Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Napalm Attack

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I have already covered this event before, and Nick Ut’s photo I posted back then was the definitive photo of the event. However, I just recently came across other photos in the series and became instantly intrigued. Although they were not seen in the most famous photo, there are other photographers in the background trying to take the picture (one of them was David Burnett, who missed the famous scene because he was changing his film).

The photographers were of course to cover the Battle of Trang Bang. The first photo, in all its hazy demonic fire, showed the moment when napalm bombs were fired. The second photo was the shot. The third photo was taken moments after, as you can see by the distance from the billboards on the right. The crying girl had stopped crying; two children running together had sort of split up and veered to the left while the little kid at the back was now wayback, having either stopped running or turned back. The runners either overtook the photographers, or the photgraphers arrived from the righthand side, where there is a big commotion.

In the last photo, there was ITN reporter Christopher Wain who captured the scene on video.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 17, 2010 at 8:20 am

Posted in Contact Sheets, Politics, Society, War

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Food Theft

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In 1998, yielding to the international pressure, the Sudanese government allowed good aid to be distributed to the south. British photojournalist Tom Stoddart travelled with Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to a camp in Ajiep, where more than 100 people were dying every day. There he took the above photo of a crippled boy who had queued hours for food, only to find it robbed away from him by a fit man who strides confidently away.

Stoddart received overwhelming criticism for his image, people demanding why he did not intervene. He responded, “I am a photographer, not a policeman or an aid worker. All I can do is try to tell the truth as I see it with my camera.” However, Stoddart requested that the papers that print his Sudan photos run the credit card hotlines of aid agencies next to the photos. On the day the above photo appeared in the Guardian, MSF had 700 calls and £40,000 was pledged. The Daily Express raised £500,000. Le Figaro ran 10 pages of his pictures, Stern magazine nine pages.

On a deeper level, the photo is a symbol of Africa’s continuing problem — the big man with the stick rules. Large amount of food aid disappears from the camps in much needed areas and appears for sale in the market places in neighboring countries. Not to be anecdotal but I once volunteered in an African country that should remain nameless. Food and medical aid that Western governments sent there were regularly pilfered by corrupt bureaucrats and sometimes aid is withheld or rediverted to areas that don’t need them because the governments there like to use foreign aid as a bargaining chip to subdue/cleanse tribes and ethnicities they don’t like. Yet, Western governments and aid agencies continue sending aid because sometimes getting a little aid to affected areas is better than cutting off aid.

I put some links to donation webpages of some international organization helping aid efforts in Africa. Just click on their logos:

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 15, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Society, War

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Bloody Sunday

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In 1972, predominantly Catholic Civil Rights Association planned a series of high-profile marches to regain political initiative from those intent on violent. Ironically, a march in Londonberry on January 30 came up against an army barricade. A number of rioters threw stones at the soldiers, and British paratroopers appeared on the scene and pursued the rioters. They opened fire, killing 13 civilians and wounding 12 others, one of whom died later.

In the immediate aftermath, the British embassy in Dublin was burnt down and the Mid Ulster MP Bernadette McAliskey punched the home secretary, Reginald Maudling, accusing him of lying to the Commons over what happened. Bloody Sunday was the boost to IRA recruitment and fuelled violence in subsequent decades. Lord Cheif Justice’s subsequent inquiry, the Widgery Report, which exonerated the soldiers further fuelled the theories that the killings were conceived at the highest levels of military command, civil service and the Cabinet. In fact, it later transpired that the then PM Edward Heath lobbied Lord Widgery, saying in Northern Ireland, Britain was ‘fighting not only a military war but a propaganda war’.

In 1998, Tony Blair appointed Lord Saville to head a second inquiry as part of Northern Ireland peace process. Twelve years and nearly 200 million pounds later, the Saville inquiry returned its full report today — condemning the soldiers unequivocally. In Westminster, Prime Minister David Cameron offered an extraordinary apology. Yet, the report will forever be marred by the refusal of the soldiers involved to give evidence, the refusal of the Army to release thousands of photographs taken by army photographers who were ordered to give ‘maximum coverage’ that day.

The iconic images to come out of Bloody Sunday were the video of Father Edward Daly (later Bishop of Derry) waving a bloodied white handkerchief as he tried to lead the injured to safety and that of Barney McGuigan dead from a bullet wound to the head. The latter photo was taken by Gilles Peress, on his first professional photo assignment for Magnum.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 15, 2010 at 9:29 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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Dora Concentration Camp

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Although many of his photos and film have been shown repeatedly on television across the world, the name Walter Frentz remains unknown. Hitler’s photographer, Frentz had been there all along — from the beginning of Hitler’s dictatorship to those hectic final days in the Fuhrerbunker. In between, he took photos of Hitler and his dog, the private lives of top Nazi leaders, party rallies in Nuremberg, the 1936 Olympics, von Ribbentrop’s historic mission to Moscow and Hitler’s triumphant entries to Warsaw and Paris.

