Archive for the ‘Photo History’ Category

D-Day 75 years on

Thursday, June 6th, 2019

What else could a photographer post on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy but a link to Robert Capa on D-Day, the huge series of investigations into what have since become the iconic images of the event, the 10 or 11 severely undexposed frames made by Capa in the few minutes he spent on the beach before rushing to jump on a boat and get his pictures back to England.

The project, launched 5 years ago today on the 70th anniversary of the event “combines elements of photo history, research in journalism, critical thinking, and media literacy” and the team, led by photography critic and historian A D Coleman of photojournalist J Ross Baughman, photo historian Rob McElroy and military historian Charles Herrick have provided us with a remarkably clear and detailed view of what actually happened on that day and later, in the darkroom and to the present day in creating and promulgating the legends around that handful of pictures.

Doubtless there will be articles published today that retell the invented story of the darkroom mishap, or repeat some of the other fabrications around the pictures made by Capa and others. But knowing the real story – or as much of it as can now be verified – doesn’t in any way detract from the power of the couple of truly iconic pictures.

It seems unlikely that we will ever know who was that ‘face in the surf‘ , though we can now be sure it was none of those who have most publically claimed to be him. I’m not sure we would gain were a positive identification possible – isn’t it better that it remains an ‘unknown soldier’ whose face commemorates the event?

If I didn’t have a busy day ahead of me taking pictures (nothing to do with D-Day) today would be a good time to get out those several books of Capa’s pictures on my shelves and look through them, along with some of the investigations and perhaps a glass or two of wine.

Those of you who would prefer a very much shorter and generally accurate account of the the D-Day pictures you can read Wikipedia’s ‘The Magnificent Eleven’, which also reproduces seven of the pictures.

And should you be in London before 29 September 2019 you can go and see the free exhibition Robert Capa: D-Day in 35mm at the Imperial War Museum, which includes prints of 10 of the 11 photographs taken by Capa on Omaha Beach, as well as “personal accounts and objects related to Allied soldiers who landed that fateful day. ”

Do Not Bend

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019

The film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay produced by Grant Scott’s The United Nations of Photography casts an interesting light on photography in the UK in the 1970s at a time when I was just coming into the medium, though so far I’ve only taken a brief look at a few sections of it. The full film is over an hour and a half long, and I hope to have time to watch it all before long – when I may have more to say about it. If you don’t already know something about Bill Jay it would be worth reading the web site above before watching it.

It does contain insights from a number of photographers and others I’ve come across over the years, including a few I got to know fairly well at various times and one who is a good friend I visit regularly, and whose view on it I will be interested to hear.

It has already been shown at a number of screenings here and in the US, but Grant Scott and Tim Pellatt who were the team behind the documentary have now made the film available to view for free on Youtube.

New York Times Women & Glasgow

Monday, April 1st, 2019

Just a short post today, to mention two articles I’ve seen in the last week or so that I think deserve reading. The first, in the New York Times, is very relevant to something I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in Women in Photojournalism, and article reminding younger photographers and writers about photography that women have played an important part in photography for many years.

For news photography, it was really the period from the 70s to the 90s that really brought women into the industry in large numbers – and when ,as the ultralong title states The First Female Photographers Brought a New Vision to The New York Times. And to go with that long title is a long sub-title “The generation of talent brought in from 1973 to 1992 changed the paper’s look.

Of course there were women who came before that, such as Christina Bloom, the UK’s first female press rhotographer in the early years of the 2oth century, and Margaret Bourke-White and many more, but they were in a sense exceptions and it was only in the 70s or later that it really became quite normal. Not to say of course that there are not still areas of inequality and prejudice.

On a quite different subject, I was reminded a few days ago of something I’ve written about before and went again to look at the powerful images produced by Raymond Depardon in Glasgow in 1980, available on Magnum with an essay from the book by William Boyd. I’m reminded of when Picture Post sent Bill Brandt to Glasgow and were shocked at the images he sent back, cool and detached cityscapes reminiscent of de Chirico. Immediately they recalled him and sent up Bert Hardy to get his hands dirty on the street, producing a remarkable image of boys on the Gorbal streets. Depardon seems to me to to combine the best of both, surrealism and reality, in his pictures.

By Tower Bridge

Thursday, March 28th, 2019

I first photographed Shad Thames in 1980, though I’d looked down from Tower Bridge a few years earlier. It was a time when I was discovering so many new areas of London to photograph, and also when a very stressful teaching job was taking up far too much of my time – and having two young sons also took up a fair amount of my time. But in April 1980 I moved from an 2000+ comprehensive to a sixth-form and community college, considerably cutting my stress and also reducing my journey times by over an hour a day. It meant a small drop in salary as I was no longer in charge of a department, but gave me more time to spend with my family and on photography.

The area was then largely empty. The last working warehouse had closed in 1972, and some of the buildings had become artists studios, with many also moving in an sleeping there strictly against the law. Some were evicted in 1978, and others after a disastrous fire the following year, leaving the area deserted. The redevelopment only really got into gear in 1984.

It looks better now at night than during the day, when the loss of atmosphere is much more marked. I hadn’t gone to photograph the area, but had arrived early for a protest at Southwark Council offices in Tooley St, so took a walk a little further on. I’d wanted to take a look at St Saviour’s Dock just to the east, but the riverside path was fenced off for the footbridge added there in 1995 to be refurbished so that it can be opened again to allow large boats up the dock.

The footbridge which took the Thames Path across the mouth of the dock was one of the few wholly positive aspects of the redevelopment of the area, saving a diversion to Dockhead and back to the river and should be reopened in the Spring. Here’s what the dock looked like back in 1980.

The colour pictures in 2019 were made with a Nikon D750 with the Nikon 18-35mm  f/3.5-4.5G ED zoom wide open with shutter speeds from 1/15 to 1/40th s at ISO 6400. All were handheld.  Back when I was taking the black and white images I used various films, the fastest of which was Tri-X, nominally rated at ISO 400, and the slowest was Kodak Technical Pan, sometimes rated as low as IS0 5. Then I often carried a tripod, but it’s now years since I did, as most things I photograph have people moving in the frame.

More pictures from 1980 on London Photographs.

More from 2019 at Tower Bridge & Shad Thames.
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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

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Women in Photojournalism

Thursday, March 21st, 2019

A excellent article by an fine photographer, Yunghi Kim, Gas Lighting in Photography, says much that I would have thought but would hardly dare say about a National Geographic article which claims that women are only now making a breakthrough into photojournalism, which the subtitle of her piece calls “Revisionist history threatens to whitewash The Silent Generation — women who paved The Way.”

Kim’s piece is far more detailed than anything I could have written, naming many women photographers (though there are some I could add, including those I’ve known personally and others from way back) who have proved themselves in what was once certainly very much a male-dominated world, and speaking from her own experience. As she says, her list “is largely drawn from US photojournalism” and there are many more from around the world who could be included,

Possibly one might quibble about the year 1997, which she states “was a breakthrough year for women in photojournalism. Looking back now, we established that women stood firmly on an even playing field across the entire industry. We had a collective voice that was raised and listened to by dint of the power and quality of our work” but she makes an excellent case for i. Certinaly as she says it was a year that women for the first time won a great many of the awards, but changes in the industry were surely more gradual and less dramatic than choosing any particular year suggests. 1997 was certainly a year in which it became very clear.

As Kim says to those who want to revise photographic history: “I am here to attest to the historical fact that there were legions of passionate and heroic women photographers who paved the roads you are walking on today. Respect.”

Blind Spot for Pictorialism?

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

Andy Romanoff‘s article,  ‘Even Ansel Adams Had a Blind Spot‘ looks at the continuation of pictorialism in photography after the emergence of straight photography around 1920, which he says ““disappeared” some very important and wonderful photographers from the history of photography“, chief among them William Mortensen and his ‘disciple’ Robert Balcomb.

While it’s true that Mortensen gets little mention in most histories of photography, the contention that Pictorialism is neglected is certainly untrue. Nor was Mortensen really forgotten, but perhaps for good reason ignored. I have a copy of ‘The New Projection Control‘ by William Mortensen, which by 1945 was in its third edition and third printing, one of 8 books by Mortensen then on sale, and when I joined a photographic club in the mid-1970s the great majority or work on display there and in the international salons could stil broadly be described as Pictorialism, still alive if not particularly well.

