Iconic Photos

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Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Bangladesh, Rashid Talukdar

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When Mohammed Ali Jinnah became the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1947, he bemoaned that he inherited a “mutilated, truncated, moth-eaten Pakistan”. The British partition of her Indian possession created two countries, secular India, and two predominantly-Moslem areas — East and West Pakistans — that sandwiched it. Apart from religion, two areas had very little in common, in geography, in language, and in culture. Although over-populated East Pakistan had more people, West Pakistan held the lion’s share of power, and government subsidies.

Equally vexing to East Pakistanis was the issue of who minority Hindus, who were marginalized. All these grievances exploded in December 1970, when poor government response to a cyclone triggered civil unrest. In March 1971, West Pakistan responded by launching a military operation in against Bengali civilians, students, intelligentsia, and armed personnel who were finally demanding separation of the East from West Pakistan. A guerrilla war that claimed as many as 3 million — one of the bloodiest in modern history — unfolded for next 266 days, with East Pakistanis being supported by India.

On December 3rd, in a severely miscalculated move, West Pakistan began a pre-emptive attack on the western border of India. India promptly declared war on Pakistan, and came to the defense of the Bengali separatists. In one of the shortest wars in history, West Pakistan surrendered in the east 12 days later. West Pakistan became just Pakistan; the new nation of Bangladesh was born.

In the days immediately preceding their surrender, the West Pakistanis either ordered or led the extermination of a large section of the intellectual community of Bangladesh in a last ditch effort to wreck the new country. The worst were the horrors of Rayerbazar killing fields (14 December 1971) which were later captured by Rashid Talukdar. The above picture appeared to be a marble sculpture among rocks but was in fact a dismembered head.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

Posted in Society, War

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V J Day Kiss

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Here are three frames from Eisenstaedt’s set of the sailor kissing the nurse. In the book Eisenstaedt on Eisentstaedt, the photographer wrote:

I saw a sailor running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight. Whether she was a grandmother, stout, thin, old, didn’t make a difference. I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse…. It was done within a few seconds.”

Originally, this most famous of World War II photos did not make the cover of Life magazine in which it first appeared; it showed up on page 27, full-page, but amid a whole series of somewhat similar pictures from across the country under the headline, “The Men of War Kiss From Coast to Coast.” The photo didn’t appear on a Life cover until 2005.

However, in October 1980, Life did run a special spread entitled “Who Is the Kissing Sailor?” Ten sailors wrote to the magazine, each one insisting with convincing evidence — a distinctive hairline, a signature vein on the right hand, a newly acquired Quartermaster 1st Class patch — that he was the “kissing sailor”. Three women also wrote in and claimed to be the nurse.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 14, 2011 at 5:42 am

Posted in Politics, War

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Three Flags of Khaldei

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Yesterday I posted about Khaldei and three tableclothes-cum-flags he took from Moscow to Berlin. Here’s how they went up in Berlin:

The first flag was raised next to the Nazi Eagle at the Templehof Airport. The Eagle was dismantled at the end of the war and taken to West Point in 1960. It was quietly returned to Templehof in 1985, and has since been serving as the Berlin Airlift memorial on the airport grounds.

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The second flag was hoisted next to the destroyed Quadriga on the Brandenburg Gate. The series of photos above suggest that there was some confusion as to which side of the Quadriga should the flag go. In the third picture, we see the flag already flying (on northside), and Khaldei himself poses before the Quadriga. The gate, which was badly damaged, but miraculously still standing by the end of the war, was restored by the governments of two Berlins — although at the Communists’ insistence, stood without Iron Cross and Prussian Eagle until 1991.

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The raising of the third flag became the iconic image of Nazi Germany’s final defeat. Note two watches on the soldier supporting the flag-bearer. Despite being the primary scene of the Soviet airstrikes and the symbolic flag raising, the Reichstag was a mere symbol. It had remained unused since the Fire of 1933.

