Friday, April 29, 2011

The Week In Photos: Hondros in Libya, Royal Wedding, and Obama’s Birth Certificate

 For my full weekly photo review, go to Le Lettre de la Photographie. Herewith, the sample:

1. This Is War Photography

On April 20, photojournalist Chris Hondros photographed a rebel fighter pursuing government troops through a burning building in Misurata, Libya. Later that day, Hondros and photojournalist Tim Hetherington were killed covering the battle between the rebels and the forces of Muammar el-Qaddafi.

2.  Zone of Exclusion

Chilling graffiti on a wall in the ghost city of Pripyat, Ukraine. Visible in the background is the former Chernobyl Nuclear power plant, which exploded and burned on April 26, 1986, sending a radioactive cloud over Europe. Photographer Sergei Supinsky (AFP/Getty Images) shot this picture on April 4, 2011, nearly 25 years later.

3. England Swings

With the nation preparing for today's royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now HRH Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), photographer Dan Kitwood aimed his camera at the front window of a London bus, inviting us to reflect on he notions of tradition and national identity.

4. The Secret Starer

Great photographic moments come and go quickly; Lee Jin-man (Reuters) made the most of his window of opportunity, shooting Australia’s Prime Minister, Julia Gallard, as she exchanged glances with a North Korean soldier on April 24 at a United Nations meeting room in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.

5. Certification of Authenticity

This isn't  much of a photograph, but what it lacks in style it makes up for in news content. On Wednesday, the White House released this image of President Obama’s birth certificate, putting an end to the question of whether the President was born in the United States, as the Constitution requires. At the very least the image may scuttle the presidential dreams of Donald Trump, who has turned the “birther” issue into both a political platform and a form of self-aggrandizement. If so, this is a great, great photograph.




Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Latest Thing that Facebook Has Killed: The Photograph

Go to Google and type in, "Has Facebook Killed the...?" and you will find that Facebook is suspected of killing lots of things. It may have killed "real relationships." And birthday cards. And church. Even the mosh pit. And photography, too.

Mosh pits I'm not qualified to speak about. But the question about Facebook and photography is an interesting one, and it is the subject of a fascinating roundtable discussion in the April issue of Art in America magazine. The leader of the discussion, curator and editor Marvin Heiferman, points out that an estimated 3 billion images are uploaded to Facebook every month. Only 15 percent of the digital images shot now are ever printed, and most of those digital images are now shot not with dedicated cameras but with cell-phones and smart-phones. Does the materiality of photographs still matter to us? Can we have the same relationship to an image on Facebook as we do with a print that we can hold, frame, or put up on a wall?

Probably, but probably not in essential ways. It's hard to say Facebook has killed photography when it has made photography such a commonplace tool for us to communicate our everyday experiences with each other.  How has Facebook changed your relationship with photography?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Iconic Monday: The Bang Bang Club

I have not seen the new movie, but I will. It comes out just as the photography and media communities grapple with the loss of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros--one of those unpleasantly weird coincidences that happen from time to time--and with any luck it will help shed some light on the work of war photographers. At the very least the film will serve as a conversation starter.

The Bang Bang Club was a group of four photographers--Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and Joao Silva--who covered the end of apartheid in South Africa. Memories being such tricky, unreliable things, it is easy to recall that time as more peaceful than it actually was. The period leading up to the national elections in 1994 was tumultuous and violent. It continued after the election as well, as white supremacist groups tried to create breakaway homelands. The world's press corp on hand to document it. It was the story of the day.

One of the iconic images of the period is the shot above, which shows the famed photojournalist James Nachtwey at work during the election period. Nachtwey was not a member of the Bang Bang Club, but he often worked closely with them. This image was taken by another famed photographer, David Turnley of the Detroit Free Press. While memories can be unreliable, pictures like this one are vivid reminders of actual events. In this case, the image also crystalizes the moral imperatives that are part of the war photographer's daily life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Risky History of War Photography

I expanded some of my thoughts on Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in this piece for the Huffington Post. What do you think?