Although Mortensen was undoubtedly a great technician this did not make him into a particularly interesting photographer, and as Romanoff states:

“In retrospect, although Mortensen’s subject matter was often grotesque and sometimes fell into the kitschy, his mastery of craft was and is astounding. Most people seeing a Mortensen print for the first time find it hard to believe it is a photograph.”

Pictorialism had its great heyday in the years around 1900, and in particular under the curation of Alfred Stieglitz, who established an international movement called the the Photo-Secession and published his magnificently produced Camera Work, from 1903-1917. It is a movement and an age which gets extensively and sympathetically treated by Beaumont Newhall (and I think Ansel Adams) and others in their histories of photography. Perhaps suprisingly Stieglitz doesn’t get a mention in Romanoff’s post, though Edward Steichen, who designed the cover for Camera Work does. It could perhaps be described as a movement which attempted to legitimise photography as art by showing it could produce images that mimicked those produced by accepted artistic printing printing processes using only the manual skills of artists, and which concentrated on the qualities and surface of the print, often involving considerable manual intervention in its production. The object was perhaps to make it hard for people ‘to believe it is a photograph.’

Romanoff’s list of photographers who began as pictorialists but moved on to straight photography is short, and perhaps significantly omits the names of some of its greatest exponents, notably both Paul Strand and Edward Weston. These and others wanted to make work that was purely photographic, some thinking that this was how photography could truly become art, while others felt that photography was a development of the modern age, a replacement, a kind of post-art.  They certainly wanted ot make photographs that really did look like photographs.

Weston’s own struggles with the impact of modernism on photography have been extensively documented by himself and others. His work, and that of other straight photographers, both in the USA and in Europe and elsewhere was new and exciting, while pictorialism remained producing the same old tropes but with less and less creativity.

I’m not a huge fan of Ansel Adams either, but again – as with Mortensen – there is no denying his technical mastery, again encapsulated in his books. His Basic Photo Series, though by then somewhat out of date (and later editions were never quite as good), was the foundation for my own technical education in the medium, though it never led me to try and remake my version of “Moonrise Hernandez, New Mexico.”

To some extent the illustrations to Romanoff’s article speak for themselves. William Porterfield‘s image was made during the heyday of pictorialism and neglected only because it isn’t a particularly interesting picture, and the four later examples do little for me. Mortensen (as did Adams) provided the images for  ‘The New Projection Control’, and a pretty dire collection they are, with the before ‘straight’ version he prints of some images often seeming to me very much preferable to his variously pimped version.

I guess it is a matter of taste, and as Mortensen says in his concluding chapter, “Unhappily, there is no known method of teaching taste, good sense and discretion. To such readers as lack these valuable qualities this book will merely discover new ways of making bad pictures.” And it did in spades. As he continues, “Babies will be butchered and ingenues outraged in the name of Projection Control“. And pictorialism.

Debunking the Capa Myths

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

I’ve several times written about the lengthy and detailed researches into exactly what happened to Robert Capa on D-Day made by A D Coleman and his team and published in a long series of articles as their research developed.  It’s a case study in thorough and diligent research, involving expertise from various fields including military history as well as photography, and one that, although not changing the handful of photographs Capa made, has certainly shown some very different readings of them.

Most of what photographic histories and biographies have told us in the past about the circumstances in which these pictures were made has been shown to be false; either deliberate invention or imaginative contructions by those well removed from the situation and with little knowledge of it.

Rather than have to read all of the over 40 articles on Coleman’s own web site (some in several parts, with the latest episode, Alternate History: Robert Capa on D-Day (40b) a few days ago) you can now read his precis on Petapixel, still a fairly lengthy read, Debunking the Myths of Robert Capa on D-Day.

We can now be certain beyond any reasonable doubt that Capa went in, not with the first wave of the landing but rather later, and on the least heavily defended section of the beach, where US soldiers met relatively little opposition, and that he never quite made the beach, taking only a small number of pictures –  perhaps 10 or 12 – before rushing back to the landing craft and ship that had brought him there. Probably he made the right decision for a news photographer, to hurry back with those few pictures to meet his deadlines, but he does appear to have felt the need to support and elaborate an elaborate fiction to cover his actions. Capa was certainly a great story-teller, and bare truth seldom makes the best stories.

There was no darkroom accident that spoilt his film (and the story never made sense anyway.) Those men around the obstacles on the beach were not sheltering from enemy fire but getting on with the job of demolishing them. There were no bodies in his pictures, no bullets hitting the water. It wasn’t at all like the film version (and Capa’s published account was written as a film script.)

The research also looks at another Capa-related incident and image, the ‘Falling Soldier’ from the Spanish Civil War, where the detailed heavy lifting was done by others. It seems probable that the picture was not actually taken by Capa by by his partner Gerda Taro. The two worked as a team, and ‘Robert Capa’ was actually a joint invention of André Friedmann and Gerta Pohorylle; after her tragic death – the first woman war photographer to die in conflict – many of the pictures she had taken were attributed to Capa. It now seems to have been clearly shown that this was taken during a training exercise and that the soldier had merely tripped – and that no one was killed in its making.

The publication on PetaPixel comes at the start of the year in which the 75th anniversary of D-Day is to be celebrated, and already some authorities (including the ICP) are re-publishing the old, now totally discredited legends about Capa and his landing pictures. Let’s instead celebrate them (and the ‘Falling Soldier’) for what they are, powerfully iconic images which have become invested with a meaning that completely transcends the very different circumstances of their production.

Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Shahidul Alam talks with Daniel Boetker-Smith about how his 107 days in prison has impacted the tenth Chobi Mela photography festival which opens on February 28th 2019. Because many of the partner companies in Dhaka now see it as a dangerous organisation to work with and many public spaces and government buildings are no longer available for the festival, it has been forced to return to its roots and “become much more raw and community-oriented festival” and organised more tightly around the new premises for Drik Picture Library Ltd and the Pathshala South Asian Media Institute and a few other centres.

You can read more about what is happening in There’s Power in Photography: The Undying Resilience of Dhaka’s Chobi Mela Festival, and it does sound rather exciting, and indeed encouraging to those of us who live in rather more blasé societies where cultural manipulation is very much more nuanced.

Shahidul states “We see this year’s Chobi Mela as an act of defiance. We are still working out what we are allowed and not allowed to do, and this extends to obtaining visas for our visitors and guests” and it remains to see if some of those invited to take part, including Indian writer and political activist Arundhati Roy will be allowed into the country.

One of the more interesting exhibitions will be of the work of the great Bangladeshi photojournalist Rashid Talukder, born in 1939, who gave all his work to Drik before his death in 2011.   But there are over 27 exhibitions with works from 35 artists spanning 20 countries , as well as site-specific artwork by a group of young Bangladeshi artists around the festival theme of ‘Place’.

You can find more information about the festival on the Chobi Mela web site, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Shahidul News

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

I’m not a great fan of the Lucie Awards for photography, modelled on the Oscars, which seem to me to bring out the worst of Hollywood, although I’ve never attended the awards ceremony. When they began and I was writing as About Photography guide I used to get invitations to them – and offers of free tickets – but never took these up, partly because I was on the wrong side of the Atlantic. Also because I felt that the last thing that photography needed was something like this, and particularly one that seemed so entirely US-centric.

Part of my mission as a guide was top extend the horizons and to try to promote photography as a worldwide medium. I’m not sure how much my meagre efforts helped, with features on photography in countries around the world and on photographers from other countries than the USA and Western Europe, but things have now changed at least to some extent.

One of the many I wrote about was of course Shahidul Alam, and I’ve written about him on several occasions on this site, most recently following his arrest last August at his home in Bangladesh and the international outcry, particularly by photographers this led to. Of course he is much more than a photographer, setting up agencies to promote majority world photograph, photographic schools and festivals and making photography relevant to the politics of Bangladesh.

Shahidul Alam was – as I’ve previously mentioned – honoured at the 16th Lucie Awards in October 2018 with their Humanitarian Award, and now that he is out of prison (though not out of trouble, still under threat of a trial and lengthy sentence) publishing regular posts on Shahidul News. One recent post was about his Lucie Award and was a link to the video they produced on him for this. I suggest you watch it full-screen, and you can go direct to it on Vimeo.

While you are there you can also watch other short videos on the other honorees, including Lee Friedlander who gained the Lifetime Award and Raghu Rai, along with those from previous years.

Also at Shahidul News is a post reproduced from PIX by Rahaab Allana, The Place of Shahidul Alam, which looks in more detail at some of his acheivements and has a number of comments by others.

You can read a longer piece I wrote about him in 2011 on this site at From the Lions Point Of View.
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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

________________________________________________________

Notable women in photography

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

I have a couple of small reservations about the article by Australian photographer and writer Megan Kennedy, “9 Pioneering Women Who Shaped Photographic History” which makes an interesting contribution, particularly in introducing several photographers whose work deserves to be known more widely.

The first is about the phrase “shaped photographic history“, which I think is rather undervalued by its use here. How would photographic history have been different if it were not for the work of some of these women, interesting though it was? While it would be straightforward to make a case for some of the nine, I think it would be something of a problem for others. Of course all of us who publish or work or show it to others in some small way are a part of photographic history, but I think relatively few are pioneers who really shape it.

Putting that to one side, there are I think five in the list that over the years I have written about (unfortunately mainly in articles no longer available for contractual reasons), and about whom there is considerable information both on-line and in print, and the article would have been considerably more useful had it included links to some of these. It was after all published by the Digital Photography School which should be more encouraging to its students to dig further.

Of course for most of them resources are not hard to find (though the quality of some links highly ranked by Google is often poor), but here I’ll give just one link to each of them on Wikipedia which seems generally a good starting point:

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 – 1879)
Mary Steen (1856 – 1939)
Imogen Cunningham (1883 – 1976)
Gertrude Fehr (1895 – 1996)
Trude Fleischmann (1895 – 1990)
Dorothea Lange (1895 – 1965)
Grete Stern (1904 – 1999)
Ylla (1911 – 1955)
Olive Cotton (1911 – 2003)

As a minor caveat I might perhaps question the choice of these particular nine women, when a good case could be made for so many others. But as Kennedy finishes her article:

“It’s impossible to cover the sheer number of women that have embodied the tenacity and creativity of a photographer’s spirit in a single article. With this piece, however, I hope to have encapsulated some of the resolves of the generations of women who have shaped photographic history. And although we aren’t all the way to achieving equality yet, thanks to the female photographers of the past and present, we’re a lot closer than we used to be.”

When I put together on line a ‘Directory of Notable Photographers‘ around 20 years ago (and highly debatable guide to those for whom further information was then available on the web) it included the following women photographers:

Abbott, Berenice
Arbus, Diane
Becher, Hilla
Bourke-White, Margaret
Cameron, Julia Margaret
Connor, Linda
Cunningham, Imogen
Dahl-Wolfe, Louise
Dater, Judy
Ewald, Wendy
Franck, Martine
Freedman, Jill
Gilpin, Laura
Goldin, Nan
Groover, Jan
Hahn, Betty
Henri, Florence
Heyman, Abigail
Iturbide, Graciela
Jacobi, Lotte
Kasebier, Gertrude
Kruger, Barbara
Lange, Dorothea
Levitt, Helen
Lestido, Adriana
Mann, Sally
Mark, Mary Ellen
Meiselas, Susan
Metzner, Sheila
Miller, Lee
Model, Lisette
Modotti, Tina
Moholy-Nagy, Lucia
Orkin, Ruth
Parker, Olivia
Post Wolcott, Marion
Rheims, Bettina
Sherman, Cindy
Spence, Jo
Stern, Grete
Tenneson, Joyce
Ulmann, Doris

Of course there were many other women I wrote about then and since,;  an updated list would include many more.

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There are no adverts on this site and it receives no sponsorship, and I like to keep it that way. But it does take a considerable amount of my time and thought, and if you enjoy reading it, a small donation – perhaps the cost of a beer – would be appreciated.

My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

To order prints or reproduce images

________________________________________________________