Wednesday, June 30, 2010

All the President's Emotions

The media likes to refer to Barack Obama's emotional even keel--"No Drama Obama"--so Newsweek put together a collection of pictures showing the president expressing his feelings, such as they are. The shot above, by Mandel Ngan for APF-Getty Images, for instance, is titled "The Cartoonish Lamenter."

                      We also have "The Class Clown." (Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta)

          And "The Unguarded Mourner." (Photo by Jim Watson for AFP-Getty Images)


And "The Irritable Father." (Photo by Jewel Samand for AFP-Getty Images) This picture shows a bit of the fire that Obama's critics have been hoping to see from the president, especially when it comes to dealing with BP.  In fact, the photo was taking last August when the president spoke at a rally for Virginia failing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds. Is this where the anger lies?

VJ Day Icon

 Edith Shain, nurse whose V-J kiss with sailor in Times Square immortalized in Life photo, dies at 91

Wednesday, June 23rd 2010, 4:27 PM

The nurse whose celebratory V-J Day kiss with an exuberant sailor in Times Square was immortalized in an iconic photograph has died.
Edith Shain was 91 and passed away without ever really knowing for sure who planted the kiss on her while photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt captured the epic moment with his camera.
While Shain waited until the 1970s to come forward to say she was the woman in the Life magazine picture, the identity of the sailor remains in dispute.

And here is how Eisensaedt recalled the moment:

"There were thousands of people milling around, in side streets and everywhere. Everybody was kissing each other...And there was also a Navy man running, grabbing anybody, you know, kissing. I ran ahead of him because I had Leica cameras around my neck, focused from 10 feet to infinity. You only had to shoot...I didn't even know what was going on, until he grabbed something in white. And I stood there, and they kissed. And I snapped five times."
                       --From "The Great Life Photographers," Bulfinch, 2004

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memoriam: Bill Hudson

                                                 Photographer Bill Hudson (at right)

Bill Hudson was a photographer for Associated Press who covered the civil rights movement in the 1960s. His images of police brutality against protesters helped form public opinion. The photo here, credited to Associated Press, shows Hudson (at right) with fellow AP photographer Horace Cort in Birmingham, Alabama, at the scene of a bombing. The LA Times ran a nice obit.


                                                Prince Harry indulges in classic humor

I especially love to watch when British royals--any royals, really--fall off things. But falling off polo ponies is the best. This picture by David Goldman for Associated Press shows Prince Harry, third in line for the British throne, heading downward at an exhibition polo match yesterday on Governors Island in New York harbor. Of course it's newsworthy.

Did I mention that I once slipped on a banana peel on the 8th Street uptown subway platform of the now-deceased W train in Manhattan? A nearby onlooker was doubled over in laughter. "I've never actually seen anyone do that before," he said. It's always funny.

Beaver, Wally, Darrell, and Me

                                                          The Beaver and Wally

There was a terrific review in yesterday's New York Times of a new DVD set of all the episodes of the television masterpiece "Leave It to Beaver." (Don't think it was a masterpiece? Read the review.)

When I was a kid--I was the prototypical 1950s baby boomer brat tuned in to the Golden Age of Television--what I liked about "Leave It to Beaver" was the calm, quiet, mild suburban lifestyle it depicted. I grew up on a farm, so it seemed pretty exotic to me. Compared to anyone's real-life family, I suppose, the Cleavers led idyllic lives. When they did something wrong or neglectful--it was never very wrong or neglectful--punishment was met out to Beaver and his older brother Wally in low-volume, measured cadences by their dad Ward, while Mrs. Cleaver baked something in the kitchen wearing a mid-calf house dress. I don't know about your family, but it wasn't always like that at my house.

I think I also responded to the relationship between Beaver and Wally, who, while they often had their differences, seemed to genuinely like each other. I recall life with my own older brother, Darrell, as being considerably more voluble. He was six years older than me, so I occasionally received what no doubt was a deserved bit of corporal punishment for being a wisemouth.

 At any rate, one of the pictures that ran with the Times's review was the  promo shot (above) of Jerry Mathers (the Beaver) and Tony Dow (Wally). When I saw it, I thought of this picture of Darrell and me, taken, probably, around 1960 or so.

