out or driven away from the nations they cynically manipulated, both men would met their demise surrounded only by a dwindling loyal cadre. The armies they wronged would carry the photos to figure out how a fugitive Hitler or bin Laden might disguise himself.

There were conflicting reports on Hitler’s last days, his power and sanity during the cornered days under the Reich Chancellery, and unsurprisingly there were conflicting reports on his death too. The West believed, based on testimonies by those who were in the bunker with him, that Hitler had shot himself; the Soviets only revealed in the late 1960s that Hitler took a cyanide pill. Hitler was identified by his dental records; the Soviets buried the body, but the East German government dug it up, burned it, and thrown the ashes into a river.

On its cover, Time magazine featured a portrait of Hitler with a bloody X through it — starting a powerful tradition that the magazine carried through its coverage on the demise of the Empire of Japan, Saddam Hussein, al Zarqawi, and now bin Laden (above). [Bin Laden cover was commissioned years ago, back in 2002.]

While it took the Internet only a few minutes to fake bin Laden’s final photo, it took the world of 1945 quite a while to come up with a photo of a man who vaguely resembled Hitler (ab0ve).

the origins of this video are murky

And an event of this scale required conspiracies too. Lack of photographic evidence surrounding Hitler’s death fuelled allegations that the Fuhrer had indeed escaped. A German submarine that escaped the Allied blockade to arrive in South America further escalated these rumors. No matter how or where he met his end, Adolf Hitler as a political force died in 1945. The Nazis would gain a place in popular culture, but more often than not, only as delusional and self-important vaudevillians.

If the Revolutions of 2011 are any guide, Islamic radicalism will probably follow this route too in a few years’ time.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 4, 2011 at 5:12 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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England, My England

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So perfect is the composition and the cacophony of the photograph above that on your first glance, you can almost wonder whether it is all staged. In his photo of holidayers at Blackpool, perhaps the best known of all the English holiday resorts, the photographer Chris Steele-Perkins delivered a masterclass in revealing the allure and the absurd behind deceptively simple surroundings.

The milieu was very British; the weather is gloomy, and the beach is littered. Blackpool’s omnipresent donkeys with their silly bows looked as if they have wandered into the wrong photograph. A muzzled dog urinates against the windbreak. But the central character of the scene looks imperturbable amidst the beaches’ sights, sounds and smells. The lounging man, his lunch lying next to him, is still wearing his formal socks as he rests yards away from the sea. He has ostensibly come to the beach to enjoy the elements, but his attire and demeanor suggest that he is as cocooned from the nature as sandwiches he has carefully wrapped away in aluminum foil. Beneath all his stoicism, his sense of discomfort is palpable. It was Steele-Perkins’ commentary on “Britishness” that invokes the best works of the satirist William Hogarth.

Chris Steele-Perkins is best known for his very first work “The Teds”, an immersive documentary on London’s Teddy Boy gangs, that captured not only the gangland culture but also fashion and life in the 70s London. His subsequent career recorded rural life in Durham, the Cumbria World Gurning Championships, life at St Thomas’ hospital and inner city racial conflicts. His current work in progress documents the often challenging lives of carers and the cared for. Chris presents a sweeping, unique mosaic of what he thinks makes England truly English. In his work throughout the 1980s and the 90s, Steele-Perkins offered a deeply pessimistic view of the British pursuit of pleasure. To him, this hedonism is not confined along class lines, noting his pictures “have nothing to do with celebrity or fame but of everyday-ness and how that can be special”. This view is reflected in a series of photos such as ‘Fightin a Night Club, London’, ‘Hospital Visit by Postman Pat and His Cat’ or ‘Juliana’s Summer Party, London’ collected in his aesthetically pleasing and cultural intriguing “The Pleasure Principle”. But ‘Blackpool Beach’ which was also included in the book is different; an ahedonistic tour de force, it is still, for millions of Britons, really is ‘the English at home’.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 1, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Toni Frissell, Tryall Plantations

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About fifteen minute west of the city of Montego Bay lies the Tryall Estate. When Toni Frissell took the enchanting photograph above at Tryall’s hilly 2,200-acre plantation, its world famous golf course didn’t exist yet. The golf course and many villas it would sprawl nearby would not arrive until 1958 — ten years after Frissell popularized the dreamlike landscape of Jamaica in her photos for Harper’s Bazaar.

Before being developed by the influential American businessmen in the 1950s, the Tryall Estate was only a storied, but forgettable outpost of Britain’s imperial past. Originally an English fort, it began cultivating sugarcane in the 1660s making it one of the oldest sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Sugarcane plantations and works were irreparably destroyed in the Slave rebellion of Christmas 1831, and the property was sold to the illustrious Anglo-Irish family of Browne. They turned the property firstly into a coconut plantation, and when it became unprofitable, into a hotel. Frissell actually was invited to take photos of the estate for its reopening after the WWII.

In the 1930s, Frissell introduced an important addition to the fashion photography. She was the first person to take models away from the confines of the studio and to photograph them in exotic places around the world. These dramatic settings and the animated poses she created would lead to a whole new type of fashion image. Although the era’s practices of using studios never actually went away, Frissell’s techniques would be soon copied by many.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 26, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields

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1.7 million Cambodians died during those bloody years

For five seemingly endless years, a former school in Phnom Penh codenamed S-21 was death’s antechamber. During the worse excesses of the Khmer Rouge, over 16,000 people were tortured and imprisoned in the rooms of this prison before being carted off to their executions in the nearby killing fields. And most of them passed in front of an expressionless teenager’s camera.

Nhem Ein was just ten when he left the family farm and joined the Khmer Rouge with his four brothers in 1970. In 1975, he was sent to Shanghai to study photography and filmmaking, and was subsequently made chief photographer at S-21. Using looted cameras, he meticulously chronicled life inside Pol Pot’s abattoir (New York Times)

If Brother Number One’s killing machines worked perfectly, it was due to the help of thousands like Nhem Ein who worked tirelessly to keep cogs well-oiled. As he removed their blindfolds and adjusted lights, Nhem Ein would lie to the newly arrived prisoners that “I’m just a photographer; I don’t know anything.” He would photograph hundreds of people a day, processing his film overnight to be attached to individual dossiers, comfortably cocooned from terrible realities of the Killing Fields from inside his isolated darkroom. He was careful not to let screams from torture chambers disturb his sleep, for he had to get up early to photograph the next batch of prisoners, he later recalled. As Arendt said of Eichmann, it was banality of evil personified, and like Eichmann, Nhem Ein had since retreated into bureaucratic doublespeak that he merely did what was asked of him.

That said, life was definitely not easy working for mercurial Pol Pot. When Nhem Ein accidentally damaged during development a negative of Pol Pot’s visit to China — there were spots on the eyes of the leader — he was sent to a prison farm. Only by convincing his interrogators that the film had been damaged before it reached him, Nhem Ein was spared the fate of thousands whose portraits he had taken.

Nhem Ein’s original negatives were left behind inside S-21 after the fall of Khmer Rouge. In 1997, two photographers, Douglas Niven and Chris Riley, discovered some 7,000 of them in S-21 and published 78 of them in a book called ”The Killing Fields.” Identifying them is next to impossible.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 12, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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