Iconic Photos

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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

The Milkman

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Keep Calm and Carry On, proclaimed the poster which is now overused and overparodied. Ironically, the poster was never used — the campaign was abandoned just as the Second World War began. Instead, various photos taken during the war, of ordinary people ‘carrying on’ conveyed the same message.

Most famous of these photos was Fred Morley’s milkman, who was seen doing his rounds, even as the Blitz reduced the apartments of his erstwhile customers into rubble. The day was October 9th 1940 — the 32nd straight day of bombing raids on Britain. The Nazi invasion plans had been thwarted, as the weather conditions deteriorated into winter conditions, making massive aerial campaigns harder to sustain. The Luftwaffe had just switched its main effort into night-time attacks, which became their official policy just two days prior on 7th October. Although not as serious as in a raid two months later,  St Paul’s Cathedral was hit on the early hours of October 9th, but the bomb failed to detonate.

A sea of destruction awaited Morley the next morning. Working for Fox Photos, he knew that if he took the pictures of the destroyed homes, his photos would not be published. A lot of his earlier work had been censored. In front of a back drop of firefighters struggling to contain a fire, he had an idea. He borrowed the coat and milk carrier from a milkman and asked his assistant to walk across the bombed moonscape. London carries on, the stage photo proclaimed, and the censor waved the picture through.

For the capital, tougher days were still ahead. On 14th and 15th October, the heaviest attack saw hundreds of German bombers dotting the skies above London. In ‘Second Great Fire of London’ on the night of 29th December 1940, nineteen churches, thirty-one guild halls and all of Paternoster Row, including five million books went up in flames. But the capital did carry on remarkably: the approval for the government’s conduct of the war nor the percentage of people believing Britain would win it barely dipped even during those dark days. A survey in December, after three months of air-raids, showed that in that surly British way, weather was a bigger worry for Londoners than the Blitz. In The Blitz: The British Under Attack, Julian Gardiner noted that Londoners seeking shelter in a tube station had a weekly discussion group at which the topics included travel, unemployment and “Should women have equal pay for equal work?” Lord Woolton, the popular Minister for Food, quipped, “egg rationing produced more emotion than the blitz.”

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I have started a Patreon. 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, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. 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. Here is the link to Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos. 

 

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

September 4, 2017 at 9:37 am

Posted in Politics, War

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Hungerwinter

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Almost every story and discussion about the bitter Dutch Hungerwinter of 1944-45 would feature the photo above, Boy with a Pan (“Jongen met het pannetje” in Dutch) — an iconic image of life under Nazi occupation and civilian suffering during the Second World War as well as that of a famine that hit a developed country. It was instantly controversial when it was published — many Allied soldiers and generals had it in their quarters to underline the brutality of a war whose ending could not come early enough. The famed Dutch artist Piet Zwart declared it illustrates “a period of social suffering in a way that was legible for everyone of every era.”

It was brutal few months to cap a brutal war. Parts of the country had already been liberated, but in the chaos and disruption of war, agriculture and food supplies broke down. Gas and electricity supplies also ran out, ushering in a hungry and cold winter. In that sense, the Hungerwinter, the last famine to have occurred in a developed country, was a case study on how fragile our logistics and agriculture supply chains are, and how they could be easily disrupted and destroyed in chaos and hysteria.

Butter disappeared in October 1944, followed by vegetable fats, cheese, and eventually meat. Bread and potato rations were tightened again and again. Even the black market ran out of food, and people resorted to eating leaves and tulip bulbs. In some places, the weekly calorie ration fell below the daily calorie allocation recommended. Over 16,000 Dutch people died, mostly old people and children. Many others who grew up during the famine suffered other diseases such as anemia when they grew up.

The photo above encapsulated those bitter days — widely reprinted perhaps because it looked more allegorical than other more harrowing pictures that came out of this famine (of gaunt emaciated children). It could also be contrasted with how later famines in less developed parts of the world were reported and photographed. The boy in the photo was small, his legs boney, his hands clutching the pan tightly in a clawlike grip. He stood on an empty street and stared into the distance, in an image that brought to light the worst of Dickensian horrors. In May 1960, on the fifteenth anniversary of the liberation, the Dutch magazine Margriet claimed that the boy was Willem (Pim) van Schie, whose family lived in The Jordaan neighbourhood of Amsterdam, but Pim said he could not remember it.

