Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Remarkable Pictures, 2010, Part 2

Herewith, another ten images from the past year that, for one reason and another--mostly visual, sometimes historical, always personal--I particularly liked.

April 17, 2010

This is not a painting or a fine-art photo. It shows Tibetan monks through the heat waves and flames of a mass burial of victims of the earthquake that shook Yushu, Qinghai, China on April 14. PHOTO BY AP

November 16, 2010

Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta becomes the first living soldier since Vietnam to receive that Medal of Honor for action in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, during which he saved the lives to two friends. If Giunta's expression is solemn, the reason could be learned on this clip, made by photographer Tim Hetherington and writer Sebastian Junger as a followup to their remarkable film Restrepo. As I noted in a blog post, this picture doesn't tell the facts behind the medal, but it tells the meaning of the facts. PHOTO BY J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP

NOVEMBER 12, 2010

Dancers with illuminated hats performing at the opening ceremonies of the Asian Games. A spectacle of color. PHOTO BY NICOLAS ASFOURI/GETTY IMAGES

June 2, 2010

These pictures belong together, as cause and effect. It was just one of those days for Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galaragga, who pitched a perfect game until the ninth inning, when umpire Jim Joyce called the runner in the photo on top safe at first base, though the runner was out by a mile, but there was no turning back. The following day, Joyce was behind home plate when he took the Tiger lineup card from...Galaragga, who comforted the clearly emotional ump. Let's bring in instant replay so no umpire has to go through this again.

November 2, 2010

More baseball: This photo of  triumphant pitcher Tim Lincecum appeared on the front page of the New York Times's sports section the day the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series championship in 56 years. The headline: "Giants Once More." The paper hangs in my office now, because I've been a Giants fan six age six. When my wife, a Chicago Cubs fan, saw it, I felt obliged to say that the Giants's win proved anything was possible. "Not really," she replied. "You're right," I said.

January 23, 2010

Venus Williams took the court during the Australian Open in attention-getting attire. Indeed, she turned up at several big tournaments wearing...controversial clothing of her own design. Whether her line becomes a hit or not, we'll always have these pictures of one of the sport's greatest stars. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES/AFP

February 13, 2010

Ian Banner wipes out--I think that's the right term--during a surfing contest in Half Moon Bay, California. Oddly, it's the wave that impresses me here. PHOTO BY BEN MARGOT/AP

June 28, 2010

The world needed another picture of Marilyn Monroe, and it got it. This x-ray was made in 1954 at the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Florida, where Marilyn was treated there for endometriosis. As I always suspected, she had a superb chest. As I noted in a blog post, the woman simply could not take a bad picture. A doctor in the hospital's radiological unit kept the images, then passed them on to his daughter, who decided to put them up for sale at an auction of Marilyn memorabilia in Las Vegas.

March 31, 2010

This is what a lava lake looks like. It's a beautiful thing if you know how to photograph it right. This picture of the lava lake of Mount Nyiragongo in Congo was photographed quite well, I think. PHOTO BY REBECCA BLACKWELL/AP

June 1, 2010

This marks the third time I've included this picture in my blog. I'll try to make it the last time, but who knows when I'll need to talk about the visual allure of sinkholes again? This sinkhole, which swallowed up an entire intersection of downtown Guatamala City, went down some 30 stories. I think it's my favorite picture of the really unleashes the imagination. Last summer I wondered who one might find down at the bottom, in the outer regions of hell....Osama bin Laden? Professor Moriarty? Ernst Stavro Blofeld? Dick Cheney? Just think what we may find out in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Remarkable Pictures, 2010, Part 1

Here's a purely personal collection of remarkable images from 2010. I came up with my list by pinching pictures from other end-of-year photo compilations, and by reviewing the past 12 months of this very blog. This is not a review of the biggest news events of the year—the choices are based on the effect the images had on me. So here's my pictorial trip down memory lane, presented in no particular chronological order:

October 10, 2010

The man in the wheelbarrow, killed during a missile strike in Kadahar Province, Afghanistan, was suspected of being a Taliban fighter who had placed IEDs. A soldier from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division searches one of the dead man's associates. PHOTO FROM AP.