                                                                  Darrell and me

Family photos, which can be as deceiving as any other photo--and perhaps more so--can also perform a corrective function. This picture reminded me that at least for the minute or so my mother had us posed us in our back yard, Darrell and I did actually have a Wally-and-Beaver kind of life. Not all the falsities of television sitcoms were entirely false. We played football and baseball together, and he sometimes took me fishing. I am lucky enough to be able to say that it was an idyllic life. The picture represents a version of reality--but a version as valid as any other.

I always thought that that one tragedy of TV was how real families aspired to live like sitcom families--an impossible task. But shows like "Beaver" reflected a kind of real life, one that existed both as a dream and a reality. That's what made it so powerful an experience for a kid like me.

Photo of the Day: Marilyn's Chest

                                 The fascination with Marilyn is more than skin deep.

Lord knows I've published many a picture of Marilyn Monroe's chest over my years as a magazine editor. Here is another one, and it's a little different from all the others. Aside from everything else one might say regarding this photo (see below), let us start with this: It's kind of beautiful. Much more lovely, even sensuous, than most x-rays, I think.

This woman, Marilyn, simply could not take a bad picture.

The x-ray comes from one of three sets of images taken of Marilyn's chest during a 1954 visit to Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Florida. It was at that hospital that Marilyn was operated on for endometriosis. Hospital records show she used the name "Marilyn DiMaggio," though she and baseball legend Joe DiMaggio had at that point separated.

The x-rays were kept by a doctor in the hospital's radiological unit, who passed them to his daughter. She recently put them up for sale at an auction of movie memorabilia in Las Vegas. Estimated to sell for $3,000, the x-rays went instead for $45,000.

Novelists from Normal Mailer to Joyce Carol Oates have tried to understand and explain the never-ending fascination with Marilyn. That fascination, as Andy Warhol understood, was created and advanced by photography. Marilyn was always highly conscious of the power of photography to define her, and she was equally conscious of her power over the camera. I have over the years spoken with most of the photographers who famously photographed her, and without hesitation they described her effortless command of the creative process and her careful attention to the editing process of photography.

One can't help but wonder if she approved her own x-rays for release.

Call me ghoulish--it wouldn't be the first time I've heard it--but at $45,000 I consider the x-rays a wonderful art buy. These are not mere pieces of movie star trivia (a chair she once posed in also sold at the auction for $35,000, which is stupid), but another example that certain creatures are meant to live in photographs. Marilyn never existed as intimately, as forcefully, or as poignantly as she did in her pictures. Her movie roles just seem like background noise to the still image, and her real life has become the stuff of over-told tragedy.

Her x-rays provide evidence that there was a real life behind the movies and the still portraits--a young woman with health problems that may have left her infertile. Yet even this evidence exists as an intriguing, beguiling, offering image.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Photo of the Day

                                                                High on soccer

After 91 frustrating, scintillating minutes of watching soccer, Landon Donovan pushed the ball past the Algerian goal keeper to give the USA team a 1-0 win, sending it into the next round of games at the World Cup in South Africa. Perhaps you, like me, watched the entire game. Feel free now to scrape your brains off the ceiling. This is why we like to watch sports: the meager chance for a little squirt of dopamine so can end up with a face like Donovan's in this photo.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mad Men: The Poster

                  Peaking: Don Draper's barren landscape

Here is the poster for season four of Mad Men, which debuts in July. When last we saw advertising man Don Draper, he had left his old agency and agreed to give his  wife Betty a divorce. As this insightful visual analysis states, the new poster makes it clear that the new season will be about starting over. The image emphasizes the barrenness of Don's life.

Photo of the Day

                                 The fractured nature of reality in Kyrgyzstan

James Hill, a photographer based in Moscow who shoots regularly for the New York Times, was covering the latest violence in Kyrgyzstan when he got this picture at a depot on the outskirts of the Kyrgyz city of Osh. He shot from inside an abandoned bus, capturing the fractured nature of reality after day of ethnic violence between the Kyrgyz troops and Uzbeks. The Times reports that about 80,000 ethnic Uzbeks, mostly women and children, have fled Kyrgyzstan since the violence began.

Hill is a wonderful photographer who I got to know after he covered the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. His picture here shows how creative news photographers can be as they attempt to tell an entire story in a single image. News video can't do that. Curiously, I couldn't find this picture in the print or the web version of the newspaper. I got it from the "New in Pictures" section of the Times Reader version.

Markus and Indrani

                                Indrani and Klinko are indeed TV worthy

Back from a few days off, recuperating from "covering" the premier party for Double Exposure, the new Bravo reality show about the photographic team of Markus Klinko and Indrani. If you haven't seen the program, which airs on Tuesdays. Here's the plot: Markus, a tall blond German who used to play the harp in classical orchestras but later taught himself photography, and Indrani, a former model who taught herself Photoshop and once dated Klinko and remained as his creative partner even after they broke up (still following me?) roam the earth in search of celebrities (Lady Gaga, Beyonce, etc.) to photograph. Markus dresses in T-shirts and leather jackets and Indrani wears really tight, short dresses, and the pair spend a lot of time in each episode screaming at each other. It's kind of wonderful.

My exceptional friend Kayla (who runs Sony's excellent Artisans of Imagery program) and I fought our way through a crowd filled with very, very tall women with large hands and the men who love them to say hello to Markus, who was wearing a denim jacket despite the heat. I know he tends to get into fights with people--sometimes the celebs he shooting--but he's actually a very nice guy with a welcome lack of ego. Indrani, wearing gold lame, was stationed at the step-and-repeat, posing, and she is more beautiful than I remembered. Be sure to catch this curious, funny, and talented pair on TV.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Carly's Bad Hair Day

I've committed myself to keeping this blog about the visual culture--mainly photography in the news, but also whatever other types of visual imagery interests me. And I'm sure the definition will keep expanding. Still, I'm not sure I can justify this particular post thematically--it's really more about my loathing of a political candidate than it is about imagery. But imagery does come into play, indirectly.

Perhaps you saw the story in today's New York Times about the flap that Carly Fiorina--the new GOP senatorial candidate in California--caused when she made fun of the hair style of Senator Barbara Boxer, the Democrat that Fiorina hopes to unseat in November.

Fiorina was picked up by an open microphone at an event saying that Boxer's hairdo was old-fashioned. (When will politicians learn that microphones should be treated like bees--they can still sting you even when you think they're dead.) The catty comment produced all sorts of media angina. It left people wondering why a woman who climbed to the top of a business world dominated by men could be so superficial, and so trivial, as to make fun of an opponent's hairdo.

The Time article quotes political experts as saying the flap may cause voters to question Fiorina's character. "It is not a good way to start a woman-on-woman race by playing into stereotypes about female culture," said Bruce A. Cain, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley. Saucer of milk, table for two....

The episode also prompted the writer of the Times piece to bring up old charges by employees of Hewlett Packard, the company that Fiorina once ran, that she was a "tart and unpleasant."

I think the questions raised by Fiorina's comments  should more properly focus on her grasp of reality. Now here I should warn you, I am going to be tart and unpleasant and deal with stereotypes of female attractiveness. (Since I'm not running for senate and am not a woman, I think I have that right.) My point is that Carly Fiorina must be out of her mind in some way to say that she is more attractive or stylish that Barbara Boxer. Or nearly any other woman.

Fiorina is, IMHO, one of the most unfortunately-faced political candidates to come along in recent years. I mean, she looks like she could compete just as well in the Belmont Stakes as in a general election. With a jaw like hers, she needs lots more hair--layers and layers of cover--instead of what she's got. I grew up on a farm, and I know how a badly-sheered sheep looks.

Yeah, that's mean. But she asked for it. And I stand by what I just said. Look at the pictures here.
                                                     Ugly duckling or mean girl?

Now onto more relevant matters. Fiorina is going to be going around for the next few months talking about how her experience in business is just what the country needs now.  But I have been following her career closely for many years--I used to work at a magazine that covered high-tech gadgets, including HP printers. And through some weird personal history I also attended her first wedding, when she married one of my best high school friends who she'd met at Stanford. (If you want to know more about her personal history, look up the outstanding piece Vanity Fair did about her several years back.)

Fiorina was a disaster at HP. She nearly destroyed the company, in fact. (Don't take my word for it. The son of the company's founder and former employees agree.) Following the standard script for CEOs playing with shareholder money in order to make self-aggrandizing mega-mergers, Fiorina engineered HP's disastrous coupling with Compaq computers. It was a business marriage made in hell. When she was finally forced out, she walked away with a golden parachute, which she is using to finance her senate run. ("Self-financing" women candidates seem to be the GOP's political answer to everything at this point. Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay and now the Republican candidate for governor of California, is actually boasting that she spent some $70 million of her own money during the primary. And in Connecticut, the Republican candidate for the senate is World Wresting Entertainment heiress Linda McMahon, who has pledged to spend millions from her own bank account in the upcoming race. (By the way, McMahon's hairdo is closer to  Boxer's than Fiorina's.)
                                                       Linda McMahon's hair

When you look back at Fiorina's business career, in fact, you see a history of someone who kept failing upward--always moving up and being lauded along the way for helping to break the glass ceiling that traditionally held women in business back.

It's so ironic that underneath the veneer of success apparently lay something else. Perhaps Fiorina is just an ugly duckling who simply always wanted to be one of the attractive mean girls in middle school.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Video of the Week: Going Down, Down Down, Part II

Speaking of sinkholes, have you seen this video of world champion freediver Guillaume Nery base jumping underwater into Dean's Blue Hole? Way back in the early 1980s I  was working at  Outside magazine when the  base jumping sort of got started, and I met some of the early pioneers of the sport, one of whom died shortly after I interviewed him. (That's the problem with writing about base jumpers.) Dean's Blue Hole is a 663-foot pit in the ocean floor in the Bahamas. Nery was accompanied on his dive by cameraman Julie Gaultier, who says "our goal was to emphasize esthetic images and innovative camera moves." They certainly did that. Also, the entire video was shot on one breath of air.


Monday, June 7, 2010


          A view of Outer Space

 No, this is not another picture of an eye. It's a photo of Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn about 310 miles across, photographed by the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini has been snapping incredible images of Saturn and its moons for several years. Photography, which has always had a mechanical heart, continues to break down the barriers between art and technology.

Eye Candy

I loved these images of the human eye by Armenia photographer Suren Manelyan (go here for his website). I found the photos on the Photography Served website.

"Some eyes threaten like a loaded and levelled pistol, and others are as insulting as hissing or kicking; some have no more expression than blueberries, while others are as deep as a well which you can fall into."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Call

                                This photo is now part of baseball lore

The technology of photography and video has progressed to the point that it demands to be part of the game of baseball. I was at a game in San Francisco last year when the first-base ump blew a call very similar to the horrible call made by umpire Jim Joyce on Wednesday night that robbed Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga of a perfect game. The crowd in San Francisco, as was the case in Detroit, instantly knew a mistake had been made because TV monitors in the park showed the play over and over. Viewers at home saw the same thing, instantly. The only people without the benefit of replay were the umps.

Those opposed to some form of instant replay in baseball talk about spoiling the "integrity of the game," as if the rules of baseball were handed down to us mortals from some kind of divinity. We have romantic tendency to do this, often referring to the Baseball Gods and whatnot. Why are there three strikes and not four? Why is the distance between bases 90 feet and not 92 feet or 87 feet? Because the Baseball Gods gave us this game. Likewise, the priests who interpret the epistles of the Baseball Gods for us (I'm looking at you, Mike Francesa) say that mistakes are just part of the mystical fabric of the game. Blown calls, we are told, are a good thing, because we learn to live with them and move on in a spirit of sportsmanship.

On a more practical level, the integrity of baseball is certainly shattered when every fan at a ball park and every viewer at home can see a botched call immediately after it was made. The now-famous image above, attributed to Associated Press, shows Jim Joyce and the out that wasn't. It also shows how photography and stop-motion video have already become part of the game, at least for fans.

After seeing a picture today of Joyce wiping away tears as he was being presented with Thursday's lineup card by Armando Galarraga (photo below by Paul Sancya for Associated Press), I consulted the Baseball Gods, and I can tell you that they are completely ambivalent on the subject of instant replay. (Frankly, they are too busy dealing with the issue of Human Growth Hormone. ) "Hey, do what you have to do!" one of them told me. So I say, let's let the umpires have instant replay, so we won't have to see any more crying at home plate.

                                    There should be no crying in baseball.

Photo of the Week: Going down, down, down

                                The entrance to Michael Bay's private screening room

That sinkhole in Guatamala is so visually shocking that it is hard to believe it’s real. According to this source, it is 60 feet across and 30 stories deep. But it’s the shape—clean all around and straight down—that makes it look like a pathway to some netherworld, and as a metaphor, it's powerful enough to encompass an accumulated human history of fear and villainy. Let's see...who might we find toiling away in the warren of warm offices way down there? Osama bin Laden? Check. Dick Cheney? His secure field office. Professor Moriarty? So that's where he ended up. Tony Hayward? It gets the BP CEO even closer to his out-of-control well. And let's keep an eye out for Richard III, Hans Landa; Rush Limbaugh; Hannibal Lechter, Roger Clemens, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Michael Corleone, Michael Bay, and a number of magazine publishers I have known.