The photographer was Emmy Andriesse, a member of “The Underground Photographers” (De Ondergedoken Camera), a Nazi resistance group unique to the Netherlands which contributed to the war effort by taking photos of the occupation from their cameras hidden in briefcases, clothes, newspapers, and shopping baskets. For Andriesse, a Dutch woman of Jewish origin, this was a doubly dangerous job — and her photos of Hungerwinter, like others taken by De Ondergedoken Camera were smuggled out to be reprinted abroad. Andriesse developed cancer and died young in 1953, leaving behind 14,000 negatives and contact sheets which were never published until the 2000s.

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I have started a Patreon. 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, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. 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.

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

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 6, 2017 at 6:56 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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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

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

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A Massacre at Pancevo

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An enduring myth about the Second World War is the canard that the Germany Army, the fabled Wehrmacht was an apolitical organization largely innocent of Nazi crimes. In his definitive The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality, Wolfram Wette dismissed this view: while the Wehrmacht treated prisoners of war on the Western front honorably, on the Eastern front, its campaigns were barbaric.

This was a view that the Germans themselves were uncomfortable with, until very recently. When an exhibition “The War of Annihilation. Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941 to 1944” opened in Hamburg in 1995 and toured 33 German and Austrian cities in the following two years, it was greeted with protests, denunciations, and even violence in Munich and Bavaria.

At the center of controversy were photos taken by Gerhard Gronefeld, showing an execution in the Yugoslavian town of Pancevo on 22nd April 1941. They showed an ugly, uncomfortable truth: that the ordinary soldiers were just as lethal as the SS in exterminating Jews and civilians. In the photos, executed civilians lie next to a cemetery wall as a Wehrmacht officer pointed his gun at the dying, as a SS-officer looked on. Thirty-six civilians were executed — 18 men were shot, and 17 men and one woman were hanged. The “most terrible scene which I photographed ever,” Gronefeld recalled, and he did not submit the photographs to the army magazine for which he was working. He secreted the photos until 1963, when they were published.

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Controversial though it was, the 1995 Exhibition was a landmark moment. As it toured across Germany and Austria, many veterans, ex-servicemen, and their families donated letters and photos and came forward to recall how the army had been deployed as state executioner. Gronefeld’s photo ran on the cover of Der Spiegel on 19th March 1997. Christian Social Union, the natural party of government in Bavaria, denounced it as an insult to the Wehrmacht, as neo-Nazis marched through Munich to protest the exhibition. An academic at Germany Army’s Bundeswehr University came out defending Pancevo as an act of defense, allowable under the international law*. As for Pancevo, it was once again in the news in the 1990s as the Balkans spiraled once more into a fratricidal war.

* See: Franz Seidler, Crimes Against the Wehrmacht (1997). p.18-19.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 16, 2017 at 6:22 am

David Rubinger (1924-2017)

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It is hard to find a photographer who embodied his nation as perfectly as David Rubinger did with Israel. Born in Vienna in 1924, he emigrated to British Palestine in 1939, and began his career in photography serving in the British army’s Jewish Brigade. By the time he died this week, he had been the official photographer of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament,  where he was the only photographer whose work is on permanent display.

In between, he married a concentration camp survivor and took intimate photos of Jewish establishment, often in their private moments. Golda Meir blew smoke into middle distance. David Ben-Gurion and Ariel Sharon surveyed Israeli defense lines. He followed soldier and archeologist Yigael Yadin into caves above the Judean Desert. He was the only photographer to be permitted to enter the Knesset cafeteria.

But Rubinger’s most famous photos were taken in wartime. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he took photos of the Egyptian gunners from a helicopter (carrying the Israeli chief of General Staff) which was hit. Earlier, during the 1967 Six Day War, he took his most famous photo, Paratroopers at the Western Wall (above).

Between 1949 and 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were controlled by Jordan as part of the armistice between two countries. Jordan’s ruling royal family had always wanted to claim the entire Jerusalem to make up for the family’s lost guardianship of Mecca, which was lost to Saudi Arabia, and when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel in 1967, Jordan swiftly moved in to annex the entire Jerusalem. Hand-to-hand fighting between Israeli and Jordanian soldiers ensued on the Temple Mount. Rubinger was there to capture the end of fighting; he recalled heading back from the Sinai front:

“That night I heard some talk on the command radios about something happening in Jerusalem. I didn’t hesitate and just snuck into a helicopter that was evacuating wounded soldiers. When I got to Jerusalem, I heard gunshots, so I ran to the Western Wall, maybe 20 minutes after it was taken. I laid down on the ground and these three soldiers just passed by. I didn’t think much of the photo at the time.”

