Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Iconic Tuesday: Swimsuits We Remember

Everyone once in a while you're reading something on the Web and you go, "Whoa, I'm probably thinking about this too much." Huffington Post readers may have caught themselves doing that while flipping through this list of the "Most Iconic Swimsuits" of all time. At any rate, the list was not bad...with the exception of a couple of WTF entries. Here's a quick overview as the culture of summer gets underway.

1979: Bo Derek in 10

No argument here. She rocked the one-piece at the dawn of the Reagan era. Only director Blake Edwards could turn a corn-rowed run down the beach into moment of arch comedy and pathos. 

1976: Farrah Fawcett Poster

The impact of this image cannot be underestimated. Shot by photographer Bruce McBroom on afternoon in Farrah Fawcett's backyard, it help create the giant photo poster industry of the 1970s.  Now the poster hangs in the Smithsonian. The shot happened when Farrah decided to cool off with a water hose.

1959: Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly Last Summer"

You would have to be lobotomized not to have this image stored in you summer memory bank.

1966: Raquel Welch in "One Million Years B.C."

Finally, a bikini--made of fur. This one has double-icon status--instantly identifiable to young boys coming of age in the mid-sixties, and to their offspring who saw it on the poster that hid Andy Dufresne's escape route in The Shawshank Redemption.

1962: Ursula Andress in "Dr. No"

The greatest bikini swimsuit to ever appear in a movie and/or photo? The answer is yes.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A View from Inside the Rapture

A father and his son, members of Harold Camping's church, by Brandon Tauszik
When prophet of doom Harold Camping predicted that the world would end on May 21, most of us laughed. Brandon Tauszik got a scoop. Tauszik, who owns a video production company in Oakland, California, not far from the headquarters of Camping’s Family Radio organization, says he was intrigued, “as a Christian,” by the Camping-sponsored end-times billboards he saw around town. He began attending Camping’s weekly sermons and the people (“Predominately white, 50 years and up") who showed up at his church. He was welcomed warmly and allowed to take pictures, giving him an insider's view of the end of the world.  On May 21, when earthquakes were supposed to herald the Rapture, Tauszek went to Camping’s home. “The car was gone,” he says. The next morning, when it was clear that the Rapture had been put on hold, Tauszik photographed a bewildred-looking Camping at his front door. Later he went to Camping’s church and photographed the followers who’d gathered there. One guy, Louie, expressed his deep disappointment that the end had not come. “Now I have to go back to New York,” he said. Here are some of the images.

Camping speaking to his congregation 

Literature produced by Camping's Family Radio organization
Camping after the Rapture failed to manifest itself
Disappointed Camping follower Louie: “Now I have to go back to New York,” he said.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Photos of the Week: Epic Kardashian...Gaga Gone Wild...Divine Oprah...Law & Order, New York...and more

My full weekly review is up at Le Lettre de la Photographie. Herewith, the sampling:

1. The Stumble

Earlier this week, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund and possible French presidential candidate, was arrested on sex charges in New York and ritualistically led past news photographers in what is known as a Perp Walk. As theater, the Perp Walk is only the first chapter of a visual story that often ends on courthouse steps following a trial. The crime-and-punishment tale of Raj Rajaratnam, founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund, came to a climax came this week when he was found guilty of 14 counts of securities fraud and conspiracy charges in federal court in Manhattan, concluding the biggest insider-trading case in a generation. Photographers snapped him stumbling over a curb as he left the courthouse, providing a visual denouement. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

 2. Action Sequence

What looks like a still from a Michael Bay action movie is in fact the real-life scene at the main fuel depot in Misrata, Libya, aflame after being bombed by the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qadaffi on May 7. Photo from AFP/Getty Images
 3. Gaga as You've Never Seen Her

Every photo story about Lady Gaga could properly be titled, “Lady Gaga As You’ve Never Seen Her.” For i-D magazine’s summer “Hedonism Issue,” superstar fine-art photographer Wolfgang Tillmans photographed Gaga looking entirely normal, which may be her most shockingly original persona yet.