Yet, notably absent were the atrocities; Frentz reportedly witnessed a massacre of Jews in Minsk while traveling with SS leader Heinrich Himmler. There is no photographic evidence of this incident, and Frentz himself was sworn to secrecy. In taking photos of forced labor in the construction of the V–2 missiles at the Dora concentration camp and Mittelwerk underground factory near Nordhausen, Frentz came closest to the harsh realities of Second World War but they too were sanitized versions of history — a history Nazi leaders wanted to see.

Today, the slave labor behind V2 rockets is almost forgotten — in fact, 2,000 prisoners, worked on it and almost half of them didn’t survive. When the first V2 rocket hit Britain in 1944, it was one of the most complex weapons ever employed. However, after 15 years and huge sums of money, it did not prove to be the decisive weapon that Hitler had hoped would force Britain out of the war. The prisoners working on the missiles sabotaged some of them that around 20% of rockets that left Dora had flaws.

Frentz’s close friend, Armaments Minister Albert Speer sent him to film the Dora mines in the summer of 1944. Speer hoped the photos would persuade Hitler to maintain support for the V2 program. In an early use of Agfa color film, Frentz took staged photographs to showcase the efficiency of forced labor. Instead of stick-wielding kapos, back–breaking excavation and construction work, piles of emaciated dead bodies, corpses burning on open pyres, and public hangings, the Nazi leadership were instead shown skilled assembly work and healthy prisoners in clean clothing. The photographs also omit the presence of the SS and Wehrmacht in the factory. These Dora photographs lay forgotten in an attic for more than 50 years until February 1998, when Frentz’s son discovered them in a suitcase.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 12, 2010 at 6:06 am

An Execution in China

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Arriving to China in the late 1850s, William Saunders was the first photographer in China. He opened his photo studio in Shanghai in January 1862, and his fascination with China led him to document scenes of everyday life which reflected nineteenth century China accurately.

His photos were very popular throughout China, and he contributed regularly to Western publications such as the Far East and the Illustrated London News. One of his most famous photos was that of a public execution during the Second Opium War. The photo, reprinted in many Western newspapers, met his audience’s expectations that the enemy they were fighting was ‘savage’, and justified the British military offensive there.

The Second Opium War (1856-1860) was one of the muddier wars — everyone from Russia to the U.S. was involved in what was primarily a military campaign to guarantee European sovereignty in China, which was already being weakened by the internal Taiping rebellion. In 1860, an Anglo-French army landed in Pei Tang and marched to Beijing.

One of the most dramatic moments of the China War was the execution of Private John Moyse. He refused to kow-tow to his Chinese captors, and was savagely beaten and beheaded in cold blood. When his fellow prisoners were released a week later, the tale of Moyse’s bravery spread and immortalized by Francis Hastings Doyle in the poem, The Private of the Buffs. The poem sensationalized Moyse as a newly-recruited young Kentish farmboy rather than a veteran middle-aged Irishman that he was and was instrumental in uniting the public opinion in Britain against the Chinese.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 12, 2010 at 12:01 am

The Rape of Lvov

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Photos can speak a thousand words but sometimes it is unclear what they said. Take the above photo for instance. In 1993, Time magazine published it with the caption, “Jewish girl raped by Ukrainians in Lvov, Poland, in 1945.” An angry outcry by the Ukrainian community followed, and Time magazine had to issue a retraction and an apology. The fact was that the photo was one of the pictures with a murkier history to come out of the Second World War.

The photo was not taken in 1945 but in 1941 in Lvov (its Russian name), or Lviv (its name today), Ukraine, shortly after the Germans captured the city from the Soviets on June 30. The photo is one of a series showing women being stripped, harassed and chased by civilians as chaos led to rapes, pogroms and killings. Some scholars claimed that the women in the photo were Jewish victims of the pogroms in Lvov. The Germans spread rumors that Jews were responsible for the murders of several thousand political prisoners found in the cellars of Soviet NKVD buildings, thus fueling the hatred and the acts of revenge against local Jews that followed.

Other historians insist that the majority of the women pictured in the series of photographs were mistresses the Soviets abandoned when they fled Lvov to escape the German troops. The defenseless collaborators were then attacked by resentful residents for consorting with the Soviet enemy. Some suggests the Nazis orchestrated the entire scene to shoot a propaganda film. Some said the women were not raped, but merely public denounced. Over the years, the perpetrators of the atrocities depicted on the photo included the Soviets, the Ukrainians, the SS and local anti-Semites. Yet, even the Jewishness of the women depicted was called into question, and alas, we will never know.

