Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Iconic Wednesday: The Attempted Assassination of President Ronald Reagan

Thirty years ago today, a mentally unbalanced man named John Hinkley Jr. fired six shots from a Rohm RG-14 .22 caliber revolver, nearly killing the President of the United States. In the aftermath, a photographer would become famous, a Secretary of State would fumble a media (if not constitutional) test, and the country would once again spend a few minutes looking at astonishing pictures and wondering if perhaps something should be done about keeping guns out of the hands of lunatics.

Salgado recorded the scene outside the Washington Hilton after Hinkely's shots were fired
 On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan, the president for the past 69 days, gave a speech to ALF-CIO representatives at the Washington Hilton Hotel. Afterward, he left the building through its T Street NW exit, where his limousine was waiting. Hinkley, 25 at the time, was also waiting near the exit, standing in a group of Reagan admirers. Inspired by the movie Taxi Driver and obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, he had decided to assassinate the president. The Secret Service had screened the audience inside the hotel, but not the crowd on the sidewalk outside. Hinkley was standing about 15 feet away from the president when he fired, missing with each shot. He did hit White House Press Secretary James Brady, and a D.C. police officer. Another shot ricocheted off the president's armored limousine and struck Reagan under his left arm, eventually lodging in one of his lungs. Reagan's life was saved at George Washington University Hospital.

Standing on the sidewalk when it all happened was a 37-year-old Brazilian photographer named Sebastiao Salgado. A former economist, Salgado had spent the past decade documenting famine and civil war in Africa; in 1979 he joined the Magnum Photo agency; he happened to be in Washington D.C. in March of 1981 and was on hand to cover the president's speech at the Washington Hilton. He was the only professional photographer to record what happened when Hinckley fired, and his images appeared on newspaper front pages and magazine covers around the world.

It was a desperate, frightening time for Americans that day--take it from someone who spent the day watching network news anchormen (no women, no CNN) trying to piece together conflicting reports on the president's health. The situation wasn't helped when Secretary of State Alexander Haig--a former Army general and Nixon White House chief of staff--went into the White House press room to assure the country that everything was all right. In fact, he did the opposite.

The Vice-President of the United States, George H.W, Bush, happened to be travelling that day, and, quite naturally, the press wanted to know who was calling the shots while president was being operated on. Haig replied, "Don't worry. As of now I am in control here in the White House." Today it is generally understood that Haig was not in fact rejiggering the constitutional line of authority--when the president is incapacitated, the vice-president assumes control, whether he's in the White House or not--but on March 30, 1981 the statement made it sound as if Haig was unaware of such legal niceties.  At best. At worst, he was simply setting the constitution aside.

It was a moment that would haunt him for the rest of his days. When he died in 2010, the New York Times ran an obituary by Tim Weiner with three brilliant opening paragraphs:

Alexander Haig, the four-star general who served as a confrontational secretary of state of President Ronald Reaga and a commanding White House chief of staff as the Nixon administration crumbled, died Saturday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, according to a hospital spokesman.He was 85.

Mr. Haig was a rare American breed: a political general. His bids for the presidency quickly came undone. But his amibtion to be president was thinly veiled, and that was his undoing. He knew, Reagan's aide Lyn Nofziger once said, that "the third paragraph of his obit" would detail his conduct in the hours after President Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981.

That day, Secretary of State Haig wrongly declared himself the acting president. "The helm is right here," he told members of the Reagan cabinet in the White House Situation Room, "and that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here." His words were taped by Richard V. Allen, then the National Security Advisor.

Haig "in control" in the White House press room
It was the vision of Haig hotly addressing the press that I remember best from that day. This image of that moment--I cannot find a credit for the picture--became iconic and almost fondly remembered, once we learned to laugh about Haig's misstep. That's the way history works sometimes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Visual Culture Monday: The Quick and the Dead

Here are a couple of things to look for this week in the world of images, starting with a bit of shameless self-promotion. 

1. Speed and Splinters

A.F. Van Order's portrait of rider Arthur Mitchell
 I thought I'd would call attention to a nice piece in the April issue of Smithsonian magazine...I think it's nice, anyway, since I wrote it. It's about one Ashley Frank Van Order, a photographer and motorcycle racing promoter who made some really astonishing pictures of young men participating in what might have been the most gruesome sport that America ever loved.