4. Faces in the News

Photographer Brian Prahl snapped Kim Kardashian vacationing in Mexico earlier this month with her boyfriend, pro basketball player Kris Humphries. The images spread rapidly across the Internet, prompting In Touch magazine to report rumors that Kim’s “larger-than-ever-backside” is the result of a “super-sized butt implant.” That is celebrity news of colossal proportions. Photo by Brian Prahl/Splash News

5. Cover Stories

The Barnes & Noble bookstore chain reported refused to display the current issue of Dossier Journal, an art-and-fashion magazine, deeming Collier Schorr's cover photo of androgynous male model Andej Pejic to be offensive. The retailer demanded that the magazine be body-bagged in black opaque plastic, thus ensuring Dossier-Journal's place in the history of media censorship.

Meanwhile, media news of considerably more consequence was marked by O, The Oprah Winfrey Magazine. This spring Oprah is ending her long-running TV show, an event that demanded special treatment from Oprah's magazine (which thankfully will remain to supply the world with joy, laughs, lessons, and adventure). The entire June issue is devoted to looking back at the show's great moments,and there have been many. In Rob Howard's cover photo, however, Oprah herself seems to look up toward a future that promises to be divine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Iconic Monday: The Art of the Perp Walk

Strauss-Kahn and police escort. Photo by Joe Marino/New York Daily News
The people of France woke up yesterday morning to the news the Dominque Strauss-Kahn, considered a leading contender to the be the nation's next president, had been arrested in New York City on charges of attempted rape. This morning, the French, who love tradition and ritual as much as anyone, were treated to one of the NYPD's most beloved ceremonies: The Perp Walk, a.k.a. "The Walk of Shame."

As a piece of theater, the Perp Walk is both drama and farce. The display of the recently arrested for the benefit of news photographers may be staged, but the tragedy inherent in the event is real. The Perp Walk is when reality and television police procedural become one in the same. Defense attorneys have complained that the Perp Walk photo is prejudicial, but so far at least the need for visual narrative has taken precedence over absolute legal fairness.

The narrative is especially satisfying when the person in handcuffs is famous or powerful in some regard. It's human nature to want to see the high and/or mighty brought low—from WikiLeaks mastermind Julian Assange, arrested in the UK for earlier sex charges, to former congressman Tom "The Hammer" Delay, caught up campaign finance shenanigans.

Julian Assange after arrest. AP PHOTO

Tom Delay (center) walks the walk
 High-flying businesspeople are among the most visually delectable Perp Walk subjects, a fact prosecutors are exceedingly well aware of. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in this Perp Walk portfolio, the spectacle sends a clear message that no one is above the law.

Former Bear Stearns fund managers being escorted to jail in 2008. REUTERS PHOTO
The Perp Walk is, of course, only Act I the legal drama that ends with a trial and verdict. But each of these later acts comes with its own visual rituals, such as the arrival at the courthouse of the defendant. An example:

Lohan strolls the stroll
In this photograph, Lindsay Lohan arrives at a Los Angeles court last February 9 in a tight, white thigh-high dress that prompted New York Times fashion journalist Ruth La Furla to wonder whether the actress was turning the Walk of Shame into an "image boosting stroll of fame."

Of course the most infamous Perp Walk photo was taken on Sunday, November 24, in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters.

Lee Harvey Oswald was supposed to be transferred from the police building to the county jail that morning, with journalists on hand to watch. Also on hand was nightclub operator Jack Ruby, who, at 11:21 AM, turned this walk of shame into something truly shameful.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Week In Photos: Osama’s tourist attraction…topless congressmen…and more

My weekly review of photography from the US press is up at Le Lettre de la Photographie. The samples:

1. After Abbottabad

The week following the successful operation against Osama bin Laden, President Obama’s approval rating in one poll climbed dramatically. Last month, 46 percent of Americans said they approved on his overall job performance; this week, 57 percent gave him thumbs up. In Abbottabad, Pakistan, the compound in which Bin Laden lived, and died, became a tourist attraction. Here, a woman photographs her daughter at the cmpound’s gate. Photo by Aqeel Ahmed/AP.

2. A Face in the Crowd

The scene here has become the great visual cliché of the Arab Spring uprisings—angry demonstrators in crowded streets, fierce faces and fists raised for photojournalists’ lenses. The dynamism and expression of this Yemeni boy, photographed during a demonstration in Sana, makes Hani Mohammed’s picture a standout. Photo by Hani Mohammed/AP

3. War Photographers

The deaths of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Misrata, Libya in April focused attention of the dangers that war photographers face. Christopher Anderson, a veteran combat photographer himself, made portraits of a number of his colleagues, who appear as apparitions in a half-world away from guns and bombs. From left: Yuri Kozyrev; Tyler Hicks; Michael Kamber; Lynsey Addario, Ashley Gilbertson; and Alan Chin.

4. A Day at the Races

The Kentucky Derby comes with abundant tradition, like mint juleps and very strange hats. The event’s most honored visual tradition is the shot of horses racing toward the finish line, shot from inside the rail with the landmark spires of the Churchill Downs in the background. The addition of looming grandstands on either side of the older building has spoiled the gracefulness of the view, but John Gress of Sports Illustrated captured the excitement of the moment as this year’s winner, Animal Kingdom, thundered past, leading the pack by two-and-a-half lengths.

5. Body Politic

One of the more controversial images of the week appeared on the cover of Men’s Health magazine. It shows Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock shockingly exposed in an unbuttoned shirt. The magazine dubbed Schock, who is a Republican, as “America’s Fittest Congressman,” which is  not as lofty a political pedigree as that of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, another Republican, who was once named “America’s Sexiest Man” by Cosmopolitan magazine, in which he posed nude. It is a better fate, however, than that of former Republican Congressman Chris Lee, who resigned after sending a topless picture of himself to a woman he met on Craigslist. America’s right wing is pumped. The cover was shot by photographer Martin Schoeller.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Visual Update Monday: The Situation Room...Colossal 3D Wee Wee Book

 The fallout over the picture of senior Obama administration figures in the White House Situation Room won't stop reverberating through the visual culture. As noted earlier, the image, taken by White House photographer Pete Souza as Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, has won wide praise as historical document. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoiled some of the fun when she told reporters that her hand-over-mouth look of concern was in fact merely a stifled cough, which rankled MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who either didn't believe Clinton's explanation or simply preferred his own. "My guess—and my God—what's wrong with having a decent reaction to a horrific picture?" he said.

Meanwhile, an Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper apparently disapproved of Clinton's presence in the Situation Room so much that it removed her from the image. Der Tzitung also removed Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason because of its policy not to publish pictures of women that might be sexually suggesting. Or, according to the Daily Mail, pictures of women in positions of power.

I also need to update an earlier post regarding a new 3D version of The Book of Big Breasts. With only some small degree of jest I noted that I was thankful the publisher, Taschen books, wasn't also bringing out a 3D version of another title, The Big Penis Book. Of course that's just what Taschen has done: On May 11 there will be a big party at the Taschen store in Beverly Hills for the lunch of The Big Penis Book 3D.

The company says reaction to the new title so far has been "pointedly enthusiastic." Indeed, this is why we even need a third dimension. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Week In Photos: Obama Gets Osama

My full photo review at Le Lettre de la Photographie is up...here is the weekly sample:

1. Situation Room

The most talked-about photo of the past week—the week in which, after nearly ten years, the United States caught up with Osama bin Laden—was a picture we haven't seen: President Obama says he will not release an image of the late terrorist's corpse. The second most talked-about image? This one, taken by White House photographer Pete Souza in the basement of the White House on Sunday, as the president and his senior staff gathered in the Situation Room to keep a real-time vigil as Navy Seals attacked Bin Laden's compound.