However, the photo remains prominently in many history textbooks, their respective writers’ narratives and assumptions often belying the true mystery behind it. Time-Life: History of the Second World War (1989) captioned it, “A rape victim in the city of Lvov cries out in rage and anguish as an older woman comforts her. Anti-Semitic citizens rounded up 1,000 Jews andover to the Germans. Life: World War II (1990) also used it, in the chapter titled “1941 Rape of Russia.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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At Vimy Ridge

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The above is one in a series of pictures a Royal Canadian cameraman took during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. The photo is regarded as one of the greatest war photos — although its origins are obscure. Some note that it was taken during “pre-battle” training behind the lines. This is not unusual. Because of the primitive photographic equipment available in the field, most photos purporting to portray actual ‘combat action’ during World War I in fact showed troops during pre-war training exercises. Some however note that the soldier going over the top was making a gesture expressing his contempt for the Germans by putting his thumb to his nose. (There is a website refuting this here).

No matter what the battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917 was considered as a pivotal moment for Canada as a nation; four Canadian Army units fought together as one for the first time. Three thousand five hundred and ninety eight Canadian soldiers were killed during the battle, and four Victoria Crosses were awarded. Indeed, the Canadians captured a strategic area, but it was a minor victory for the losing Allies that spring, and had a negligible effect. The Globe and Mail noted that “if French or British rather than Canadian troops had driven the German enemy off Vimy Ridge, history probably would have forgotten about it.”

Yet, the victory at Vimy become inseparable from the Canadian identity. When there were rumors that the Vimy memorial had been destroyed by Germans during the WWII, the Canadians were whipped fury and hatred so much so that Adolf Hitler’s advisers thought it was necessary for the Nazi leader to be photographed in Vimy at the monument to demonstrate that it was still intact.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 31, 2010 at 9:33 am

Posted in Politics, Society, War

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Hitler in 1914

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The above photo showed Adolf Hitler in the huge crowd which heard the announcement of the First World War outside Field Marshals’ Hall, Munich on 2 August 1914. After the Nazis came to power, Hitler mentioned being outside the hall when the war was declared. A German photographer went back and looked through his photos and found the above picture.

At the outbreak of war, 25-year old Adolf Hitler was an aimless drifter and failed artist in Munich and had previously failed army entry tests because he was too weak to carry weapons. Yet, during the wartime, Germany needed soldiers and Hitler was able to enlist in the Bavarian army; although he was not considered for further promotion because of ‘a lack of leadership qualities’, he was awarded the Iron Cross First Class, an honour rarely given to a lance corporal (which showed that he did not lack courage). The Great War ended for Hitler inside a hospital where he was being treated for temporary blindness caused by chlorine gas. There he heard the news of German surrender, deeply incredulous; he came to believe, like many other nationalists, that the army, “undefeated in the field,” had been “stabbed in the back” by civilian leaders and Marxists back home.

Hitler returned to Munich after a short failed stint as a borderguard and joined a nationalist group German Workers’ Party (DAP), which was formed by extremists and anti-Semites as a counterforce to Bolshevism. He rose quickly through its ranks and in July 1921, he took over its leadership renaming it the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The rest as they say is history.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 29, 2010 at 11:53 pm

Posted in Politics, War

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Mitterrand and Kohl at Verdun

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In the entire Europe there is no battlefield more blood-stained than Verdun, where in 1916 nearly 800,000 French and German soldiers were killed or wounded in an inconclusive fight over a few square miles of territory. On 22 September 1984, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl met the French president François Mitterrand at the Douaumont cemetery in Verdun. In front of the charnel house in which the remains of 150,000 French soldiers rest, two leaders stood in rain. Mitterrand extended a hand to Kohl, which the latter held in minutes-long gesture which became a symbolic gesture of reconciliation as much as Willy Brandt’s Warsaw Kneefall.

The German Press described the scene as, “A picture that will go down in history”. It was made more powerful by the fact that Kohl’s father during WWI and Mitterrand himself during WWII had fought in the surrounding hills. As Europe’s leading statesmen during the 80s, Mitterrand and Kohl forged close personal ties despite their political differences — there were even allegations that Mitterrand supported secret donations to help finance Kohl’s re-election campaign. Together, they laid the foundations for pan-European projects, such as Eurocorps, Arte, the Maastricht Treaty and the Euro.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 29, 2010 at 3:10 am

Posted in Politics, War

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The Elderly Butcher Boy of Fascism

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Even today, Italy has one of the least free presses in Western world. Although press-censorships were not created with the Fascist state Benito Mussolini forged, Mussolini’s Ministry of Popular Culture — which administrates everything that appeared in newspapers, radio, printed works, theatre, cinema or any form of art — did cast a long shadow. In a move worthy of today’s language bastions, it banned usage of non-Italian words; the ministry’s lackeys were posted to publishing houses to immediately oversee what is being printed, and there were public bonfires of forbidden books. However, noting Italian efficiency, all actions were more Kafkaesque than Orwellian.

In a hierarchical system where the government appointed directors and editors and distributed printing paper, self-censorship was easily accomplished by individuals currying favor with the regime. Although many international publications, writers and photographers were left untouched by censors before the war, the beginning of the WWII changed the landscape.

Working for Time and Life magazines, Carl Mydans arrived in Rome in May 1940. Tensions were high; Mussolini was thought to be on the brink of declaring war on the Allies (although in reality he delayed another month). At the public events, Mydans was repeatedly prevented from taking pictures by Blackshirts who blocked his cameras. He remembers the events that happened next: “On May 9, Mussolini appeared at the Victor Emmanuel II monument to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Italian Empire. A circle of security men barred me from the ceremony. But as Mussolini was departing, he strutted right past me. The security men were compelled to applaud as he went by, and I was able to make one quick frame between their shoulders. The picture appeared across a page of LIFE several weeks later with the caption, “The Elderly Butcher Boy of Fascism”. The photo, which appeared in LIFE on June 24th, caused the responsible staffers of TIME and LIFE being immediately expelled from Italy. Rather than sending a new bureau staff, they closed down the Rome Bureau, writing “In the face of wartime censorship there was no chance in Italy for TIME’s kind of reporting.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

May 26, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Posted in Politics, War

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“I’ll be darned”

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On April 12, 1951, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was chatting with two French generals and a handful of press representatives on a hilltop near Coblenz, Germany when a reporter informed him that President Truman had fired General Douglas MacArthur, who was fighting the Korean War in the Far East. Associated Press correspondent Dick O’Malley: “General, have you heard the news about Gen. MacArthur?” . Eisenhower: “No, what happened? M: “He’s been relieved of his Far East command by President Truman and replaced by General Ridgeway.” Eisenhower turned away and said, “I’ll be darned.”

The moment was captured by American military magazine, Star and Stripes’ Francis “Red” Grandy, who was anticipating a similar kind of reaction. Although his editors were worried that the photo might offend the general, it ran on Page 1, two columns wide two days later. The photo was picked up by several major news services and published in newspapers across the U.S. It later won many prizes and reappeared not only in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but also in a volume of the best news pictures of a quarter-century published in Life magazine and on Eisenhower’s own obituary.

In fact, Ike served as MacArthur’s aide for grueling nine years during the 30s in Washington and the Philippines. He disliked MacArthur for his vanity, his theatrics, and for what Eisenhower perceived as “irrational” behavior, which culminated in their falling out over the Bonus Army March. MacArthur, who finished top in his class at West Point looked down at Ike, who finished at the bottom and detested resources being diverted from the Pacific theater to Europe under Ike.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 22, 2010 at 8:22 am

Posted in Politics, War

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Carl Baptiste de Szathmary

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The world’s first combat photographs were taken during the American-Mexican War of 1846-1847 by an anonymous photographer. The world’s first known combat photographer was Romanian Carl Baptiste de Szathmary (1812-1887), who took his camera to the Crimea a year before more famous Roger Fenton arrived two years later. In 1853, he was documenting the conflict between Russia and Turkey over Wallachia and other Rumanian territories which would eventually devolve into the Crimean War.

Although the Turks once assailed his wagon, thinking he was a Russian spy, he managed to photograph various troops, both Turkish and Russian, and their commanding officers. When the Turks occupied Bucharest, he managed to get a photosession with their commander Omar Pasha (although Fenton’s photo of Omar Pasha would later become more famous).

He exhibited these 200+ photos at the Paris Exposition in 1855 and presented them to the royals of Europe. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert met him, saw his photos and later dispatched Roger Fenton to Crimea). No copies of his albums survived, and his work lives on only in a handful of photos scattered here and there. See the list here. Like Fenton’s, his own career as photographer was short. Trained as a painter, he later became the official painter of the Romanian rulers. After 1860, although highly celebrated and decorated by the European courts from Moscow to Württemberg, he produced only chromolithographs. In 1866, he was made the Photographer to the Court of Romania, and as one he quietly passed away, his glory days well past.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

April 21, 2010 at 8:40 am

Posted in Culture, War

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