The photo here suggests that Meliton Kantaria and Mikhail Yegorov raised that flag. It remains a mystery whether the duo (along with a third man, Alexei Berest) were the first soldiers who raised the original flag 2 days earlier, or whether propaganda was given to them just because they were a Georgian and a Russian respectively, two of Stalin’s favored nationalities. (And as I noted yesterday, Yegorov died in 1946, from drunk-driving).

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

August 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

Mussolini’s Demise

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During the last days of the Second World War in Italy, Benito Mussolini attempted to escape the advancing Allied Army by hiding in a German convoy headed toward the Alps. Partisans stopped and searched the convoy at a small village on Lake Como; in the back of a truck, they found a private suspiciously wearing a general’s pants under his overcoat. It was, of course, Mussolini.

The partisans took him prisoner and he was later joined by his mistress, Clara Petacci. The council of partisan leaders, lead by the Communists, secretly decided to execute Mussolini and 15 leading Fascists. They were executed on April 29, 1945, and their bodies were brought back to Milan, where the fascist dictator’s meteoric rise to power began two decades ago; the bodies were hung from an Esso gas station in the Piazzale Loreto, the scene where Mussolini’s own fascists executed fifteen partisans (the so-called Martyrs of Piazzale Loreto) the previous year.

The photos of Mussolini’s gruesome demise was widely reproduced and sold to many Allied soldiers. Meanwhile in Berlin, Hitler heard how Mussolini was executed and vowed he would not let this happen to him. The end was near and Gotterdammerung was about to begin. (See an extremely gruesome picture of Mussolini’s defaced (literally) body here).

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Mussolini’s body was buried in a secret grave, but fascists found the body and removed it a year later. A small trunk containing the remains moved from a local convent to a monastery to a police constabulary until it was finally returned to Mussolini’s widow in 1957, and was buried at Predappio, Il Duce’s birthplace.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 23, 2011 at 8:50 am

Hitler’s Little Jig

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Seventy-one years ago today, Adolf Hitler accepted the surrender of the French government at a ceremony in Compiegne, France. On June 21, 1940, Hitler melodramatically received France’s surrender in the same railroad car in which Germany had signed the 1918 armistice that had ended the First World War, thereby adding an additional flourish to century-long rivalry between France and Germany. (In 1918, the Armistice was singed in that railcar because it had once belong to Napoleon III, who lost the Franco-Prussian War).

It was an episode full of pointless symbolism. Hitler sat in the same chair in which Marshal Foch had sat when he faced the defeated Germans in 1918. After listening to the reading of the preamble, Hitler – in a calculated gesture of disdain to the French delegates – left the carriage, leaving the negotiations to General Wilhelm Keitel (who ironically would sign a surrender of Germany five years later).

After stepping outside, while talking to his generals and aides, Hitler stepped backwards; however, this is not what audiences in the Allied countries saw. John Grierson, director of the Canadian information and propaganda departments, noticed that Hitler raised his leg rather high up while stepping backwards. He looped this moment repeatedly to create the appearance that Hitler was childishly jumping with joy.

In those days of newsreels before films, the scene was played over and over again in movie theaters, and served the purpose of provoking popular disdain towards Hitler. 

The Armistice site was destroyed on Hitler’s orders three days later; the monuments, which included a German eagle impaled by a sword, and a large stone tablet which read “Here on the eleventh of November 1918 succumbed the criminal pride of the German Reich, vanquished by the free peoples which it tried to enslave”, were destroyed. A statue of Foch was left intact so that it would be honoring a wasteland. The Armistice carriage was taken to Berlin, but later destroyed in war. See here for Hitler’s reaction to the Armistice site.

 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 21, 2011 at 10:16 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

To Those We Lost

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Fifty-seven years ago today died one of the first and brightest stars of photojournalism — Robert Capa, the Hungarian-born visionary who defined the word “war photographer”. In addition to covering the course of the Second World War in London, North Africa, Italy, Normandy Landings and the Liberation of Paris, he reported from four different wars: the Spanish Civil War, the Sino-Japanese War, Arab-Israeli War and the First Indochina War. The above photo was the last one he took before he stepped on a landmine in Indochina on May 25th 1954.