Harley-Davidson team rider Harry Crandall
 In the first decade of the 20th century, shortly after the Hendee Manufacturing Company introduced the Indian motorcycle (followed, a year later, by Harley Davidson), young men began racing the new machines. At first they competed on horse-race tracks and bicycle velodromes, but around 1908 some smart guys out in Los Angeles starting building big tracks meant especially for racing motorcycles. The tracks were made out of lengths of rough-cut lumber (better for traction) and banked very steeply--like, up to 60 degrees. the early racing motorcycles were esentially bicycles with englnes--the had to be towed behind other motorcycles to get them started, and as for stopping, well, that wasn't much of a concern--brakes were not included on the machines. Riders would whip around the tracks, propelled by gasoline and centrifugal forces, reaching speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour. And when they crashed, which was far too often, they died miserable deaths and horrible wounds from hundreds of splinters. Naturally, crowds flocked to see this happen.

The era was recorded by a few filmmakers, but it was A.F. Van Order who documented the sport best, with a large-format camera on glass plate negatives. He made action photos and wonderful portraits of the brave riders who risked everything. After his death in 1954, Van Order's negatives were more or less forgotten, and  and my research for the piece took me to Southern California, where I tracked down his relatives and learned about the time in America when horses gave way to horsepower. There should be a movie.

2. Post-Mortem Publicity

The heirs of Milton Greene, who made this famous photo of Marilyn in 1954, were among those who went to battle with the Monroe Estate.
 The New York Times has a terrific Op Ed piece today called concerning the issue of post-mortem right of publicity. The writer, Ray D. Madoff, a professor at Boston College Law School, does a superb job of clarifying this bizarre and shaky piece of law. (I've been sputtering about the issue for a few years now, and I almost always get myself tongue-tied when I try to explain it, so I encourage you to look at Madoff's piece.)

I first caught wind of post-mortem right of publicity when I wrote about a trial a few years back in California. The heirs of several photographers who had famously photographed Marilyn Monroe had gone to court to fight the Monroe Estate, which was and is legendary for asserting authority over the star's image and name. The essential question here is to what extent a dead person's image is considered private property. There is no federal right of publicity, so each state makes its own. California, home to many movie stars, passed a so-called post-mortem right of publicity law decades ago, giving the estates  the right to control the images and name of people even after they died. The backers of the law cited the need to protect dead celebrities from being exploited, but in reality the post-mortem right of publicity often paves the way for exploitation. The Monroe estate, run by a company in Indiana called CMG, has churched out all sorts of tacky Monroe merchandise. So a celebrity who has been dead for for nearly 50 years--who is part of the common cultural history of America--has become a business monopoly, a property controlled by a voracious company that has never minded stepping over copyright law to get what it wants. Which is money.

To the shock of many, the heirs of the photographers who went to battle against the Monroe estate back in 2007 triumphed in court; CMG then lobbied lawmakers in California to pass a new statute that would enable it to reassert it's control over the star's image and name. A state senator from Santa Monica duly got the new law passed. The attorney for the photographers then claimed that the new California law was beside the point, because though Monroe died in California she was in fact a legal resident of New York, which has no post-mortem right of publicity law. Yeah, it's complicated. Madoff argues that congress should enact a federal law that makes it clear that a person's name or image can be controlled for only a relatively short number of years after the celebrity's death. (Sort of like copyright law.) Even if there's a congressman who wants to wade into this issue, getting any law like Madoff suggests passed would be very difficult, considering the lobbying that would go on.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Week in Photos: Devastation Above and Below the Surface

You can catch my full weekly photo review at Le Lettre de la Photographie; here, I'm focusing on images from Japan, where, in the week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, reporting and visual documentation shifted from the immediate emergency to assessment and narrative. Visually, this was expressed in images taken from a variety of perspectives, from panoramic to intimate.

1. Dark Day After

In this photograph from STR/AFP/Getty Images (no name given in credit, unfortunately) the photographer has pulled back to reveal the ravaged landscape of Yamada town in Iwate prefecture, which on March 16 was dusted with snow. In the dim, cold blue light, the town might be a cemetary.

2. Little Hope

 Photographer Go Takayama shot this picture for AFP/Getty Images. Here, a volunteer bathes a 2-month-old who had been evacuated with his parents from Okuma, near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Compared the the image above, this photograph provides warm light and, in the child, a hope for the future.

3. What Once Was

 The New Yorker's March 28 issue included a gripping narrative by Evan Oznos tying together the disaster with perspective on Japanese culture and geological history. It was accompanied by double-truck images filled with cinematic power that proplled the story forward. This photograph, by David Guttenfelder for AP, pulls back to reveal what once was Minamisanriku. Look closely at the center of the image; a survivor is riding a bicycle through the damage.

4. Rescue Workers

Closing in, photographer Adam Dean (Panos) photographed rescue workers piling bodies onto a truck in the town of Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture. The image also appeared with the New Yorker article.

5. Surface

Time magazine supplied a visual narrative, publishing a photo essay by James Nactwey, who, as the magazine noted, "was one of the first photographers on the ground in northern Japan after the earthquake and tsunami hit. Nachtwey also provided the text for the piece, in which he contrasted a "surface of reality [that] is unimaginable" with the journalist's compulsion to look "below the surface, where the human tragedy is equally unimaginable. To depict the surface, he constructed a panorama from a number of images.

6. Below the Surface

Here, Nactwey moves below the surface, showing us bodies lying in the ruins of a hospital in Minamisanriku.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Extraordinary Photos: The "Fukushima Fifty"

Today I expected to post about a number of things, including the photographic possibilites of the  Supermoon (was the sky clear where you were, 'cause here in New York it was more or less snowing. Hope your images were as awesome as these.) Then I thought I'd write about how Rick Norsigian and his team of lawyers seemed to have totally capitulated and agreed to never, ever say those glass plate negatives found at a garage sale were by Ansel Adams. Then I saw on Photo District News that a federal court  judge in New York ruled that Richard Prince--the artists also known as appropriator--infringed on photographer Patrick Carious's copyrights by creating a series of painting and a collage from photographs "torn" from Cariou's book Yes, Rasta.

But then I saw these images from released by Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which provide an extraordinary look inside the country's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. I can't remember when "official" photographs have provided this type of powerful narrative. Some images move us because of their artfulness, or the story-telling skill of the image maker. But photography has the ability to stun us simply with its innate ability to document--in the end, that is the essential function of photography. It is the baseline. 

In this picture, we see a number of workers, their faces obscured by breathing gear, in the control room of the ruined  Unit 1 and Unit 2 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. These workers who have stayed to monitor and control the plants have become known as the "Fukushima Fifty." It's seldom a good thing when you are part of a group known by a name like that--it implies a select but doomed few, heroic yes, but we don't really separate the ideas of heroism and doom, do we? These are the people who are trying to get the pumps to bring in the water that might cool the nuclear reactors and spent fuel rods that may be melting down. Look at them. They are heroes. You don't see pictures like this every day.

 They worked in darkness, by flashlight.

 This is one of the power plant's control rooms. It is an abandoned, lonely place.

 This is the central control room of Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 3 reactor.  Unit 3 employs both uranium and plutonium as fuel, which, we are told, is potentially more dangerous than just uranium, which is what the other reactors use. This place looks orderly, but control is an abstract idea in this room now.

Here, workers help restore electricity to the Unit 3 and Unit 4 reactors--electricity to run pumps to bring water to cool the nuclear cores. I believe these images will last, will exist into the future as symbols that will, undoubtedly, be claimed as evidence by people who believe in all sorts of things. For now they simply show what a number of people were doing in a very, very bad situation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Iconic Monday: Herbert Ponting and the Doomed Scott Expedition

Grotto in an Iceberg, Scott Expedition, by Herbert Ponting
 Amid all the photography and art at last week's AIPAD show in New york, it was the Heroic Age of Antarctice Adventure that captured my heart. Specifically, it was work by the photographer Herbert Ponting featured by the Steven Kasher Gallery (New York) and the Flo Peters Gallery (Hamburg) that knocked me out. One hundred years after Robert Falcon Scott led his doomed expedition to Antarctica, Ponting's images from the epic adventure are worth discovering.

Lawrence Oates by Ponting
Ponting's portrait of Charles Seymour Wright
 Like the images of the Ernest Shackleton Expedition, which were featured a few years ago in Caroline Alexander's marvelous book The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctice Adventure, Ponting's photographs of Scott's Terra Nova Expedition to the Ross Sea and the South Pole bring to life an era of human questing as poignant as that of early manned space flight. Ponting's work was to have been the visual centerpiece of Scott's triumphant return from the Pole; instead, it was the tragic fate of the expedition that became the stuff of legend, while Ponting's documentation went largely by the wayside. Now it seems to be taking its rightful place in the history of art.

Captain Scott in His Den, by Ponting
 Ponting himself was a romantic by nature; born in England in 1870, he was enthralled by tales of the American West and eventually moved to California, where he tried his hand as a fruit rancher. The business failed so he took up photography, which seems to have fulfilled his need to tell thrilling tales. He documented the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 then continued traveling through the Far East and India. His images appeared in the mass market magazines that were making their appearance at the time—publications like Strand Magazine, home of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories—and his growing renown led to Ponting's appointment as the photographer for Scott's much-anticipated second expedition to Antarctica. Ponting sailed on Scott's ship, the Terra Nova, and in 1911 helped set up the expedition's winter camp on Ross Island. Ponting documented the men and the scientific work of the expedition on glass plates, which he processed in a darkroom set up at the camp. The quality of the negatives was stunning, if the prints shown at the AIPAD are any indication.

Ponting wasn't part of the Scott party that later set out for South Pole; after spending 14 months in the Antarctic, he returned home with a number of other men and began to prepare his images for the lecture tour Scott was going to give when he returned, after becoming the first man to reach the South Pole. The images were vital for Scott—he had borrowed considerable funds to pay for the expedition, and he expected to pay off the loans in part with a series of lectures featuring lantern slides of Ponting's work.

Scott did reach the Pole, on January 17, 1912, only to discover that a rival team led by Roald Amundsen had been there before him. He'd been slowed down because of his unwise choice to use use horses rather than dogs to pull his sleds: When the horses succumbed to the harsh environment, his men had had to haul the heavy sleds themselves. Worse, he miscalculated the amount of food the men would need. On their return from the Pole, the team began to starve. There was heroic self-sacrifice—expedition member Lawrence Oates famously walked from his tent into a blizzard saying, "I am just going outside and may be some time"—but Scott and his team nonetheless perished after making a desperate but futile dash for food supplies they had cached; their bodies were discovered in November, 1912, by a party led by Charles Seymour Wright, a member of the Terra Nova expedition not included on the dash to the Pole. Also found was Scott's diary, which became a literary sensation when it was published. Compared to the grand tragedy of Scott's words, Ponting's pictures, which instead told a story of intrepid success, were beside the point and largely ignored. Then in 1914 World War I began, and the piece of history that Ponting had recorded slipped away from view. In journalism as in art, timing is everything.

Ponting Self-Portrait
Ponting did publish his Antarctica work in 1921 to popular acclaim, and he helped make a short film with footage he shot at Scott's winter camp. He traveled and lectured, but the world moved on. Ponting died in London in 1935. Now, through the means of an art show on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, his story is being retold.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Week that Was in Photos: Devastation

Someone I know who has lived in Japan greeted me yesterday by saying, "And how are things in your little universe?" I understood exactly what she meant; the self-important worlds we build around ourselves look awfully small and fragile compared to the devastation we have seen in the past week. We can take that sentiment as the theme for this review of images.

1. The Shock

 How do you express the jarring shock of an earthquake in a still image? Itsuo Inouye of the Associated Press Tokyo bureau photographed two of his fellow journalists taking shelter under a table as the world shook.

 This photo, credited to Xinhua/Gamma/Rappho/Getty, shows two office workers watch smoke rise over Tokyo after the earthquake. Like them, we too are helpless spectators.

2. The Wave

In general, the power of the tsunami that followed the earthquake was far more effectively captured in amateur videos (which surfaced on YouTube soon after ) than in still photographs shot by journalists from a safe distance or from the air. This image, credited to Reuters/Mainichi Shimbun, shows what was happening in Heigawa estuary in Iwate Prefecture as the tsunami wave was approached. This one made me understand.

 This photograph, credited to Kyodo/Xinhua, provides some perspective on the size of the wave.

3. Calamity

 The houses in this Reuters image, all washed away by the wave, begin to burn. The combination of fire and water in a single scene stirs the imagination.

4.  Inundation

 The of the storyteller is to suggest the vastness of the destruction in the aftermath of the wave. Photographs did this far better than any other medium. This aerial shot from AFP/Getty shows vehicles that had been awaiting shipping at Hitachinaka City.

Our eyes and minds do not like to see things where they shouldn't be. This photo from Reuters/Yomiuri shows a ship grounded in Kamaishi City.

Cargo containers heaped together by the tsunami became modernist sculpture in this shot by Itsuo Inouye for Reuters.

The human toll is given perspective in this photograph from Kyodo/AP, in which rescue workers carry an earthquake victim in Miyako.


As I noted in my previous post, images telling of nuclear catastrophe resonate strongly. One assumes they have a particular reference of fear in Japan. This image of workers at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, was taken by Kim Kyung-Hoon for Reuters. Almost formal in composition, it suggests the invisible danger.

Kim Kyung-Hoon shot this image or workers checking chiildren near the power plant for signs of radiation. Here the faceless danger is given a face.

 A mother talks to her daughter, who has been isolated while checked for signs of radiation in the Fukushima area. In this photo by Yuriko Nakao for Reuters, suggests a variety of fearful thoughts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Iconic Monday: Meltdowns in Our Time

Japan faced mounting humanitarian and nuclear emergencies Sunday as the death toll from Friday's earthquake and tsunami climbed astronomically, partial meltdowns occurred at two crippled plants and cooling problems struck four more reactors.

That the was lede of the New York Times's coverage of Japanese earthquake yesterday. As the hours passed after the earthquake and tsunami struck, the story veered toward damage assessment, but more ominously toward the looming disaster from radiation leaks at the country's nuclear power plants. The Times's report said the emergency "appeared to be the worst involving a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago." We have been assured that the Japanese nuclear plants are of a different design than that of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, but the imagery already emerging from Japan is filled with the frightening visual cues of atomic-age paranoia.

An official in protective gear and an evacuee from the area around the Fukushima Daini power plant in Japan. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoom/Reuters
Chernobyl remains the gold-standard for man-made disasters, of course. Unlike the disaster in Japan, the Chernobyl meltdown on April 26, 1986 wasn't caused by nature's violence, but by a combination of technological prowess and ineptitude—exactly the kind of thing we'd all been worrying about throughout the Cold War. After the Soviet Empire broke apart and its secrets began to spill out, Chernobyl became a cautionary tale about nuclear-age environmental catastrophe and an emblem of a deep-seated modern anxiety. Meltdowns occupy the psychological space that lies, as Rod Serling colorfully put it back in the day, between "the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge."

At Chernobyl, the worst fears were realized after workers at the nuclear plant, near the town of Pripyat in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, were conducting a routine test. A cascade of events led to power surge in reactor number four, which led to a rupture of the reactor's containment vessel, then explosions and fire that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere. It blew over a vast area of Europe and the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of people had to be resettled. At first, the event remained enveloped in Soviet secrecy and the town of Pripyat, where plant workers lived, was not immediately evacuated. It would be years before the real human toll of the radiation damage would be seen clearly.

It was the photographers who went in to document the catastrophe who showed us, and who continue to show us the effects of the radiation cloud--effects that have lasted generations. The photographers are still at it--a look at the VII Photo Agency's list of Chernobyl-related essays shows how over time Chernobyl has in fact become a photographically-driven story. (Photographer Gerd Ludwig, who brilliantly documented Chernobyl's aftermath a decade ago, is currently planning a return trip for the 25th anniversary--go here to see how you can help send him.)

Very early on, photographers saw Chernobyl as more than another of history's disasters, and journalism gave way to art. In May of 1991, five years after the accident, Robert Polidori spent three days shooting in and around Chernobyl-- the so-called "zones of exclusion" made uninhabitable after 1986. Polidori was not a photojournalist by trade, but a master architectural photographer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, and Nest). He turned the burned-out wreckage of reactor four's control room into a symbol of technological hubris.

 The ransacked apartments and schools of Pripyat were beautifully rendered and cataloged, like the remains of Pompeii and the Titanic.

Photographs suggest more than they explain, which is one of reasons they remain so steadfast in our memories. Images of the Chernobyl disaster captured something "between science and superstition," but it wasn't the Twilight Zone. It was real. Meltdowns are real.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Week in Photos: Days of Rage

 My weekly review of photography from newspapers and magazines is up today at Le Lettre de la Photographie. Here is a sample:

1. Ivory Coast: Palpable Rage

The country erupted into turmoil this week as protests against the rule of President Laurent Gbagbo met resistance from security forces loyal to him. (Curiously, every reference "security forces loyal to Gbagbo," rather than "Gbagbo's s security forces," which suggests the president's rule may be less than firm.) These anti-Gbagbo demonstrators gathered in a section of Abidjan where six women had been killed. The picture makes their rage palpable. Photo by Issouf Sanogo/AFP/ Getty Images.

2. Libya: Precarious Moment

Rebels hold a man accused of being loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The revolution in Libya turned sharply this week from popular demonstration to violent civil war, and the photography has followed suit. This image, which captures the precarious moment between life and death, might be a useful visual metaphor. Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

3. Tunisia: Rapid Transit

 Egyptians living in Libya have been fleeing the country, and as this picture shows they're leaving as quickly as possible: The bus this man is boarding is leaving a refugee camp near Euchoucha, Tunisia. Photo by Joel Saget/AFP

4. Afghanistan: Fog of War

 An Afghan army recruit takes part in a graduation ceremony at a military training center in Kabul. Perhaps we can view this picture as another metaphor: The U.S., which has made the training of an effective Afghan army a centerpiece of its war policy, certainly hopes the force will be more than smoke and mirrors. Photo by Ahmad Masood/Reuters

5. Yemen: Roller-Coaster of Emotions

 Revolutions have their ups and downs. Here, anti-government protesters in the nation's capital show that an uproar can be a lot of fun, as long as you're not the one going up. Photo by Muhammed Muheisen/AP


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Visual Culture Wednesday: Where is Kim Kardashian's Asp?...Epic Polaroid Paper Trail...and more

 Fashion: Kim Kardashian 

When you sit down and imagine what might have happened when Kim Kardashian posed as Cleopatra for outlandish fashion photographer Terry Richardson, her layout in the March issue of Harper's Bazaar seems pretty tame. In fact, it's a little lifeless, and I would have liked some more bad taste—Roman soldiers with breastplates, figs, eunuchs, and for goodness sake a big ol' asp. The real problem with the pictures is that Kardashian doesn't project much personal energy into the lens. Reality TV stars do better when they play the same people they play on TV, which is themselves. It's the most interesting role they seem to be able to imagine. 

And who knows, maybe it is better to be Kim Kardashian than the Queen of the Nile. Her life is already a lot more fun than Cleopatra's ever was. Who needs a barge when there's a limo waiting? Or an empire when you've got the E network? Or Caesar, when there is Caesar's Palace? So forgive her for looking slightly bored.

Nature: Volcanic Masterpiece

Hawaii's Kilauea volcano is at it again. (I've never had the chance to go there, so it may be just my imagination, but does it ever stop erupting?) Apparently, last Saturday, while I was cleaning the house up, the volcano's Pu'u 'O'o crater collapsed, and a fissure about a third of a mile long opened up across the volcano, from which lava has been venting, sometimes up to 80 feet in the air. National Geographic has a Kilauea story up with a number of Kilauea photos. One of them (above) caught my eye, because it's astonishingly beautiful and eerie—a real landscape-from-hell. Turns out it's not a shot from the current eruption, however, but a Nat Geo file picture, which tells you what their files must be like. It was only after I looked at the photo for a few awe-filled moments that I realized it was by the great Frans Lanting. The way this picture makes me feel is the way I should have felt looking at Kim Kardashian as Cleopatra.

Art: Mikhael Kennedy's Polaroid Epic

 He isn't the first fine-art photographer to use the Polaroid SX70 camera, but who knows, he could be the last. (Those cartridges of Polaroid 779 film are, of course, not as plentiful as they once were.) Mikhael Kennedy has probably taken Polaroid art farther, if not further, than anyone else, however.

 Kennedy, like an instant-film version of Jack Kerouac, has wandered all over North American with his SX70 and has produced an epic seven-volume series (called Passport to Tresspass)  of self-published books detailing, in Polaroid's dreamy, creamy aesthetic, the people and places he has encountered. The latest installment, called Hunt Them Out, winds back through his previous journeys, catching up with previously-seen characters. Peter Hay Halpert Fine Art has a portfolio of all twenty of the new images. You can also read an interview with Kennedy here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Iconic Monday: Camillus Fly Documents the Surrender of Geronimo

Geronimo (third from left) negotiates in a scene probably arranged by Camillus Fly
 I'm tempted to call Camillus Fly the Zelig of the Old West, a first-hand witness and bit-player to events that became legend and then myth. Perhaps he had an innate sense for being at the right place at the right time, or perhaps it was luck, or fate, if you believe in that sort of thing. There was the day in 1881 when the gunfight broke out in the vacant lot next to the boardinghouse he ran in Tombstone, Arizona--a dirty little corner of earth known as the O.K. Corral. And there was the day seven years later when he set up his camera in a ravine just south of the Arizona border and documented the tense negotiations that would lead to the surrender of the Apache warrior Geronimo. It happened 125 years ago, in March 1886. Though Fly is largely forgotten, his picture is an icon.

Fly was raised in California, but soon after his marriage to Mary E. Goodrich the couple moved to Tombstone, a silver boom town, to open a boarding house at 312 Fremont Street. Fly and his wife were photographers, and they opened up a portrait studio in the back of the boarding house. On October 26, 1981, Fly was on hand when the gunplay between the Earps and the Clantons broke out next door. At one point Ike Clanton fled the fighting and took refuge in the boarding house. After the smoke cleared, it was Fly who disarmed Billy Clanton as he lay dying just outside. For some reason, Fly didn't photograph the scene—one story has it that the Earps used threats to stop him from doing so.

In March of 1886 Fly accompanied General George Crook, an aggressive Indian fighter, on what was perhaps his most famous mission. Geronimo had been leading a small band of Apaches who terrorized the Southwest, but he sensed the time of resistance was over. He'd sent word to Crook that he was willing to surrender. He chose the site for the occasion--a place Mexicans called Canyon de los Embudos (Canyon of the Funnels) that would allow the Apaches to escape at the first sign of treachery from the soldiers. Geronimo arrived with 115 warriors; Crook, as Geronimo had demanded, came with a small band of officers, interpreters, and Indian scouts. And a photographer who had somehow talked his way into the group.

Geronimo and Crook negotiated for three days. On March 25 and 26, Fly set up his camera to make a number of images. The photo above shows Geronimo, third from the left, in a scene that Fly almost certainly arranged—one gets the feeling that all participants understood the history that was unfolding. At the end of the negotiations, Geronimo left Crook with these words: "Once I moved about like the wind. Now I surrender to you and that is all."

But it wasn't. Two days later Geronimo fled with 38 followers, launching another five months of war before being captured. In the meantime, Fly's image of the Apaches and soldiers seated in a semi-circle spread across the country in the pages of Harper's Weekly. Fly would later take his pictures on tour around Arizona—by that time his marriage had ended, largely because of his heavy drinking. He had a photo studio in Phoenix, then returned to Tombstone. He was elected sheriff of Cochise County in 1895, later became a rancher, and died in 1901. His wife continued to run the Tombstone photo gallery and in 1905 published Fly's images of Geronimo's surrender under the title: "Scenes in Geronimo's Camp: The Apache Outlaw and Murderer."

From a modern perspective, there are any number of ways to view Fly's images of the meeting in Canyon de los Embudos. My own philosophy on these matters comes from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a movie made by John Ford, who also made My Darling Clementine, which was about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. "This is the West, sir," says one of the film's characters, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Photos of the Week: Muammar Fail...Space Shuttle Awesomeness...and more

You can find my entire weekly collection of images from newspapers and magazine at Le Lettre de la Photographie. Here is a sample:

1. Signs of Liberation

 You can't have a revolution with character assassination. For Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the time to leave Libya seems to have arrived. He will leave behind a nation rich in oil and caricature. The sign in Arabic mocks Qaddafi's self-declared title, "The King of Kings of Africa." It says, "The Monkey of Monkeys of Africa." Photo AP/Alaguri
2. The Missing Man

 British Prime David Cameron held a press conference in London this week with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. This picture turns what might have been a run-of-the-mill political photo op into something transcendently edgy by leave Karzai out of the frame. Photo by Ben Stansall

3. The Last Rendezvous

On its final flight, the Space Shuttle Discovery approaches the International Space Station during rendezvous and docking procedures. The photo is credited only to NASA, but by all rights the astronaut aboard the Space Station who made this majestic image should be named.

4. Bees Doing It

 Without bees and all the other creatures that pollinate our food crops and make biodiversity so diverse,  our own species wouldn't be here. National Geographic explains it all in its March issue, which includes a smashing collection macro photos of the birds and bees at work. Photo by Mark W. Moffett
5. Home Bodies

Here, a couple in Christchurch, New Zealand look at what was once their house, destroyed by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck on February 22. Of all the images from the earthquake, this is the one that will become an emblem of the event, and the comfort of having someone to lean on. Photo by Mark Baker/AP