Week in Photos: Wildfire...Budget Cutter...Reese and the Elephant

Go to Le Lettre de la Photographie for my full weekly review. The sample:

1. Circus Maximus

Reese Witherspoon, star of the new film Water for Elephants, may be one of the biggest names in Hollywood, but she was dwarfed by her co-star in a circus-themed fashion layout in Vogue's May issue. The images were shot by Peter Lindbergh.

2. Political Figure

Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, profiled in Time, can be seen either as a hero or as a villain, depending on whether you agree with ideas for cutting the federal budget, or President Obama’s. There’s not much middle ground these days in American politics. Photographer Marco Grob went for a neutral interpretation in this portrait, centering Ryan’s ambiguous expression within shades of gray. Nonetheless, one right-leaning magazine called Time’s story a “hit piece.”

3. Springtime in Texas

Sometimes spring brings wildflowers. This year a spring heat wave has brought wildfires to Texas. This photo, which shows a fire threatening a home in Strawn, Texas, presents the terror vividly. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

4. Rock Star

Here, a young man named Dean Potter takes a preposterously dangerous route up a rock wall in Yosemite National Park. Potter is one of several climbers revolutionizing the sport with risky new maneuvers. Note that he is not tethered to a rope. Note also that the photographer who shot this picture, Mikey Schaefer, was not in a safe place, either.

5.Rule Britannia

Flags were hung over Regent Street in London in preparation for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.The alternate headline for this shot was "The Empire Strikes Back." Photo by Carl Court/Press Association/AP.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tim and Chris

In the book Requiem, the late David Halberstam wrote these words about the photographers who died covering the Vietnam War:

War correspondents always know who is real and who is not. A war zone is not a good setting for the inauthentic of spirit and heart. We who were print people and who dealt only in words and not in images always knew that the photographers were the brave ones, and in that war...they held a special place in our esteem. We deferred to them, reporter to photographer, in that venue as we did in few others.

They were real because they had to be real; they could not, as we print people could, arrive a little late for the action, be briefed, and then, through the skilled use of interviews and journalism, re-create a scene with stunning accuracy, writing a marvelous you-are-there story that reeked of intimacy even though, in truth, we had missed it all. We could miss the fighting and still do our jobs. They could not. There was only one way for them to achieve intimacy: by being eyewitness.

There is so much to say about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, and about the job of the war photographer. And much is being said in tribute, and much more will be said. I knew them both, but not especially well--in the case of Chris a couple of beers on a couple of occasions, telephone calls when he wrote once for the magazine I used to edit (he was a fine writer too, clear in his thoughts and his feelings). In the case of Tim it was an interview I did with him, last November, over coffee at a hotel lobby in New York. Not much, but in similar ways both Chris and Tim impressed me, immediately and lastingly, as...superior people. That's the term that comes to mind. Humble. Humorous. Giving. Dedicated. Real, as Halberstam put it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Postcards From America: An Interview with Alec Soth

"The Arkansas Cajun's Backup Bunker," from Alec Soth's "Broken Manual" project
 When I spoke with photographer Alec Soth last week, I forgot to ask him if he’d ever read Robinson Crusoe. At the very least I wanted to suggest that he take a look at Jonathan Franzen’s recent New Yorker magazine essay about the novel, which Franzen calls “the great early document of radical individualism.” I thought Soth would be interested, since he is one of the foremost contemporary chroniclers of the American strain of radical individualism. 

Soth's 2004 book Sleeping by the Mississippi is a journey through a land of overlooked places and the people who inhabit them. Though he was certainly not the first artist to go looking for the American soul along the Mississippi, his work there produced a singular vision: Soth’s American heartland was a place where independence and loneliness cohabit, sometimes easily, sometimes not. Stylistically, the work was rich in narrative possibilities—Diane Arbus meets Walker Evans—and it marked a turning point in the documentary genre.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Glittering Prizes: 2011 Pulitzers

Congratulations to Barbara Davidson of the Los Angeles Times, who has won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. And congratulations to Carol Guzy, Nikki Kahn, and Ricky Carioti of the Washington Post for winning this year's Pulitzer for Breaking News Photography.

Davidson's prize came for her story about innocent victims of gang violence

Teens attend the funeral of a friend killed at a high school football game. Photo by Barbara Davidson

Guzy, Kahn, and Carioti won for their coverage of the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.

A Haitian man tries to free a teacher trapped beneath rubble. Photo by Carol Guzy

Stories We Wish We Knew More About: Valuable Drtikol Ptint Recovered

"The Wave" by Frantisek Drtikol
 I sort of told myself I wouldn't just reprint press releases in this blog, but the following missive from the Association of International Art Dealers (AIPAD) is intriguing and well told, and not too self-serving. It’s about how $250,000-plus Frantisek Drtikol print was stolen then recovered by a quick-thinking art dealer. I like tales with happy endings. But does this story make you feel any better about the murky world of art dealing? Here's the AIPAD release:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Party I Would Most Like to Attend

It seems Taschen is bringing out a 3D version of "The Big Book of Breasts," which was already almost too colossal in 2D. All I can say is I'm glad they didn't do a 3D version of "The Big Penis Book." They're having a party to celebrate at the Taschen store in Beverly Hills, and here I am stuck on the wrong coast. Question: Is this just the beginning of a spate of 3D photo books?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Week in Photos: Gbagbo, Gaga, and other Unexpected Sights

How often do you get to write the names "Gbagbo" and "Gaga" in the same sentence? For my full weekly photo review, go here.

 1. Unmasked

The fighting in Ivory Coast came to an end this week with the capture of former president Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to leave office after losing an election last year. In this picture from AFP/Getty Images, Gbagbo is seen with his wife after opposition forces reached him in his residence. His appearance confounds expectations. The picture reminded me of the moment in Star Wars when Darth Vader is unmasked, revealing the warlord to be nothing but old, vulnerable man.

2. Bosom Buddy

Lady Gaga's appearance in the May issue of Harper's Bazaar--in a fashion layout shot by Terry Richardson--also confounds expectations, but that's her game. She is what former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld would call a known unknown. In this picture she seems to be attending a tea party that would give the Mad Hatter second thoughts.

3. The Killing

In this photo by Robert Stolarik for the New York Times, we see police searching for human remains on Long Island, where the bodies of ten people, at least found believed to be prostitutes, have been found along a highway near a popular beach. The evocative image--misty and mysterious--is loaded with narrative power. This is not Stieg Larsson murder, though. It's the real thing.

4. Depth of Field

What appears at first to be a toy boat is the real thing, left amid a debris field by the tsunami that his northern Japan last month. Look closely at this photo by Damir Sagoli for Reuters and you can see a woman walking her bicycle through the debris in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture.

5. Parking A Lot

Luckily for the driver of this SUV, a parking place has opened up in a roadside lot in New Delhi, India. Kevin Frayer captured the maneuver for AP.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Iconic Monday: Tiger's Masterpiece

What an end to the 2011 Masters! Poor Rory McIlroy, who faded under pressure. And then there was Tiger, mounting a comeback that fell short--I think I saw him yip on that four-foot put he missed.
     The Masters is, IMHO, the one PGA major that casual sports fans, like myself, will plunk themselves in front of a TV to watch. And like most casual sports fans, I pretty much watch to see how Tiger Woods is doing. 
      Which brings me to the subject of this Iconic Monday post: Fred Vuich's shot of Tiger launching a drive on the 18th hole of the final round of the Masters in 2001. Many sports photographers and editors I know consider it to be the greatest golf image ever made. It appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated, with just a single, superlative coverline, “Masterpiece,” which summed up both Tiger's play that year and the image itself. (I myself have called this the greatest golf image ever.)
      Ten years ago, in April 2001, America had yet to see the terror of 9/11, or the two wars that followed, or the election of its first black president. Tiger Woods, with one Masters win under his belt when he entered the tournament, had already fulfilled his early promise of greatness and was well on his way to becoming legend. A decade after the image was made, the legend has been tarnished, and Tiger's legacy has gone to rewrite.  But the image taken of April 16, 2001 remains.
      Vuich, who shot mostly for Golf magazine and occassionall for SI (both owned by Time Inc.) had been assigned to shoot the 16th and 18th holes that day in Augusta. In addition to his 35mm SLR--the standard for sports photographers--he had a rather unorthodox piece of equipment with him: a manual-focus medium format camera with a 43mm lens. It was that camera Vuich chose to use while documenting Tiger's final drive of the tournament: ""I thought it would make a nice opener" Vuich told the Sports Shooter blog.The camera lacked a motor drive, which meant that he would have only one chance to get the perfect shot, relying on his own sense of timing to get press the shutter at the instant Woods reached the apex of his swing. 
      The result was a picture like no other taken that day. It wasn’t a closeup of Woods with arms raised in ecstasy; it wasn’t a close-up of his determined face, or a flash of action. Rather, it was painterly, even pastoral: Less a timely report on what had happened than a timeless meditation on the game itself.  

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Week in Photos: Brooke Shield; Prince William; Mark Zuckerberg

My weekly photo review is up at Le Lettre de la's the usual sampling.

1. William and Grandmother

The is a photo pool image shot by Christopher Furlong for the New York Times. That lady in the red coat  is Queen Elizabeth II, visiting a Royal Air Force Base in Wales. She was greeted there by her grandson, the soon-to-be-married Prince William, who is stationed at the base as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. The man at right is the Queen's husband, and William's grandfather, Prince Philip. Perhaps William is admiring the Queen's sensible shoes. We just don't know, because photos don't talk.

2. Ageless Brooke

Allure magazine's April issue has a heartening piece about ageless beauty--heartening, because it is illustrated with portraits of former supermodels who, while of a certain age, maintain a high degree of incredibleness. The pictures were all shot by Patrick Demarchelier, a photographer who also maintains incredibleness. Brooke Shield managed to keep it all real, though: She told the magazine that when she drinks too much, or doesn't get enough sleep, she looks five years older. 

3. Mark of Success

The April issue of Success magazine features a cover shot of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, shot by photographer Jill Greenberg. A few years ago Greenberg stirred up some controversy by taking pictures of crying toddlers. She's also shot bears, monkeys, John McCain, and I suppose other species as well. She has a signature style that always seems to make her subjects look both familiar and alien. Imagine a Venn diagram, where one circle represents "cute" and the other represents "scary." In the overlapping area, you'd find this image of Zuckerberg.

4. Red Riders

Ivory Coast's embattled Laurent Gbagbo seems to be on his way out--hiding in a bunker, the last I heard. In this photo by Philippe Lsiazek for AFP, which shows fighters loyal to Gbagbo, we see what the past weeks of life have been like there.

5. Muammer Love

Another embattled leader, Libya's Muammer el-Qaddafi, seems to be holding onto power, despite NATO intervention. This Qaddafi supporter, photographed in Tripoli by Moises Saman for the New York Times, is happy to have him stay. Very happy, it would appear.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Auction Hero: Calhoun Daguerreotype Sells for $338,500

John C. Calhoun by Mathew Brady, 1849
 I don't get to do much breaking news here, but this morning I attended the morning session of Sotheby's spring photography auction in New York, where a 1849 daguerreotype of the great American politician John C. Calhoun sold for $338,000.

If you believe--as I sort of do--that art sales results reflect the overall state of the economy, then the morning session today indicates that we are well underway with recovery from the financial perils of 2008. Buyers seem to be sticking with the classics, though, just in case the rug gets pulled out again: A circa-1960s print of Ansel Adams's "Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, From Manzanar, California," sold for $182,500, and Edward Weston's "Dunes, Oceano," shot in 1936 and printed in the 1940s, went for $158,500.

"Mount Williamson, Sierra Nevada, From Manzanar, California," by Ansel Adams
"Dunes, Oceano," by Edward Weston
 As is typical these days, the auction gallery at Sotheby's was sparsely populated--perhaps 50 to 75 bidders on hand. (My friend Stephen Perloff, who edits The Photograph Collector newsletter, likens auctions these days to a Mets game in September.) But there was plenty--plenty--of auction action phone bidders. Denise Bethel, head of Sotheby's photography department, handled it all with aplomb from her podium, her voice sometimes sounding like one of those police dispatchers in old movies (Lot 41...Timothy O'Sullivan...Canyon de Chelle...thank you...over and out...").

The big dag of the day was made by Mathew Brady in 1849. The image became one of his most famous portraits, noted for the way it captured Calhoun's penetrating gaze (or as my son Henry would say, his "crazy-ass eyes.") It was widely printed and was used as the basis of a painting by Henry Darby that is now owned by the U.S. Senate. The actual object for sale here--the daguerreotype--was only recently rediscovered, according to Sotheby's.

High prices at auction often simply reflect the competition between two motivated bidders, and that seemed to be the case with this lot. But objects like this, in their rarity, have intrinsic historical value. Calhoun was a giant of American politics, a cngressman, senator, secretary of war under James Madison and vice president under both John Quincy Adams and Adams's archrival Andrew Jackson. He was a great orator in an era of oratorical greatness, parrying with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. He was a champion for his state, South Carolina, which at the time was pushing the idea of nullification--whereby states could ignore federal laws they didn't like. Jackson killed that effort, saving the union for another 30 or so years.

All in all, an interesting morning.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Iconic Monday: A Brief History of Briefs (and Bras)

You know it was a slow weekend for me, because I caught myself reading this piece yesterday, which I will now summarize in case you don't want to go to the bother of reading it for yourself.

A poll of Britons, conducted by Outdoor Media Centre, ascertained that the most iconic billboard of all time was the famous "Hello Boys" advertisement from Victoria's Secret, in which model Eva Herzigova is seen admiring her girls, which are cinched up in a Wonderbra. The article says that tens of thousands of Brits were polled. Whether that means tens of thousands of Brits responded, I don't know. If they did, they've got too much time on their hands and might want to find a nice English hobby, like cheeserolling.

The Wonderbra billboard began popping up in 1994. I happen to remember. It was a terrific ad, fulsome, even—with humor—but it was not the most iconic billboard of all time. Even the British should know that.

The greatest billboard of all time was the 1982 advertisement for Calvin Klein underwear that towered over Times Square in 1982. Bruce Weber's shot of lean, tanned male wearing nothing but his  Calvins stopped traffic—and in those days Times Square was a really colorful place, with many interesting things to see in every direction, so it really took something to get traffic to stop.

The model was Tom Hintnaus, a Brazilian pole vaulter. (I could just stop this post here: How much more do you really have to say after you've said  "Brazilian pole vaulter?") Weber took him to the Greek Island of Santorini and backed him up against one of those white-walled buildings they specialize in there, the sky the color of the Aegean Sea (or what I imagine the color of the Aegean to be--I've never been). Hintnaus leaned backward, Weber shot upward, no doubt keeping in mind the all-important rule of thirds as he composed.

 You can look the ad up on Wikipedia and other websites, and you will see that American Photographer magazine named the ad as one of the "10 Pictures that Changed the America." That isn't true; I had just started editing the magazine when we did that story in 1989, and we actually named it one of the "10 Pictures that Changed the World." The image, we noted (as many others have as well), eroticized the male form in a way that had never been done before--or at least in such a mainstream commercial way. Tighty-whiteys went from being functional apparel to being lingerie, and men went evolved from sexual beings into sex objects. So in that sense we can connect the dots between Tom Hintnaus and Eva Herzigova.

Today, of course, the vampire boys in True Blood and the gladiators in Spartacus: Blood and Sand are often seen without any underwear at all, and it's cool. As for Victoria's Secret, the Wonderbra—"wonder" connoting something marvelous that mankind has made—has given way to the Miracle Bra—"miracle" implying some sort of supernatural intervention. And where's the funny in that? Times Square has the Naked Cowboy, of course, but only the tourists from Ohio pay any attention to him.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

On Huffington Post: When America Fell in Love with Speed

My latest item for Huffington Post is just up--it's about the era of board-track motorcycle racing, which was a brutal sport that thrived from 1908 thru the early 1920s. There's also more on this topic in the April issue of Smithsonian magazine.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday Photo Review: Qaddafi's Face, Rhianna's Behind, Immortal Elizabeth Taylor

As usual, my weekly review of selected photos from newspapers and magazines is up at Le Lettre de la Photographie. Also as usual, here is a sampling:

1. Go, Muammar, Go

You say Gaddafi, I say any language the dictator is a menace. The rest of the world learned to live with him because he's got oil, but then came the Arab Revolution. Then came the Arab Revolution of 2011, and a popular uprising, and a counter-attack by his government forces, and a no-fly zone enforced by a coalition of Western governments that used to buy his oil, and now Fareed Zakaria wonders in the April 4 issue of Time what might happen if Qaddafi (or Gaddafi, if you prefer) manages to hang onto power. That's a lot of narrative to express in one cover photo. The magazine went with a 2009 portrait taken by photographer Platon when the Libyan leader was visiting the United Nations in New York. (Read about the making of the photo here, especially the part about Qaddafi being surrounded by female body guards.) In this picture, crazy Muammar doesn't look crazy; shot from a relatively low level, the image communicates his power, and, in the curled upper lip, a sense of his cruelty.
2. Behind the Scenes with Rhianna

Recently I praised Annie Leibovitz's Vogue cover shot of Rhianna; she also covers the April 14 issue of Rolling Stone. Mark Seliger's portrait is a bit...trashier than Annie's, but Rolling Stone's readers are a bit different from Vogue's. Miraculously, Rhianna's appeal seems span the entire popular culture. (Poor Britney Spears--the cover make the explicit point that she is no longer the queen of pop. Her comeback? Oh, it's monster, which is not the same as monstrous, but whatever.)  I read one blog speculating that Rhainna's shorts were painted on, but I can't swear to it.

3. Remembering Her

If you are like me--and let's both hope you're not--you read a number of tributes to Elizabeth Taylor this past week. My favorite was in Time (Qaddafi on the cover). The great Richard Corliss wrote this about her: "Many talented tyros had been bred in the studio hothouse, but in the '40s, none came to flower so luxuriantly; in the '50s, none found so bracing a challenge in Hollywood's search for artistic maturity; and in the '60s, when the system collapsed, none survived it so craftily as Taylor did." Accompanying Corliss's essay was this portrait of Taylor and Montgomery Clift, her greatest costar, made on the Paramount lot in 1950 by Life magazine photographer Peter Stackpole. These people were professionals, and they knew what they were doing--her breasts and bottom jutting in opposite directions, his right hand giving an award-winning stand-in performance. Today's tastes require more forthright symbolism, of course--Rhianna with painted-on cutoff shorts, for instance.

4.  Remembering Reality

I will conclude with a portrait that has nothing to do with popular culture. This image, by Carlos Barria for Reuters, shows a woman examining the ground where her house once stood in the town of Kesennuma, in northern Japan. It was destroyed, completely, by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11. Pictures tell us so much, and yet they can be so elusive and frustrating. When I first saw this, I took the woman's gestures for sad resignation, perhaps mild shock. She may in fact be feeling those things, but her hands are in fact at her face because she is talking on a cell phone.