As a document of a historic moment, the picture has already achieved iconic status. Only days after it was published, a panel of photo editors was asked to describe what in particular made the image so compelling, and most mentioned the expression of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—"clearly, she's reacting to something she's seeing," said one of the editors. In fact, Clinton herself said later, she may have been only trying to stifle a cough brought on by seasonal allergy. For me, the most interesting aspect of the image is its description of the Obama leadership style: He sits in a corner, letting others take pride of place at table, confident, we can assume, in his command authority. It is obviously dangerous, however, to make too many assumptions about what a photograph does or does not show.

2. Celebration

One of the remarkable sights on Sunday night, as word began to spread of Bin Laden's death, was the crowd that grew from minute to minute in front of the White House. The people there were young, perhaps arriving from nearby George Washington University, rejoicing at the demise of a haunting figure of terror from their childhood. The celebration was captured here by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP.

3. Closure

The images of celebration in Washington and New York in the wake of the Bin Laden news provided a visual closure to the scenes of destruction and death the world witnessed on 9/11. Michael Appleton of the New York Times photographed members of the New York Fire Department's Ladder Company 4, "The Pride of Midtown," as they sat on a truck parked in Times Square. Appleton was only 23 and just beginning his photography career when he photographed the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers.

4. Remembrance

Celebration and remembrance, vastly different in spirit, went hand in hand. Finbarr O'Reilly of Reuters captured the latter with this image of flag wavers, their shadows cast against a wall at Ground Zero in New York.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bin Laden: Should We See the Photo?

That seems to be the question of the day. Should President Obama release a photograph of Osama bin Laden's body? The president himself says he won't, likening such as act to spiking a football after scoring a touchdown.

"It is important to make sure that very graphic photos of somebody who was shot in the head are not floating around as an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool," the president said.

Thus, according to the president, the risk of being penalized for excessive celebration outweighs the need for visual documentation of Bin Laden's death. Do you agree, or disagree? Either choice requires you to assume that a photograph would provide satisfying evidence of Bin Laden's death, and frankly I don't think that's an assumption that can be made in this day and age.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Iconic Wednesday: Marilyn Wears Chanel N°5

Ninety years ago this week, the world started smelling much, much better: On May 5, 1921, Parisian couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel launched her first perfume, Chanel N°5. You might say it was one of the modern world’s greatest achievements of olfactory design, and of course you would be correct. (The New York Times’s Chandler Burr heroically described the scent as being “like a bank of hot searchlights washing the powdered stars at a movie premiere in Cannes on a dry summer night.”) But the cultural status of Chanel N°5 rests on more than just one of our five senses. Ironically, a product meant to delight the nose owes a great deal of its success to a medium meant for the eyes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

In Print: May 2, 2011

Somewhere in my home is the copy of the New York Times that was delivered on September 12, 2001. You do things like that on days like those--you know to put the newspaper away. Why? We don't need old newspapers to remember an event like 9/11. Instead, they are souvenirs that attest to the fact that we existed when those events happen: The newspaper, an object, says that in some way we were part of that event. That's one of  journalism's roles, I think--to turn history into stories, into which we can insert our own lives. Pictures are key to that, because they turn us all into eyewitnesses.

 I will of course be saving today's copy of the Times--I'll try to find the one from ten years ago and keep them together in the same place, bookends to a narrative.

 When the daily newspaper isn't there anymore--in print, that is--what will we do on days like this? What will we have to put away somewhere? Perhaps we will turn to artists, rather than journalists, to get the touchstones of history we need. In fact, I think that process began some time ago, but for now at least we still have our newspaper front pages, and I'm glad of it. Of course with the internet we can see as many newspaper front pages as we like. But there are some you just want to put your hands on, to to raise above your head and wave, like this one: