Last week, when covering the news of Lord Snowdon’s death, we briefly mentioned the work he did for Vanity Fair, covering British theatre, in November 1995.
John Osborne, the playwright who transformed modern English theatre with his plays “Look Back in Anger” and “The Entertainer”, had died previous December and Vanity Fair sent John Heilpern, a theatre critic who would later become Osborne’s authorized biographer, to cover his memorial service. Heilpern quotes, “It is impossible to speak of John Osborne without using the word ‘England'” and adds, “So it is impossible to imagine England without its theater.” Fittingly his article was accompanied by Snowdon’s photos.
It was a bravura effort — the largest photographic portfolio Vanity Fair ever commissioned. He flew back and forth between Britain and New York to photograph theatre luminaries, from the 22-year-old Jude Law to the 91-year-old Sir John Gielgud.
They were atmospheric portraits, sometimes in costume, sometimes in personal private moments. Alan Rickman stood arms akimbo on the Albert memorial as a clan chieftain in honor of a Highland play he directed. Ian McKellen embraced a statue of Bacchus; Derek Jacobi posed as Pope Hadrian, John Hurt as a pantomime dame. He got Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh — former collaborators, now competitors — together in a group shot. “That needed a fast shutter speed,” Snowdon remembered.
“There are a lot of little private jokes,” Snowdon reflected. Jonathan Pryce, the actor and Lexus spokesman, was photographed in a Mercedes. Michael Gambon scowled in Poets’ Corner as a languid Shakespeare looked on. Patrick Stewart, looking Picardian, posed at Heathrow Airport. Peter Ustinov sat in a bath chair outside Theatre Royal in Bath, where he led a fundraising program for a studio which now bears his name.
[I couldn’t find the portfolio online, which was a shame, so I did digging around in old family cottage’s damp basement for a physical copy. The resulting scan is huge at 60 MB, but linked here.]
Anthony Armstrong-Jones, society photographer and royal paramour, is dead, aged 86.
As royal portraits went, it didn’t get more intimate than this. In 1962, Anthony Armstrong-Jones sat on a toilet and took a photo of his wife Princess Margaret soaking in the bathtub in full makeup and tiara. His feet and hand were reflected in the mirror in the photo.
The couple was then just two years into their marriage. Theirs was the first royal wedding ceremony to be broadcast on television, and Armstrong-Jones became the first commoner in four centuries to marry a British princess. But he could never shake the perceptions that he had been Margaret’s second choice — her earlier romance with a divorcee was stopped by the establishment — and the couple separated in 1976.
This sensational divorce was also record-breaking: it was the first royal divorce in England since Henry VIII. It would set the tone for later royal break-ups of Princes Charles and Andrew. Yet Armstrong-Jones maintained close personal relationships with the British royal family post-divorce, and remained a favorite photographer of the Queen long after his marriage to her sister had ended.
Already a society photographer before his marriage, the royal connections opened doors. He took photos of Ian McKellen, Serge Gainsbourg, Salvador Dali, Vita Sackville-West, Laurence Olivier, David Bowie, Barbara Cartland, and Marlene Dietrich among others; his portraits of J.R.R.Tolkien, previously featured at Iconic Photos here, and Agatha Christie were iconic. For Vanity Fair in November 1995, Snowdon put together a photoessay on British Theatre, photographing Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave, Alec Guinness, Anthony Hopkins, Patrick Stewart, Julie Christie, and others, in a 56-page spread—the biggest photoessay Vanity Fair had ever ran. (In a spread from that essay above, Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole share tea and private moment at the Dorchester).
Power of photographs is often debated, but in some areas, their influence was undeniable. One of the most shared images on Iconic Photos in last 12 months have been this picture of a Faroese whale hunt.
Similar outrage was had in 1969 when Duncan Cameron took a picture of a Canadian seal clubber in Northumberland Strait. Photography as a medium is always at its most powerful when it deals with ‘anterior future’ — images which foreshadows a future event good or ill (but mostly ill), such as photos taken before executions, at firing squads, or in disaster zones. Cameron’s image is one such: the ice floes looked so spotless, the baby seal so innocent, and the longing look of its mother in the background so heartrending that the anterior future here was particularly cruel.
The photo bookended a debate which began five years earlier when a Montreal cameracrew took similar pictures. Many consumers stopped buying fur, and some countries banned seal-fur imports from Canada. Jack Davis, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries noted, “A lot of young people in distant countries now think of Canada only in terms of seals,” and in October 1969, Canada banned the killing of month-old seal pups and banned clubbing seals of any age to death.
A total seal hunting ban proved to be more difficult. Older seals had fewer defenders. Davis added, “the animal is no longer as cute as it was,” and the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau noted “Those who protest won’t be shown the same photographs of baby seals with their big blue or brown eyes.” Protests by environmental activists in the 1970s and the 1980s led to many seal hunters, some of them indigenous peoples, leaving their local community and selling their properties to oil drillers, causing unintended environmental damage.
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.
(continued from a previous post)
As the Italian state unraveled in ever-widening gyre of political choas, that other threat to law and order was again resurgent in the south. In Sicily, the Commission — a central organization of mafiosos — was resurrected. Several competing factions were now preparing to fight and claim territories for protection rackets.
At the center of this was Letizia Battaglia, a journalist and photographer for L’Ora newspaper in Palermo. For eighteen years, she documented mafia murders of judges, politicians, police, and members of rival families. She would find herself at the scene of four or five different murders in a single day. Here, she remembers taking the photo above (link)
They murdered Nerina, a young prostitute who had started drug-dealing independently from the mafia cartel, and her two male friends. Allegedly, she had disobeyed the mafia’s code of honour. Naturally, the killers were never found.
It was 1982, and I entered this little room in Palermo against the will of the police. They did not want me – a photographer and a woman – at the crime scene. When I realised there was a woman among the victims, I started shaking. More than usual, I mean. I was overcome by nausea and could hardly stand. I only had a few seconds to take a couple of pictures: there were men shouting at me to work fast.
It isn’t easy to be a good photographer when you’re faced with the corpses of people who were alive and kicking only minutes before. In those situations, I would often get all the technical things wrong. But I did my job, I photographed, trying to keep the image in focus and the exposure correct.
Since Nerina, who is slumped in the armchair, had been the main target, I found myself thinking about her. In that small room, her still body was at everybody’s mercy, more objectified than ever. My contact with her lasted only a few moments and was filtered through the lens of a cheap camera. But I saw her alone, lost in an eternity of silence. In that short time, I started to love her. I find women beautiful and courageous, and I love photographing them. They hold so many dreams inside themselves.
It was just one of 600,000 photos she took of mafia crimes; throughout her career, Battaglia received many death threats, but continued on. Her “Archive of Blood”, as she called it, grew and grew as the mafia activity spread. Judge Cesare Terranova, a member of the Anti-Mafia Parliamentary Commission, was killed in an ambush in 1979. Battaglia remembers: “This was one of the most important men in Sicilian politics. When he was killed, I said nothing worse could happen. Nothing. It was not true.” [Photo below, graphic].
The Italian state, which had unscrupulous connections with the mafia, was slow and reluctant to respond, even when the mafia detonated a half-ton of explosives under the highway in May 1992 to assassinate a judge (who was a close friend of Battaglia). The next year, Giulio Andreotti, who had been prime minister of Italy seven times, was indicted for corruption.He had flatly denied ever meeting or having any dealings with the mafia, but among Battaglia’s archives were photographs of Andreotti and other Christian Democrat party leaders with Nino Salvo, a powerful Mafia figures who was believed to have been a principal link between the Mafia and Andreotti.
Battaglia has recently published a book “Anthology” which recounts these haunting years. (Amazon).
With yesterday’s UN vote urging Israel to end to its illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, we look back at one of modern Israel’s earliest settlements.
David Seymour wrote to his sister in 1951, “You can imagine how everything here is emotionally charged and moving”. The Magnum founder was standing in the middle of a Jewish settlement near Golan Heights when he took the photo of Baby Miriam, the first ever child born into the settlement of Alma (above).