[The army’s chief rabbi arrived, below]. I thought that would be ‘the shot’. When I developed the photos at home, I told my wife: ‘Rabbi Goren, that’s a great photo, historical.’ But my wife pointed at the image of the soldiers and said: ‘that’s a nice photograph.’ And I told her: ‘What nonsense.’ Part of the face is cut off one the right said, in the middle the nose protrudes, and on the left there’s only half a face… photographically speaking, this isn’t a good photo.”

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But others thought different; the photo was widely reprinted — mostly due to the fact that Rubinger had previously agreed to give his negatives to the government in exchange for front-line access — and eventually, he relented. He put it on the cover of his autobiography, and in 2002, he re-staged it with three women to raise awareness for gender equality. In many ways, it was a fitting photo for Rubinger, whose photo career took off in 1954 after taking the photo of a Catholic nun searching for a hospice patient’s dentures which had fallen out the hospice’s window into Eastern Jerusalem, then Jordanian territory.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 2, 2017 at 7:55 pm

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

Ethiopian Soldier – Eisenstadt

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In December 1934, a border dispute between Abyssinia and the Italian Somaliland led to a small war. Haile Selassie, the emperor of Abyssinia, sought the help from the League of Nations. The League — dominated by European powers — responded by banning arms sales to both Italy and Abyssinia, a move which harmed the latter greatly.

Instead, the League, an international body founded after the First World War to arbitrate international disputes, reverted back into settling disputes a la Concert of Europe: Britain and France, both worn out by war and depression, secretly agreed to give Abyssinia to Italy.

Emboldened, Italy sent a 400,000-strong army into Abyssinia even as the League re-elected the Italian Marquis Alberto Theodoli, as chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission, an important League body. That winter, however, the opinion turned as the Italians bombarded villages, used poison gas and attacked Red Cross hospitals.

While it was a conflict fought mostly out of the world’s eyes, photography played a significant part. The uneven terms of the conflict were made clear in the photos of Alfred Eisenstadt, working for Berliner Illustriete Zeitung, who saw the poor benighted country before the Italian army arrived. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s Italy attempted to use Abyssinia’s own poverty as a justification for an invasion. Reprinted were postcards and photos of nude locals, to lend credence to the narrative that Italy was “intervening only to bring law and order to a backwards, warlord-ridden, and slave trading land,” as Susan Pedersen notes in The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire, her excellent account of diplomacy in the interwar years.

Eisenstadt’s pictures proved more powerful. His picture of the bare feet of an Abyssinian soldier was reprinted around the world but censored in Italy. In fact, the worldwide sales of his photo enabled Jewish Eisenstadt to emigrate from Germany. Although later to be often miscaptioned as the feet of a slain soldier, mud-caked feet wrapped in dirty WWI-era puttees belonged to a soldier participating in a rifle practice.

Public opinion did turn against Italy, but it was too late: the Italian conquest was nearly complete. The League voted for economic sanctions onto Italy in May 1936 but by this time, Italy had already walked out of the League Council. Following Japan and Germany, which withdrew from the League in 1933 rather than to submit to its decisions, Italy left the League in 1937. Fascist Italy was now inexorably allied with Germany and Japan and contours of a global conflict were slowly settling.

(For Japan’s withdraw from the League, here; to follow the future career of Haile Selassie, here).

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 5, 2017 at 1:27 am

Look Back in Anger — Nazism in 1930s

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This year marks the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. Iconic Photos look back at how it all began — and how we covered it. 

Hitler’s first appearance in Iconic Photos date from 1914, when a figure allegedly identified as Adolf Hitler was seen outside Field Marshals’ Hall listening to the announcement of the First World War. After the war, his rise in a defeated and dejected Germany was meteoric. In 1926, he became the Führer of the National Socialists; the then-37-year old was also already a millionaire, thanks to his book Mein Kampf.

His party won the plurality in the elections of 1933. On January 30th 1933 when President Paul von Hindenburg, hero of a World War, called upon Hitler, villain of another, to be German Chancellor. Less than a month later, the Reichstag burnt down in a pivotal event which paved the way for the rise of Nazi consolidation. Hitler fingered Communist agitators as arsonists; civil liberties were suspended, and countless politicians and journalists were locked up, and the communist party was outlawed. When Hitler visited Tanneberg — the site of a famous battle in which East Prussia was liberated from the Russians during the First World War by Hindenburg — later that year, the ceremony was uncomfortably patriotic and militarist. Germany rearmament began on those blood-soaked fields.

A strong re-emerging Germany was on display in pomp and splendor of Berlin Olympics in 1936. There were a few hitches for the Nazis, like  Jesse Owens winning 100 m sprint and smashing Hitler’s theories of racial superiority, but the Olympics were a great success for Germany. The next year, the Fuhrer welcomed the Duke of Windsor, the ci-devant Edward VIII, to his Obersalzberg retreat.

Hitler’s plans for a Greater Germany were sown years ahead. Already in 1934, he has orchestrated the murder of Austrian dictator Engelbert Dollfuss, who was vehemently against Nazism, and set Austria on the course that would eventually led to its capitulation to his Third Reich in the Anschluss of 1938.  A few months later, British Prime Minister was in Munich to sign the Anglo-German Non-Aggression Declaration. Sudetenland was transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany in an attempt to satisfy Hitler’s desire for Lebensraum.

A little over a year later, emboldened German troops were in Warsaw, having divided Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the world was in a cataclysmic world war yet again.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 14, 2014 at 5:12 am

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with ,

Leaders of Britain, 1944

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I am long fascinated by a photographer’s take on power, such as Platon’s photos of world leaders at the UN or Avedon’s study of America on the bicentennial year. Flipping casually through a Life magazine from 1944, I stumbled upon a photoessay called ‘Leaders of Britain’ by the great Yousef Karsh.

After the success of his photograph of Churchill, Karsh crossed the Atlantic in 1943 onboard a Norwegian freighter carrying a cargo of explosives from Canada to Britain. He stayed in London to photograph wartime leaders and intellectuals, whose portraits were published in the Illustrated London News to raise the nation’s morale. Of this selection, it is interesting to note what Life (and Karsh) decided to publish in 1944.

In the photo-essay at least, Britain of 1944 was a martial society; the King appeared in uniform, alongside Sir Charles Portal, the head of the Bomber Command; Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff; Admiral Cunningham, who was already secretly supervising the preparations for the D-Day landings, and submariner Max Kennedy Horton.

And then there were a smattering of politicians who would re-shape post-war Britain. Two future prime ministers were there (Attlee and Eden) but other faces proved to be more influential in the coming years. Plans of Lord Woolton, firstly as Minister for Food and then as Minister for Reconstruction, were more immediately felt, but Bevin as the Minister for Labour would enshrine an industrial settlement that remained in place mid-1980s. Cripps as the supremo for both economy and finance, was at the Exchequery  for three years in the post-war cabinet, and would preside over a devaluation, rationings and nationalisation of coal and steel industries. Even Lord Mountbatten — photographed as Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command but later Viceroy of India — left behind a bitter legacy in the subcontinent.

Intellectuals photographed ranged from George Bernard Shaw on the cover to writer H. G. Wells to cartoonist David Low. Others photographed by Karsh during his sojourn in England [but not published by Life] included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Halifax, Field Marshalls John Dill and Jan Smuts, and actor Noel Coward. Life opened the essay which the person the magazine deemed most powerful in Britain — the newspaper proprietor  Lord Beaverbrook, the master of assembly line, who was the minister of supply in the war cabinet.

Notably missing from the essay was the photo that started it all — Churchill’s growling portrait from 1941.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

March 7, 2014 at 6:20 am

Posted in Politics, War

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Congo | Andre Lefebvre

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In 1960, a group of firebrand Congolese managed to outmaneuver the Belgian government into giving them independence, rather than a phased transfer of power it envisioned. Prospects for the country were bleak: in the country of 14 million people, there were only three native Congolese in its 1,400-strong civil service, and two were recent appointments. In 1960, only 136 children completed secondary education and thirty graduated from university. There were no Congolese doctors, no secondary school teachers, nor army officers.

In many ways, the Congo was just a mining camp. It was uranium from Katanga region in the Congo that fueled the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The country produced nearly 10% of the world’s copper, 60% of its uranium, 70% of its cobalt, and 70% of its industrial diamonds, all of it under auspices of the Union Miniere which reported annual sales of $200 million USD in 1960. The company was loathe to give it all away and urged the resource-rich provinces of Katanga and Kasai to secede. 

The war was bloody and would claim over 100,000 lives. The United Nations intervened, but Congo’s new Prime Minister Patrick Lumumba quickly antagonized the UN mission, led by the respected Nobel Laureate Ralph Bunche. Despite his later mythic status as a secular saint of anti-imperialism, Lumumba was far from an agreeable figure. He hated and later purged other moderate politicians. On his only visit to the US, he shocked the officials by demanding a female companion for him — ‘une blanche blonde’ he specified.

Meanwhile, the secessionist war accelerated. Lumumba’s battles against Baluba tribes took on genocide fervour according to the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold. Among the western casualties was an American journalist named Henry Taylor, his death magnified and scrutinized even more for he was the son of the American ambassador to Switzerland. Taylor was killed in a clash between government troops and Baluba tribesmen — a scene (above) well-documented by Paris Match photographer Andre Lefebvre who was traveling with Taylor at the time. The United States was now slowly being sucked into the conflict, not least by arrival of Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops into the Congo on Lumumba’s invitation.

The Eisenhower administration supported a palace/army coup in the Congo; Lumumba first sought asylum in an UN compound, and then headed off to Stanleyville, his power base; in a characteristic move, he made frequent stops to give fiery speeches to local villagers along his trip. He was denounced, arrested and handed off to Baluba soldiers. On the night of 17th January 1961, he and two others put on the back of a pick-up truck headed to a remote clearing and — eternity.

Other players from that tumultuous year not long survived. Hammarskjold was next to go — he died in a plane crash en route to mediate the Katanga ceasefire talks. The mining state itself was wound up in late 1962, when the United Nations put an end to its secession in a series of decisive raids. On December 31, 1966, the Congolese government nationalized the Union Miniere, the powerful conglomerate that started it all, seizing over $800 million of the company’s assets.

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Not much is known about Andre Lefebvre (1919 – 1984). His photos from the ambush that killed Taylor were grisly, and showed government troops machine-gunning and bayoneting the Balubas. Lefebvre himself took a bullet to his feet in the crossfire. He retired from Paris Match in 1968.

I have previously covered Congo in other posts, ranging from the atrocities of Leopoldine Congo to its hectic independence day to last photo of Lumumba.

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Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 22, 2014 at 4:46 am

Posted in War

Tagged with , ,

Corpsman In Anguish | Cathy LeRoy

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Vietnam was to be a photographer’s conflict. A familiar tread for many struggling artist, photographer, or bohemian was the offices of the Associated Press in Saigon, where the legendary photo editor Horst Faas held court. Among many who came to Faas in 1966 was a petite 21-year old French girl named Cathy LeRoy. Defying her factory-manager father, she worked 18 hours a day as an interviewer in a Paris employment agency to save for a one-way ticket to Saigon. She only carried $200 and a Leica M2. Faas gave her three rolls of black and white film and assurances to give her $15 for each picture used. 

The U.S. Army was skeptical of LeRoy at first. She didn’t speak English (apart from four-letter words she would soon pick up from the Marines); she was 5ft, 85-pounds, comically carried cameras and equipment close to her bodyweight, and trundled around with size-6 combat boots too big for her size-4 feet. She was also soon be banned from the frontline for six months for cussing a senior officer. But she spent more time at the front — three weeks a month — than any other woman journalist in Vietnam, and a year later, she became the first accredited journalist to participate in a combat parachute jump, joining the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Her pictures from Vietnam were stunning. Her photos from Battle of Hill 881 evoked “ghosts of Iwo Jima and Pork Chop Hill,” Time magazine wrote in May 1967.  Her photos of corpsman Vernon Wike during the battle was a triptych of an all-too-familiar scene: in the first, Wike has two hands on his friend’s chest, trying to staunch the wound; in the second, he tries to find a heartbeat; in the third frame, “Corpsman In Anguish”, he realized the man is dead. 

LeRoy herself came very close to death two weeks later. Her Nikon barely stopped a piece of mortar shrapnel that ripped open her chest. She said that she thought the last words she would ever hear were, “I think she’s dead, sarge.” During the Tet offensive in 1968, LeRoy was briefly captured by the North Vietnamese during the battle for Hue. LeRoy’s photos of her captivity later made the cover of Life, ‘A Remarkable Day in Hue: the Enemy Lets Me Take His Picture‘. She was the first person to take photos of North Vietnamese Army Regulars behind their lines.

In 1972, Leroy shot and directed Operation Last Patrol, a film about Ron Kovic and the anti-war Vietnam veterans. She was in Beirut during the Israeli siege of the city in 1982. Her pictures there were equally poignant. LeRoy died in 2006.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

January 13, 2014 at 8:58 am

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

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