FEBRUARY 13, 2010

A Marine protects an Afghan man and his child after Taliban open fire on the town of Marjah in Helmand Province. PHOTO BY GORAN TOMASEVIC/REUTERS

January 14, 2010

The dust-covered body of a man killed in the earthquake that devastated Haiti lies on a sidewalk in Port-au-Prince. PHOTO BY DAMON WINTER/NEW YORK TIMES

November 8, 2010

Ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi on Java island in Indonesian covers a corn field. It's a color picture. PHOTO BY AP

February 13, 2010

NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this picture Mimas, one of Saturn's moons, from a distance of 70,000 kilometers away. PHOTO BY NASA/JPL/SSI

MAY 6, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico after the the BP oil disaster. PHOTO BY RICHARD PERRY/ NEW YORK TIMES

May 12, 2010

After in inconclusive election, Conservatives and Social Democrats joined forces to form a new British government. Here, the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the new Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, pose as mirror images of each other. PHOTO BY MATT CARDY/GETTY IMAGES

September 2, 2010

In coming up with the high concept for this Rolling Stone cover shot, photographer Matthew Rolston simply thought, "Oh, True Blood...naked, and covered in blood." My pick for the best mag cover of the year. PHOTO BY MATTHEW ROLSTON

MARCH 31, 2010

A penitent from one of the many processions that take place in Seville, Spain during Easter Holy Week. PHOTO BY EMILIO MORENATTI/AP

MAY 5, 2010

Back in May the Tea Party was still a kind of fringy movement that the media was trying to figure out. At that point, the party mostly just staged rallies in which people carried signs about impending losses of freedom. The Huffington Post ran an article about the "10 Most Offensive Tea Party Signs," which included this one. PHOTO BY MATTHIEU YOUNG.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Gift Number Two: A Very Hilton Christmas

Some of those families who are lucky enough to be getting away to warm places this holiday will be taking photos. Here is one typical family: The Hiltons! I love this picture. When I first saw it, I thought it was some kind of Photoshopped thing, with three separate shots of the same couple all combined into one frame. But no! On the left, you see Paris Hilton and her boyfriend Cy Waits; in the middle are Paris's parents, Rick and Kathy, and on the right is sister Nicky Hilton with her boyfriend, David Katzenberg. Off in the distance is a guy in a kayak...The picture is from the Flynet agency.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Merry Nazi Christmas pulled from the late picture magazine's archives a number ridiculously intriguing photos of Adolf Hitler and company celebrating a very Waffen-SS Christmas. The pictures, one or two of which were published in Life in bygone days, were taken by Hugo Jaeger, one of Hitler's personal photographers. This yuletide celebration took place in Munich on December 18, 1941--eleven days after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. As notes, "killing operations" at the Nazi's Chelmno death camp had begun less than two weeks before.

Herr Hitler looks a little glum in the photo above. In fact, this view of the celebration makes it look like one of the dreariest office Christmas parties ever thrown. The photo below shows us, however, that the Nazi's typically went for big drama with stage setting. The Lowenbraukeller--yes, the party was held in a beer hall--is garnished with huge swastikas, huge trees, and streamers of tinsel.

The SS soldiers who manned the steins that night seem to be having a good time. As the website points out, the Nazis originally wanted to take religion out of the holiday--they had a plan (they always had a plan) to rig up a celebration harking back to the old pagan days. Something like a Fascist Festivus, or something like that, but the Volk wanted their Christmas.

It just so happens that I've been reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich recently, and these images help shade detail into the narrative. The images remind us how real history really was.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Snowy Europe: My Favorite Photo

I found this photo of snow-covered Florence, Italy on the New York Times's "Lens" blog. It was taken by Maurizio Degl'Innocenti for the European Photo Agency.

Why it's my favorite picture of the snowfall that has shut down Europe over the past few days should be fairly obvious: The whites and the blacks and the reds, the blanketed streets--photos are silent, of course, but you can almost hear the quiet in this shot. Someone else can explain exactly why snow dampens the sound of city streets; for me, it's just one of the best things in the world.

Why shouldn't these people be kissing? They're in Florence. They're not trapped in an airport in England, sleeping on a rolled-out foam mattress and eating god-knows-what. Congratulations to Mr. Degl'Innocenti and his editors for reminding me that natural disasters of this kind aren't always awful.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday Gift: Two Worthy Websites That Plumb the Heights (and Depths) of Photo History

Well, I slept through the eclipse last night, wouldn't you know? Even though I promised to watch it. And I gave the wrong time for it in my post yesterday. So, I've got to make it up to everyone with a holiday gift. I thought I'd share a couple of pretty neat photo website I've discrovered recently.

The first is called Vintage Nerds, and it is nothing but wonderful pinup photos from the past. In other words, naughty stuff for hipsters. (The site itself uses another word instead of "naughty stuff," but "naughty stuff" is far, far more tasteful if less precise.) When I say the site is nothing but pinups, I mean it--no text, no value-added historical insights...just photographs. Sometimes the names of the models are included (Bettie Page, of course). But the range of imagery is remarkable, and the pictures themselves are often charming examples of old-fashioned barbershop reading. For hipsters who take pictures like this, the site is certainly worth checking out.

      I also recently ran across a site called Iconic Photos, which, as you might expect, features pictures that stunned the world, in one way or another. What I like about the site is the weird range of imagery—everything from Paul Strand's "Wall Street" (above) to Annie Leibovitz's portrait of Queen Elizabeth to Patrick Robert's photo of the body of deposed Liberian ruler Samuel Doe. Be careful if you're skittish--some of pictures, like Robert's view of the naked corpse of Doe and images of the body of 14-year-old Emmett Till—are gruesome. But the texts accompanying the images are very sharp, adding historical perspective and while explaining the significance of each picture. The site is a very good source for finding controversial imagery that made an impact.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tonight: I Like to Watch Lunar Eclipses...Especially on Winter Solstices

Not that I personally have ever had the chance. Tonight there will be a lunar eclipse of a full moon, and you can bet I'll be out somewhere watching, even though it is eff-ing cold where I live, and the eclipse won't really happen until early Tuesday morning for many people (it occurs at 6:38 Eastern Standard Time). But that's the whole point: This will be the first lunar eclipse of a full moon on the winter solstice since, well, let's see...oohh...1378. (That was also the year that a man named Robert de Geneve, who also happened to be known as the "butcher of Cesena," was crowned as the "anti-pope" Clemens VII. Coincidence? Ummm, maybe not.) You can go here to read all about tonight's events and lunar eclipses in general.
     To celebrate the event, I went searching for lunar eclipse imagery, and found Mr. Eclipse, perhaps the finest eclipse website going. It features pictures by Fred Espenak, who is a physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Above is an example of his work.  Yes, I'm hearing the moon will actually look red, as you see in the sequence here. This could be big.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Does Your Dug Bite? Or Nine Life Lessons from Inspector Clouseau

I like to watch Pink Panther movies. The news of the death of director and writer Blake Edwards prompted me to start re-examining my relationship with Inspector Clouseau. I realized he may have been wiser than I used to think. Here are nine of his best utterances, and what I think they mean:

1. "The greater the uds, the greater the shallange." Lesson: Attack, always. Or,  never argue with a French philosopher.

2. "Does your dug bite?"Forewarned is forearmed. 

3. "How was I to know he had a minkey?" Sometimes, on the other hand,  life simply presents surprises that we cannot anticipate. Accept these, and move on.

4. "If yuv seen one Stradivarius, yuv seen them all." Don't sweat the small stuff. And it's all small stuff. 

5.  "Do you have a rim? The first rule of survival: find shelter.

6. "I suspect everyone, and I suspect no one."Even paranoids have enemies. 

7. "There is more gooing on here than meets the ear." You must dig to find the truth.

8. "Facts...nothing matters but the facts." Unless you like to watch FOX News. 

9."It's all part of life's rich pageant, you know." Enjoy it while you can.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Facebook as Art

The map here was created by an intern at Facebook, Paul Butler. which shows you how sophisticated the interns at Facebook must be. (Back when I was an intern at a magazine, my boss took me out to lunch one day and I, not being quite sure of place settings, ate her soup. I was not very sophisticated.) Butler's map illustrates the distribution of Facebook's 10 million friendships. This beautiful visual is a work of art in its own right--what about a 3x5-foot print of that for a holiday gift? As this post notes, the Facebook map, like nighttime photographs of the earth from space that show population concentrations and the places where people have access to artificial light, reveals how divided the world is technologically. I was stunned by how the U.S. is essentially divided almost in two in this regards. Perhaps we need to take note of not just the red states and the blue states, but also the Facebook states and the unfriended states when considering the social and political underpinnings of the nation.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Me and Voyager 1

I'm back from a sojourn from one end of California to the other (south to north, that is). That was quite a trip, I thought. Then this morning I read that the Voyager 1 spacecraft is now about 10.8 billion miles from the sun, where, scientists think, it is leaving the solar system and entering interstellar space. (They can tell, because of the direction the particles flowing around the spacecraft. These particles, which originate in the sun, are now not moving outward but sideways.)

 In my case, about the farthest from anywhere I got was on Saturday, when I was driving along a country highway that runs through an expanse of rice fields in NorCal's Sacramento Valley. On the eastern levee of the Sacramento River there's a hamlet called Butte City, which consists of about five houses, a bar, and a little wood shack with a big sign painted on one side that says, "Ducks Plucked Here." Naturally, I didn't have a camera with me.

Glad to have been there, glad to be back. The photo above show's an artist's rendering of what Voyager 1 looks like in space. The shot below is from NASA's Voyager page. It was taken in 1995 by the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows what is called a bow shock created from the wind from the star L.L. Orionis  colliding with the Orion Nebula flow. What a universe!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sinkholes and the Visual Allure of the Abyss

Today's topic: Sinkholes! Are they the perfect visual metaphor for the current strain of American malaise? Or does our fear of them go deeper?

But first, let me start by explaining that as the year comes to an end I start eagerly awaiting the annual "best of" lists that inevitably turn up in magazines and on the Internet. This December, which also marks the end of a decade, sort of,  promises even more wide-ranging reminders of how sh***ty the Bush era was. I mean I lived through the 2000 election once, and now I know I'm gonna have to again.

Websites at least can add some science to their annual news roundups. For instance, in summing up the year in pictures, National Geographic did not rely on the news or artistic judgment of editors, but on the number of hits various pictures received online. You can see the results here, but I will sum up for you. The five most viewed stories on the website this year were:

5. "Iceland Volcano Pictures: Lightning Adds Flash to Ash"

Italian photographer and scientist Marco Fulle shot this image
I particularly admired this shot from the Geographic story. Taken by Italian photographer and scientist Marco Fulle, it shows Iceland's Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting.

4. "Strange New Species found off Greenland"

A new species of shark, Photo courtesy Greenland Institute of Natural Resources
This new species of shark  has been found in other oceans as well, but never in Greenland waters. I think it looks like a cartoon fish from my old "Bozo Under the Sea" record when I was a kid.

3. "Stunning Photos from a 10-Year Sea Census"

Mr. Blobby photo courtesy Kerryn Parkingson, NORFANZ
Meet Mr. Blobby, a fathead sculpin fish caught in 2003 off New Zealand as part of a 10-year marine life census. This isn't the first encounter I've had with Mr. Blobby.

2.. "Fish With Hands Identified"

The spotted handfish. Photo courtesy CSIRO
Apparently, some fish use their fins to walk along the ocean bottom. Why these fins are referred to has hands and not feet, I do not know.

At any rate, before we proceed, let's access.  Aside from the flashy pictures of volcanos in Greenland, the other top stories so far all essentially have to do with sea creatures. Weird, unsettling sea creatures. Let's face it, we love to look at 'em and think about the scary things down there. Likewise with the volcano, when you come to think of it: Images of fire and ash must, I think, trigger some deep-rooted notion of hell, at least as hell has been depicted in about a thousand years' worth of art and literature. Which brings me to the number-one most clicked-on  Geographic news story:

1. "Sinhold Pierces Guatamala"

The Guatemala Sinkhole, photo courtesy Paulo Raquec
Last June, the world press, me included, reported the news that a giant sinkhole had appeared in Guatemala City, Guatemala--and not just any sinkhole, but a 30-story sinkhole that "devoured buildings." And if the idea of this sinkhole was bad, the images that accompanied the stories were horrifying: A gaping, sheer drop into absolute blackness that seemed without end. To look at the images was to wonder: What is down there? Not that we necessarily want to know. I submit that there is a part of us--the part that responds to artistic renderings of hell, or the part that wants to watch "The Walking Dead"--that prefers the blackness to knowledge. The lure of the abyss is undeniable, don't you think? Interestingly, National Geographic's number-six most clicked-on story was also about sinkholes. The number-seven story was about new rare species, featuring a bat "with trumpet-like nostrils" that looked in every respect like a effing demon.

The tube-noseed fruit bat. Photo courtesy Piotr Naskrecki, Conservation International
The list really makes you think twice about modern-man's relationship with the natural world. We know we still have to fear the dark, don't we? We know that despite all our technology there are unknowns out there. Way down on the Geographic list are two stories about this summer's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but that was a man-made disaster, and it just doesn't carry the same fear factor that a sinkhole does.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Art Watch: The Wonderful Holiday Print Sale

Photographer and blogger Chase Jarvis has wisely advised readers about Fraction magazine's annual holiday print sale. What a great way to see and perhaps acquire some terrific work by a number of young photographers. And...100 percent of the proceeds from each sale goes to the artist, so it's a good deal all around. This material is priced between $30 and $100, so it's very, very affordable; I mean, there are a lot of other nice holiday gifts out there that cost a lot more, and aren't nearly as nice as these images. The photograph above, titled "Portugese Defenses Essaouira, Morocco," is by Hollis Bennett;  The image below, "KIM SON, New Orleans LA 1998," is by William Greiner.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Must Read: Spencer Platt's Cholera Journal

A cholera patient being delivered to a hospital in Haiti. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
 My friend Michael Shaw, who does the excellent Bag News Notes website, has a piece up featuring photojournalist Spencer Platt's images documenting the cholera outbreak. The pictures suggest the reality of the deadly disease in a way I haven't experienced before. Platt has also written a journal about his experience in Haiti. He's a very strong writer. Here is an excerpt, in which he describes seeing patients being treated in a hospital room that once was used as a maternity ward:
This room, which had been used to usher new lives into the world; whose walls witnessed the screams, fears and sobs of the joy of birth, is now home to an ominous sight. Men and women, young and old lay prostrate in the late afternoon light with rehydration drips tethered to their thin arms. They are the fortunate ones, the ones who made it to the hospital and didn’t die in a fetid shed where shafts of light filter through wood slats to reveal worlds of dust and rot.
Please go to Bag News and see the rest of Platt's images, and read that journal. This is a prime example of what photographs do like no other medium. They provide the emotional sticking points that make the abstractions of current events real for us. And the combination of pictures and words remain as powerful as ever.

A cholera victim is buried. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Monday, November 29, 2010

In Print: Linsday Vonn As Sharon Stone, Model Sues Over Nudes, Tim Gunn's Best of Life

Has the magazine industry recovered, like all those stories say it has? I think not. But let's agree that all those titles we love are trying really, really hard to: 1) Get attention, even if it means going off message; 2) Be cutting-edge, even if it means fudging photos; and 3) Stay relevant, even if your magazine doesn't exist. The corresponding evidence follows:

1. ESPN, The Movie Issue

What am I most surprised about...the fact that the woman on the cover of ESPN, the Magazine is not Sharon Stone but Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn, or that fact the ESPN, the Magazine has a movie issue? Apparently the NFL, with it's monster TV ratings, just isn't enough for today's sports fan. I'm wondering if the editor who wrote the cover line "Back to Basics" was in fact feeling that the publication might bestraying a bit too far from its core mission. No matter, Vonn doesn't look like Sharon Stone in this homage to Basic Instinct. In this behind-the-scene video of the photo shoot, Vonn talks about her resemblance to Stone. One commentator, recalling the famous scene reacted here, wondered whether the underlying message was that "even if a female athlete has a gold medal, never forget that she also has a vagina!" Your thoughts? By the way, while there are lots of stories about this cover on the Internet, none of which will tell you that the photographer of the cover was Ture Lillegravin. 

2. GQ Spain

Model Irina Shayk (click it, trust me) is said to be suing GQ Spain for making her appear to be nude in several images of its current issue (cover above, nude below). Shayk's agency, Elite, said in a statement (go here) that the model was wearing lingerie in the "artistic and tasteful shots done by famed photographer Vincent Peters, and that she was supposed to have final approval over the images before they were published. According to Elite, the lure of nudity and Photoshop proved to be too great for the magazine to withstand. As you look at the image above, remember that those are just pixels and not real flesh that you're seeing. As a matter of fact, it's good to remember that whenever you look at any fashion, advertising, or portrait photography. It's about fantasy.

3. Life

 Life magazine stopped publishing a weekly edition in 1972.  Last week, however, had a fun piece up in which Project Runway's Tim Gunn was asked to pick his favorite fashion images from the pages of the magazine. The selection is fun to look at, and Gunn is as impeccable in taste as always, but the piece struck me as a bit of a stretch, since Life was never the home of great fashion photography. For Life, fashion, like the movies, was news, not art. It's just a little silly looking at the history of fashion imagery through the eyes of Life's photographers. Having said that, however, let me add that the shot below, which appeared in 1969, when I was but a lad, had a very...profound effect on me, and I am thankful that Gunn included it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The First Great Piece of Literature from the Afghanistan War?

I have a new blog entry up on the Huffington's about photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who has just released a new book, Infidel, which documents Battle Company of the 2nd Battalion, 403rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which Hetherington photographed over the course of a year's deployment in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan. It's a different kind of war book, more focused on the quiet moments of a soldier's life...and it's reality is absolutely compelling. The finest part is a series of images of these warriors asleep, like young boys, in their bunks. I wonder if it isn't part of the first great piece of literature to come out of the war.

In the back of the book, Hetherington includes statements from many of the soldiers of Battle Company. One of the most interesting to me came from a man who, like many soldiers from wars past, talks about how the fact of killing changes a man forever. But in today's volunteer army, the weight of that feeling is an extra burden. He notes that he chose to join the military, and chose the infantry, and so the killing he has done could, as he notes, have been avoided. It's not an idea I'd ever considered before.