On the Huffington Post, David Schonauer, the former editor-in-chief of American Photo Magazine, wrote a tribute to all the war photographers we lost, from Capa to Hetherington and Hondros: (To that list, we must now add Anton Hammerl).

They join the likes of Ken Oosterbroek, a member of the so-called Bang Bang Club of photojournalists immortalized now in a new movie. Oosterbroek was killed in 1994 while covering the violence in South Africa during the final days of apartheid. They join Olivier Rebbot, killed in El Salvador in 1981 while on assignment for Newsweek. Rebbot was a model for the photographer played by Nick Nolte in the 1983 film Under Fire. They join Robert Capa, killed near Thai Binh, Vietnam in 1954, who was the model for all who would follow in his profession. If the war photographer has come to be seen as a romantic figure, we have the Hemingwayesque Capa to thank.

It was Capa, famed for covering the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach, who said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and the photographers who followed him into Vietnam took his advice. Vietnam was a particular deadly place for photographers, who jumped aboard helicopters alongside soldiers to fly into firefights. The names of the dead — Larry Burrows, Gilles Caron, Henri Huet, Robert Ellison, Dickie Chapelle, Charles Eggleston, and Oliver Noonan among them — have become legend. The haunting 1997 book Requiem memorialized these journalists — 135 photographers from different nations known to have died in Vietnam.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 25, 2011 at 12:01 am

One Night in Tal Afar

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In January 2005, photographer Chris Hondros was embedded with the US troops in the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar; the town had seen frequent clashes between US forces and insurgents, and just after dusk, as the curfew was coming into force, a red car ignored the warning shots and rushed past the patrol. The soldiers believed that it was a suicide attack, and opened fire.

Inside the car was an ethnic Turkoman family rushing to the hospital for a treatment for their ill-son, Rakan; the parents were killed, and five children in the back — the oldest a teenager, the youngest, 6 — were left bloodied and traumatized, before the soldiers realized that it was a civilian car. They carried the traumatised children to the pavement and started binding their wounds. Hondros’s photographs of the incident revealed not only the tragedies suffered by so many civilians in Iraq, but also tough decisions the soldiers faced under duress. Especially haunting was the picture of the youngest girl, Samar Hassan, crying and covered in the blood of her parents. The blood on the pavement, her hands and face, as well as the red of her dress, makes this photo an instantly disturbing image.

Hondros was working for Getty, and the photos were quickly distributed, and became some of the most iconic pictures to come out of the Iraq War. While the photograph led to him being sent to Boston for treatment, Rakan was accused of being an American spy on his return. Three years later, he would be killed in a bomb attack. Samar Hassan had never seen the photo until last week, when The New York Times traced her to the northern Iraqi town of Mosul. Samar, now 12, told them that the picture showed, ““the sad thing that is happening in Iraq.”

Equally sad is the fact that the general public does not see many such pictures; the U.S. military, which tend to keep many graphic images away from the public eye, was deeply bothered by Hondros. The New York Times claimed that he was removed from his embedded assignment, although Hondros conceded that he left on his own accord after a spat between Getty, his employer, and the military over the pictures. Hondros would go on to win the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his work in Iraq, and to cover natural disasters and military conflicts across the world, including the current crisis in Libya. Two weeks ago, Hondros was killed, alongside Tim Hetherington, in Misrata. He was 41.

See the full gallery here.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 8, 2011 at 11:21 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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Osama bin Laden (1957 – 2011)

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Osama bin Laden, America’s ultimate boogeyman for two decades is dead, a victim of whirlwinds he contemptuously sowed. 