Alma was a melting pot of Yemenite Jews, Tripolitanian Jews from Libya, and immigrants from Southeast Italy, most notably from the small village of San Nicandro. Twenty years earlier, a group of Italian Roman Catholics in that village underwent a mass conversion to Judaism under the influence of Donato Manduzio, a crippled war veteran turned mystic who self-taught himself the Old Testament.
For Seymour, born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw, whose Polish Jewish parents killed by the Nazis during the Second World War, Israel was an emotional place. After the war, he documented post-war Europe for UNICEF and frequently traveled to newly-formed Israel to photograph settlements and kibbutzes being set up.
Amidst the scenes of weddings, dancing, and olive groves were the snapshots of those improbable days: women carried water in brass jugs from reservoirs miles away even as Baby Miriam’s father supervises a pipeline construction work which is going to bring water from the source. A hardscrabble garden was planted on desert terrain. A tractor is paraded through the streets of Tel Aviv on Independence Day. Soldiers patrolled the border between the Negev Desert and Jordan. A woman mourned graveside at the funeral of a watchman killed during a border conflict.
Seymour himself was sucked into one of those conflicts; in November 1956, he was killed by Egyptian machine-gun fire four days after the armistice of the 1956 Suez War.
A week after this photograph was published in the Corriere d’Informazione, Umberto Eco wrote, “Remember this image, it will become exemplary of our century.” Such a sentiment was inevitable in Italy in 1977, after a decade of political turmoil later known as The Years of Lead — a Manichean violent struggle between neo-fascists and radical left to control the political future of the Italian Republic.
Conflicts of 1977 began in February with a student occupation of the University of Rome to protest education reforms; a fortnight later, a demonstration devolved into a four-hour long guerrilla battle with the police in the streets of Rome. Political parties and trade unions were drawn into this turmoil, which soon spread to other great Italian university towns. In Bologna, a student-run radio station was closed by the carabineri, which shot and killed a student. Another student was killed during a demonstration in Rome in May; it was unclear who shot him, but armed policemen in plainclothes were observed during the demonstration, leading to riots.
The photo above was taken by Paolo Pedrizzetti in Milan during those riots: the young man in a ski mask and bell-bottom jeans was a member of a far-left organization which pulled out their pistols and began to shoot at the police, killing policeman Antonio Custra on May 14th 1977. This was a fitting photo of The Years of Lead, which also began in Milan with killing of another policeman in November 1969.
The fact that Custra left behind a pregnant wife galvanized the press. The man in Pedrizzetti’s photo was identified as 18-year old student Giuseppe Memeo; this was the first time he had held a gun, and he was not the killer. (Two years later, Memeo shot and killed two, including a secret service agent). The killer was not identified until the other photographer (who was seen in Pedrizzetti’s photo) came forward twelve years later, having hidden his negatives for fear of reprisals.
That was 1977 — the year that came to be known as the time of the “P38”, referring to the Walther P38 pistol. There were 42 assassinations and 2,128 acts of political violence. For Italy, the worst was still to come, but the tide was turning for the protesters. The next year, the prime minister was kidnapped and executed by militant communists — a senseless act of violence which resulted in a loss of popular support. More lenient sentences in exchange for collaboration or “dissociation” followed: the pentiti program enabled the state to hunt down most of the militants. By mid-1980s, Italy was en route to overtake UK in nominal GDP to become the world’s fifth largest economy.
In the time it will take you to read this blog post, around 50 people in the United States would have been victims of domestic violence. For the longest time, even to the days of our parents, domestic violence was an act which not only went unreported but also simply taken for granted. The apocryphal rule of thumb — whereby a man is allowed to beat his wife so long as the rod used was no thicker than his thumb — was routinely assumed to be part of the British common law.
In 1982, Donna Ferrato was on assignment to photograph swingers for Playboy Japan at New York’s famous sex club, Plato’s Retreat, when she befriended Garth and Lisa, a polyamorous couple from Saddle River, New Jersey. On the surface, they have a successful marriage. However, Ferrato discovered a physically abusive husband who routinely beat his wife. She remembers:
I heard Lisa screaming and things breaking. As soon as I entered the bathroom Garth raised his hand to slap his wife in the face….
I said: ‘What are you doing? You are really going to hurt her.’ He threw me down and said: ‘I’m not going to hurt her — she’s my wife. I know what my strength is but I have to teach her that she can’t lie to me.’
The contact sheet shows every frame of the first fight I witnessed between Garth and Lisa. The most important thing on my mind was to take pictures to prove that what I was seeing really happened. Without a photograph there would be no evidence.
Ferrato approached her editors to publish the images, but they all refused.
For the next decade, Ferrato went around the United States visiting shelters, police stations and hospitals, and documenting the scenes and aftermaths of domestic abuse, compiled in her 1991 book Living With the Enemy. The book propelled an oft-neglected topic into a national sensation: she was invited to the White House for a private meeting with Hillary Clinton. Her work was featured on the cover of Time twice, following the Rita Collins murder case in 1993 and on a cover story called “When Violence Hits Home,” published after O.J. Simpson was arrested for the murder of his wife.
“Americans are confronting the ferocious violence that may erupt when love runs awry,” Time wrote then. Donna Ferrato’s photos underlining criminality and brutality inherent in domestic violence suggested otherwise.
These days we are bombarded with so many photos and images that rare is an piece of photojournalism that stops you in your tracks. Today’s frontpage of New York Times is one of those rare moments. Daniel Berehulak took photos and wrote about his 35 days in Manila, the Philippines where he covered 41 murder scenes — and 57 bodies.
When thuggish Rodrigo Duterte was elected president in the Philippines in June, he vowed to kill millions of people in a war on drugs to rid the country of drugs. He had urged his citizens to kill suspected criminals and drug addicts, and asked the police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy (with a bounty for dead suspects). Already, his misguided war has claimed thousands of lives, including nearly 2,000 reportedly killed by Philippine police in extra-judicial killings. In vigilante excess, even those who have ‘surrendered’ — i.e., those who have stopped using or selling drugs months ago — were murdered.
Berehulak’s assignment saw bodies, carnage, and extrajudicial killings everywhere, “on sidewalks, near train tracks, in front of convenience stores and McDonald’s restaurants, and across bedroom mattresses and living room sofas”. Police goes undercover to catch drug dealers in “buy-bust” operations, and would enter people’s homes without warrants to shoot and kill suspects. In a chilling response to Reuters inquiry, the Fillippino government noted that “we have only scratched the surface” when it comes to the Drug War. [Listen to Berehulak here]
It is hard to write about modern politics on Iconic Photos. We have covered many gruesome photos on this website — from the Belgian Congo to the Holocaust, from famines and nuclear meltdowns — but we cover them knowing that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. No such satisfaction here. The carnage in the Philippines will go on; as Duterte himself claimed, “Expect 20,000 or 30,000 more” killings, and he has been emboldened by the support from the American president-elect.
As the richest administration in living memory is being assembled in Washington D.C., we look back at how an earlier version of that had fared.
For twenty-nine months in early 1920s, the United States was effectively governed not from the White House but from a small house four blocks away. The residence at 1625 K Street was the epicenter of the Harding presidency — and all the shambolic chaos that surrounded it.
Warren G. Harding was propelled into the White House by a deadlocked national convention and machine politics; in many ways, America elected him as a snub to his predecessor Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson’s internationalist views. A genial man whose friends included George Eastman, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford, Harding surrounded himself with cronies and sycophants and assembled a federal government which was less than qualified — to put it charitably.
To head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (and later the Federal Reserve), Harding chose D.R. Crissinger, a former neighbor whose prior work experience was as a director of rural shovel and stockyards companies. Harding gave his sister and brother-in-law, previously missionaries in Burma, senior jobs in the government. His chief military adviser was a man named Ora Baldinger — someone so obscure and inconsequential that he doesn’t even have a wikipedia page — who had been Harding’s newspaper delivery boy.
To head the newly formed Veterans Affairs bureau, Harding chose Charles Forbes, who he befriended by chance during a Hawaiian holiday. Forbes was put in charge of a department with $500 million budget (around $6 billion in today’s money), of which he managed to lose, steal, or misappropriate as much as $200 million in mere two years. Another distinguished appointee was Albert Fall, a senator trailed by a dark cloud of possible homicide of a rival. Fall was chosen to lead the Department of Interior where he blundered into a bribery scheme that would soon be remembered as the Teapot Dome scandal, and became .
Meanwhile, at the Treasury, shrewd Andrew Mellon oversaw a huge tax cut, which while kickstarting the economy, greatly benefited the rich. As a political rival noted at the time, under the new tax, “Mr. Mellon himself gets a larger personal reduction than the aggregate of practically all the taxpayers in the state of Nebraska”. Mellon also used the IRS to prepare his tax returns (to minimize his tax bill), and the State Department to get his companies get contracts in China, according to David Cannadine in magisterial Mellon: An American Life. During his long years at Treasury, Mellon’s personal wealth doubled to over $150 million, and his family fortune grew to over $2 billion.
Harding didn’t manage to see most of the havoc caused by his appointees — not Mellon’s tax trial, not Fall’s prison sentence (who holds the dubious distinction as the first cabinet member to go to prison), not Crissinger’s indictment for mail fraud in a crooked real estate financing scheme. Twenty-nine months into his presidency, he died from heart failure — in the hands of Charles Sawyer, an unqualified doctor who relied on archaic medical practices, and who was only appointed official White House physician because he had been Harding’s parents’ family doctor.
This week’s Time magazine assembled a list of the 100 most influential photographs ever taken. It is interesting to see that Time had similar struggles that we at Iconic Photos had in such a task in recent years: “Digital revolution has made quantifying influence a particular challenge.”
Time wrote, “There is no formula that makes a picture influential… Some images are on our list because they were the first of their kind, others because they shaped the way we think. And some made the cut because they directly changed the way we live. What all 100 share is that they are turning points in our human experience.” The photos are here: http://100photos.time.com/ and a selection is printed.
A few thoughts: It is a rare occasion that Time uses a non-red border, but it did it again this week. It also included a wide, diverse array of images — from contact sheets of Phillipp Halsman to instagram work from North Korea, from a PR-stunt of a selfie to paparazzi photos of Ron Galella. Time didn’t publish close-up photo of Emmett Till’s face — suggesting that there are still limits to how far a print media organization can go — although it did include a bloodied face of a dead Iranian protester on its web edition. It was great to see Erich Salomon’s political reporting included; Richard Prince’s rephotography work remains as artistically controversial as it was in 1989,
Fifty years ago this week went out a short text that was to plague China for a decade. On May 16th 1966, after a secretive meeting of the Politburo, Mao Tse-Dong issued a document that denounced the enemies of the Communist cause that existed within the Chinese Communist Party itself. It heralded the beginning of what is known as the Cultural Revolution – a ten-year madness of purges and excesses in which temples are defaced, colleges were shut down, and mangoes are worshiped. The party debated changing traffic rules for ideological reasons (switching to driving on the left, and red traffic signals meant go).
The Revolution itself was a culmination of twenty years of tumult that began with the Communist takeover of China in 1949. During the first decade of the party’s rule in China, five million people died due to land confiscations and ‘death quotas’. This was followed by the tragedy of Great Leap Forward – a disastrous agricultural and industrial policy that led to forty-five million deaths.
One of the rare chroniclers of the Cultural Revolution in all its excesses was Li Zhensheng who worked for newspaper in Harbin, in the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang. He was ordered not to take any “negative” images and executions, but working for a state-owned paper, he was able to travel around the country, taking photos of mock trials, denunciations, and destructions without being harassed.
He recorded truly bizarre moments: the head of Heilongjiang province Governor Li Fanwu brutally being shaved and torn by zealous young Red Guards, who accused his hairstyle of bearing a resemblance to Mao’s (photos below). Photo above, workers being denounced and marched off to their execution.
Li himself was a zealous Maoist, and was an eager member of the Red Guards and even organized his own group of Red Guards. He himself was later arrested in an internal power struggle, but he managed to hide his negatives away under the floorboards of his flat. Some of these photos were collected in a book in 2003, called Red-Color News Soldier. The title referred to the name given to journalists in Harbin, hinting at complex relationship between reporting, photojournalism, and the Party in those heady days.