Posts Tagged ‘Charles Herrick’

Lockdown, Legend and Value

Monday, July 20th, 2020

I have to admit that during the lockdown I have become very much centred around my own work and interests. Not feeling able to get out an meet other people and not being able to travel to my favourite areas have cut me off not just physically but also mentally from much of my outside involvements.

Because of my age and medical condition I don’t yet feel able to re-engage with the world in anything like the old ways, though I have made three short trips on public transport and visited when necessary several shops, of course suitably masked. And I am still in daily contact with many friends on Facebook as well as rather fewer through phone calls and online events,

But I still feel very withdrawn from many areas, and in particular from the world of photography. With very few exceptions I just can’t get interested in the various lockdown projects and online magazines and shows that have sprung onto the web. This morning I realised that it’s almost three weeks since I last went through the long list of web sites and blogs, many photographic, that I usually skim through every few days for items of interest or controversy and that in the past have often led me to express my thoughts on this blog.

It took quite a while to skim through hundreds if not thousands of articles and posts, though for most a quick glimpse or even the headline was enough for me to move on. There were just a few that interested me enough to stop and read more, and just a few to the very end. Military historian Charles Herrick in a 3 part post on A D Coleman’s Photocritic International comprehensively demolishes another of the confabulations about D-Day photographs, the legend of the duffel bag full of film from the beaches being dropped and lost at sea during transfer to a ship. As usual there are also other posts on the site of interest.

Joerg Colberg too almost always has something worth reading, and in normal times I would probably have wanted to add my pennyworth to his piece The Print, the book, the screen. I can’t bring my mind to it, but here is one sentence which might encourage you to read and think about it and the value of any photograph:

“In the world of photography, the value is almost entirely based on commerce and on a generally unspoken and widely shared sense of elitism.”

As someone who has never been a part of that elite I can only agree, though I think there are other communities outside that of commercial art dealers and the associated museums of the art photography world that value photographs. But as Colberg makes clear, he is focusing on art photography ‘When you see the word “photography”, you will always want to add “art” in front of it.’

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that there were so many of the other photographs and articles I looked at briefly and felt entirely superfluous; ephemeral, inconsequential and with little to say.

But one particular feature from the British Journal of Photography, published around a week ago did attract me, Marigold Warner‘s article ‘Hackney in the 80s: Recovering a forgotten archive of working-class life’ about the 2016 rediscover in the basement of the Rio Cinema in Dalston, established as a community non-profit arts centre in 1979, which in 1982 set up a radical photography project for local unemployed people, teaching them to use a camera and sending them out to photograph the local communities. Their pictures were put together as newsreels and screened as a part of the cinema programmes, before the commercial ads.

Unfortunately the Kickstarter fund-raising for the production of a book of these pictures finished on the same day as the BJP published the story, but by then over £32,000 had been donated to finance it and it will appear in November – you can pre-order ‘The Rio Cinema Archive‘ now from Isola Press for £25.

It seems good value; in my scale of things, the value of these pictures is rather greater than at least most of what sells for high prices in expensive galleries.

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

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.


Whose face in the surf?

Friday, May 17th, 2019

The detailed and forensic investigation of Capa’s D-Day pictures by A. D Coleman and his co-workers continues to come up with fresh information and insights. Ordinarily I wouldn’t be much interested in the precise events of Tuesday, 6 June 1944, or indeed of any other day of World War Two, but two things make it of great interest.

The first is that whatever the precise circumstances (and we now can be sure what with remarkable accuracy what these were) Robert Capa produced on of photography’s most iconic photographs there, and one that has accreted to itself a remarkable body of largely incorrect legend in writing and film, and secondly that in a couple of weeks time the events of that day will be the subject of major celebrations, which will doubtless parade much of the imaginative inventions around the ten or eleven pictures Capa made duing the landing.

The latest addition to our knowledge comes again from ‘combat veteran and amateur military historian Charles Herrick’ and gives us some insight into about how legends about such events arise, through what Coleman has called “borrowed glamour”.

Apparently quite a few ex-soldiers over the years came to believe that they were the ‘face in the surf’ in Capa’s most famous picture, and in the first of three parts of his latest investigations Herrick examines the claims made by two of the men who actually took part in those D-Day landings .

The best known of the contenders is Huston “Hu” Riley, who landed with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment in the first wave of infantry, and claimed that a man wearing a war correspondent’s patch on his shoulder helped him up out of the surf. Herrick points out that Capa didn’t wear the patch and wasn’t on the beach at the time the first wave arrived. Whover helped Riley up, it wasn’t Capa.

The second account he discusses is by Charles Hangsterfer, Headquarters Company commander and adjutant of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, who claimed to have met Capa on the beach, but Herrick shows the details of his story and Capa’s movements on the day make this impossible.

These memories of “borrowed glamour” from the stories recorded by those who took part in the landings usually 50 or 60 or 70 years later are not a case of deliberate deception, but as Herrick writes “When memories fade, it is human nature to reinterpret events in more favorable lights, or place oneself in slightly more important or significant circumstances.” Retelling our stories we always add a little, often confusing our own memories with what others have told us, and with what we have read in books and films (and for D-Day veterans particularly ‘Saving Private Ryan‘) , and bit by bit our memories shift from experience to fabulation.

I don’t expect it will ever be possible to make a positive identification of the face in that surf. Capa’s picture isn’t clear enough to really recognise anyone and too much time has passed. Although we can be sure that whoever it was made it safely onto what was by then a relatively safe beach, he could have been killed minutes, hours or days later during the war; even if he made it safely back to the USA he may well have forgotten the incident and would probably have been unable to recognise himself in the photograph.

But perhaps among those who have put themselves forward as that man, there may be one – or more – who could possibly have been that man. I await parts two and three of Herrick’s post to see if he can cast any more light. But in the end it perhaps doesn’t matter. Like the grave of the unknown soldier, Capa’s picture perhaps gains from his anonymity, the photograph of an unknown man.