You don’t need this blog to tell you this, because the international press and social media has already done their jobs. But here is how the story unfolded:

The story broke online as the chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” Earlier, as the White House corespondents were being summoned back, the President and the Vice President briefed the former presidents and the congressional leaders respectively. The president’s address to the nation, originally scheduled for 10.30 p.m. (Washington D.C. time), began sixty five minutes late — probably because Mr. Obama was writing his own speech. (Even earlier, someone had unknowingly livetweeted about the operation that would eventually kill bin Laden).

That bin Laden’s demise was a culmination, if not cloture, of a decade-long multinational manhunt was clear in obituaries major newspapers quickly released, the obituaries that they evidently had written years ago. To the New York Times, he was “An Emblem of Evil in the U.S., an Icon to the Cause of Terror”. BBC took a measured stance, calling him a terrorist only once in their obituary. The Telegraph’s title, “the presumed architect of the shocking events of September 11”, is a bit wrong, but not as wrong as filling it under ‘religion obituaries’. In the unique journalese it now reserves for only the most solemn occasions, Time declared, “Death Comes For the Master Terrorist.”  “A moment of unadulterated celebration” noted the Economist, after a 6.5-hour delay that seemed eternal by today’s standards.

Ben Macintyre’s flowery piece for The Times of London called him “the ultimate anti-hero for the last decade”. At Time, Tony Karon reiterates his oft-repeated stance that bin Laden had largely failed, a position this blog had endorsed before. At the New York Times too, Ross Douthat reflects on “The Death of a Failure“, while Nic Kristof ponders the life after bin Laden. For me personally, deeply troubling is the fact that bin Laden was finally discovered not in a squalid Afghan cave, but in a luxuriant compound some 50 miles away from the Pakistani capital. It is an affluent suburb close to the Pakistani military academy, where many retired generals in the Pakistani government — a government the U.S. has given over billions of dollars to track down terrorists — reside. It is more than an embarrassment; it is an indictment.

To wrap up, this is how he was finally found out. Here is how they already faked his death photo (below). Here is how many news sites scrambled for the scoop.

I wonder what Matthew Norman, who wrote this sad epitaph to American might only ten days ago, think of now.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Obituary, Politics, War

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Tim Hetherington (1970-2011)

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Tim Hetherington, tireless and lyrical raconteur of global conflicts, is dead, a victim of a Libyan mortar shell.

Many will remember Tim Hetherington as a great photographer, but to call him such would be to pigeonhole his contributions. He himself acknowledged his changing role in a new topography of media: “If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.”

And he did. He covered various conflicts in West Africa and contributed to two documentaries on Liberia and Darfur. In 2007, he began a yearlong assignment documenting a battalion of American troops stationed in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley as bait to the Taliban. He published a touching book Infidel, won his fourth World Press Photo award for his coverage, and was nominated for an Oscar for his resulting documentary, Restrepo, which was all too human for it was palpably apolitical. His broad experiences were also recorded an ethereal webvideo, “Diary”.

To the very end, he was determined to reach out to as many people as possible; he began using twitter eight months ago, and his first and last tweet from Libya — posted just hours before he himself was hit  — read: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO”. It was fitting, if heartrending, epitaph.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/18497543]

Excepted from the Times of London:

When he was hit he was with [Chris Hondros of Getty], Guy Martin, a British freelance journalist and Michael Christopher Brown, an American photographer. They were covering the bitter fight for control of a bridge over Tripoli Street, which Colonel Gaddafi’s forces are trying to retake to give them a clear route into the heart of Misrata.

The group, escorted by a Libyan guide, were on the front line when the regime forces spotted them and fired a mortar round. Hetherington suffered massive blood loss by the time an ambulance managed to reach him and take him through the cratered streets to the Hikmeh hospital, where doctors did their best to revive him. Hondros, who was due to marry soon, also died late last night, while Martin suffered serious injuries to the abdomen. Brown was hit in the arm and was not believed to be in danger.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 21, 2011 at 12:11 am

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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