Iconic Photos

Famous, Infamous and Iconic Photos

Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Korea – Picture Post

with 113 comments

In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post, including General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon. But the photos Hardy took outside Pusan Station were the memorable images that eventually ripped Britain’s premier picture magazine apart.

In early September 1950, Pusan was the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces. There outside the train station were about sixty political prisoners, aged 14 to 70, suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. They were tied up, and wore almost no clothes; when they tried to scoop a drink from the puddles of rain that they were squatting in, South Korean guards beat them with rifle butts. When Hardy took the photos, they were about to be taken off and shot. Their fate reminded Hardy and Cameron of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Cameron wrote a story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving Rhee a free rein.

In London, Tom Hopkinson admitted that Hardy’s photos were the best he ever received; but considering the story’s sensitivity, he waited until Cameron and Hardy came back to confirm the story’s authenticity and assure him that it was no isolated case. Even then, he attached a picture of an American prisoner being paraded cruelly through Pyongyang (taken from in a Czech magazine) to achieve some balance, and asked Cameron to remove any trace of excessive emotion which might lead people to accuse the paper of sensationalism or bias. Cameron rewrote the story in flatter style, and later reflected that he had “never worked so hard to write so badly”.

But Hopkinson was constantly conflict with Picture Post’s owner Edward G. Hulton. In August 1945, Hulton wrote to Hopkinson whom he suspected was a socialist: “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock.” While Hulton initially did not object to Cameron’s story, he was persuaded by his beautiful émigrée wife Nika to remove the story. Hulton — on the verge of receiving a knighthood — stopped the presses, fearing that coverage would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.

After a week’s cooling period, Hopkinson insisted on printing the story; he refused to accept the management’s invitation to resign, and they sacked him. He persuaded most of the staff not to resign in protest, although some did. Hulton sent Cameron and Hardy into the Himalayas on a wild goose chase for the Dalai Lama. Their “Inchon” story touting Gen. MacArthur covered nine pages of the Oct. 7, 1950 Picture Post. After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957. Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian presidency lasted ten more years until 1960, when following popular protests against a disputed election, he resigned. More than 200,000 perished under his reign of terror.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 23, 2010 at 4:55 am

Nuit et Brouillard

with one comment

The photo was taken at the camp of Pithiviers, in the Loiret department, one of two main concentration camps for foreign-born Jews in France. At the foreground, unmistakably guarding the camp was a French gendarme, with a telltale kepi. If an image could ever perfectly encapsulated the culpability of the Vichy Government in persecution of the French Jewry, this was it.

But in 1955, it was too close for comfort, coming as it did after many long and arduous years when numerous ministers and prominent citizens were hauled in front of courts and tribunals. First featured in the documentary Nuit et Brouillard, the anonymously-taken photo was an unequivocal denunciation of French collaborationism, and the censors demanded that the kepi be cut. Director Alain Resnais first refused, but finally relented and decided to put a beam across the damning hat to hide it; on the other hand, he refused to change the narration that mentioned Pithiviers. The film was released to widespread acclaim and awards.

A few months later, the Germans demanded the film withdrawn from Cannes Film Festival. Both the German and the French governments viewed the film as divisive since it came during negotiations for the Treaties of Rome (eventually signed in 1957). However, unlike the censorship of the kepi which went virtually unnoticed and mentioned only once in press, the French press reacted unanimously against the proposed withdrawal, noting that the filmmakers were very cautious in defining the difference between the Nazi criminals and the German people.

In retaliation, the predominantly French selection committee asked Germany’s own submission Himmel ohne sterne to be withdraw and the Germans left Cannes in protest. Widespread protests from deportees’ associations, members of the Résistance and the Communist Party as well as the threat from the Festival organizers to resign finally forced the government to give in. The film was staged ‘outside the programme’ in the main Festival Hall auditorium, where it received a standing ovation. The Berlinale invited Resnais to stage his film there, defying its own government.

In a way, the controversy over Nuit et Brouillard altered Cannes’ history too. In that monumental year for self-inflicted censorship, films from Britain, Finland, Poland, Norway and Yugoslavia were also excluded. This debacle encouraged the organizers to reshape the Festival in accordance with cinematographic quality rather than diplomatic niceties.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Jack Sharpe

with 8 comments

Jack Sharpe was sent to Singapore just a few days before the Japanese invasion there, and captured by the Japanese. He was sent to Thailand to work on the notorious Burma Railway and was nearly executed over an attempted escape. Before his court martial for escape, Sharpe defiantly proclaimed that he would live to see all of Japan surrender and that he would walk out of the prison on his own two feet.

Sharpe was sent back to the Outram jail in Singapore; almost no one survived it for two years, and it was from this infamous prison that Sharpe was liberated in August 1945 with the dubious distinction of being its longest survivor. True to his words, he walked out of the gates on his own two feet, and collapsed immediately afterwards. During his captivity, plagued by scurvy, dysentery and scabs, Sharpe saw his weight decreased from 70 kilograms to less than 25 kilograms. In September 1945, the world was stunned by the publication of Sharpe’s skeletal figure cheerfully smiling from the end of his bed. The photo told the story of appalling Japanese treatment of their prisoners, and also the indomitable spirit of Jack Sharpe, who eventually lived to be 88.

One in three POWs under the Japanese during the war perished — seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians. In fact, around 90,000 Asian labourers and 16,000 Allied POWs died on the Burma Railroad alone. The Japanese, coming from a shame culture which would rather commit suicide, never understood the concept of surrendering, and treated their prisoners with the greatest of contempt.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 17, 2010 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Politics, Society, War

Tagged with , ,

Dead Iraqi Soldier

with 21 comments

The Gulf War had a great deal of TV coverage, but it was heavily restricted. Supposedly this was to protect sensitive information from Iraqi military tuned to CNN but the reality was that the Pentagon feared a repeat of Vietnam. Many in the Pentagon felt Vietnam was lost because of the press’s unrestricted access to the war. To reduce the number of reporters working on ground, the war was conducted under a pool system, where any press organisation that was a member of that pool had access to everyone else’s work. On the other hand, the Pentagon tightly controlled the pools with government approved reporters and provided military escorts for any field reporting.

Just a few hours before the 1991 Gulf war ceasefire, photographer Ken Jarecke was heading back to Kuwait from Southern Iraq. Jarecke came across a single truck burnt out from airstrike in the middle of a highway. Jarecke told his military escort that “If I don’t make pictures like this, people like my mother will think what they see in war is what they see in movies”, and went over to the burnt tank and took the above photo. At that time, it was an image challenged the prevailing notion that the ‘clinical’ attack avoided ‘collateral damage’.

Jarecke’s photo was sent to the AP office in New York. The AP thought that the photo was too sensitive and too graphic even for the editors of the newspapers that are part of the co-op, and that the decision on whether or not to print the photo should not be left for the editors. They pulled it off the wire. Because of AP’s decision, the photo was unseen in America (although AP staffers made copies for themselves and privately distributed it among the photo circles). In the UK, the London Observer and the Guardian published it, and public debate was not only on “Is this something we want to be involved in?” but also on how graphic pictures should be. Jarecke responded: “If we’re big enough to fight a war, we should be big enough to look at it.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Posted in Politics, War

Tagged with , ,

Napalm Attack

with 47 comments

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

Tagged with ,

Food Theft

with 16 comments


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:





Now that you are here: I am doing something crassly commercial here. I just signed up for 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) should give me a marginal incentive to write more. As far as the blog is concerned, nothing will change. No paywalls. Patreon is more useful for YouTubers and podcasters, but let’s see how it goes for me: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 15, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Posted in Society, War

Tagged with , ,

Bloody Sunday

with 5 comments

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

Tagged with ,

Dora Concentration Camp

with 6 comments

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

with 2 comments

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

with 32 comments

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

Tagged with , ,

At Vimy Ridge

with 6 comments

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

Tagged with , ,

Hitler in 1914

with 23 comments

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

Tagged with ,

%d bloggers like this: