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The Renaissance had its frescoes, the twentieth century its photographs. In both eras, history got tied up and handed down in images-religion and its controversies, wars and their effects, cultural ideals. And though most of the world is more literate today than centuries ago, millions still learn about major events and icons of contemporary worship from artistic representations, no longer made by Raphael and Michelangelo but by men and women with cameras and plane tickets and determination.
It is not just the recording means that are different but the intent of the record as well. In earlier centuries, the central images represented what was already known. The art that illustrated Greek legends or bible stories was meant for people who knew the tales by heart or were hearing explanations by poets or preachers even as they looked. The pictures merely made vivid in the present what had long since been established in the culture.
Photographs, on the other hand, deliver new information. They reveal what no one could have known before because it had not happened: MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines, a flag rising over Iwo Jima. Or people and places shut off from us by time, or distance, or lack of access: migrant laborers during the Depression, Shinto celebrants in Japan, a gang in Harlem.
And then the camera freezes moments that sum up new movements and responses: a young woman offering a flower to soldiers with fixed bayonets. Even photographic fictions and styles can amount to news bulletins about the culture: nudes in neck braces, fashion as extraterrestrial fantasy.
Photographic news persists while the events themselves pass away. Imagesmumble and shout, they romp, they glow in memory. We forget an acquaintance's name and a friend's address but recall the sailor who kissed a nurse so passionately in Times Square on
V-J day. The photographs haunt us. They are the unresting ghosts of our common past, and we would not rid ourselves of them if we could, for fear of losing too much of our history and heritage.
But each of us sees a photograph just a bit differently, and each photograph's meaning can shift when its context does. Alvarez Bravo's image of a shopfront full of eyes speaks of voyeurism beside his photograph of a reclining nude. The layers of meaning in Elliott Erwitt's picture of a black boy who laughs while holding a toy gun to his own head grow even deeper beside Erwitt's image of a woman grasping the pistol of a slot machine that masquerades as a cowboy.
Some photographers are wise about the nature of their work (and others no smarter than the rest of us). Carl Mydans remarks that even the man with the camera cannot recall all the great images he somehow missed. Mary Ellen Mark expresses the photographer's passion for the world: "You can never art-direct reality, it just brings itself to you. You can never do anything better than what's real."
Even in the last, digital years of the twentieth century we cling to the remnants of reality, the camera's compact transcriptions of the world. Photography stubbornly, persistently records new information and then delivers history and culture, in a fraction of a second, directly to the storehouse of the mind.
When the Gregorian calendar indicates the year 2000, we will have completed the first century in history with a complete photographic record of itself.
This book is about photographers who helped put a face on the twentieth century. Their approaches differ in subject matter and style, yet there is a continuity in their vision. Alfred Eisenstaedt's portrait of a Japanese woman and her son sitting amid the rubble of Hiroshima and Herb Ritts's Masai mother and child bear striking similarities, even though these two photographers at face value might seem antipodal in approach. In each image the photographer has captured the strength of the human spirit.
For this book, which originated as a series of interviews for Camera & Darkroom magazine, I interviewed and photographed a cross section of the many great photographers who through their visual awareness and technical prowess have documented the events and personalities of their time. Their candidness and unflagging generosity are acknowledged and deeply appreciated.
At the turn of the twentieth century individuals were exploring this planet, fixing the shadows of subjects that inspired them, creating visual records of people, places, and things as they were at a specific moment that, once past, would be gone forever. While Eugène Atget photographed his beloved Paris, Edward S. Curtis used his camera to document a vanishing people and published a twenty-volume survey on the customs and way of life of Native Americans. The photographic firm of Raja Deen Dayal in India produced before-and-after photographs to show the positive effects of a food relief program for starving people in Ayurangabad. Waldemar Franz Herman Titzenthaler photographically documented living and working conditions in his native Germany, while Lewis W. Hine, who had planned to be a teacher, educated America with his camera by documenting the plight of child laborers and, later, war relief programs and the depression era. His book Men at Work includes extraordinary images of the construction of the Empire State Building from start to finish.
Arnold Genthe's 1906 Smoke and Flames after the San Francisco Earthquake and Alfred Stieglitz's The Steerage, which transports us into the world of immigrants in 1907, are early-twentieth-century representatives of single images that tell a significant story.
Stieglitz, Atget, Curtis, Hine, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Imogen Cunningham, Edward Steichen, Paul Strand, Andre Kertesz, Man Ray, Brassaï, Lazslo Moholy-Nagy, Robert Capa, Alexander Rodchenko, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, W. Eugene Smith, and other members of the photographers' pantheon have left the physical world, but they live on in their work and in the words, actions, and images of current generations of photographers. Many of them have been cited as inspirations by the photographers interviewed here. Like their photographic forefathers and mothers-without exception-the descendants have tapped into their own souls to put something of themselves into every picture. And they too will inspire photographers setting out to reveal the face of the twenty-first century.
The men and women in this book have not only photographically recorded history from their unique perspectives; they have often been participants in its dramatic moments.
As I sat face-to-face with Alfred Eisenstaedt in his twenty-eighth-floor Life magazine office, stacked to the ceiling with proof sheets, prints, books, and correspondence, he vividly recounted to me the afternoon of April 12, 1918. His eyes glazed over as he went back to that day. Placing my hand on the bump on his left leg, he described how as a soldier in the German army he was wounded in both legs so badly that at first it seemed necessary to amputate. Twenty-seven years, a continent, and another war later, "Eisie" was in Times Square shooting for Life: "I ran ahead of the sailor because he was grabbing any woman in sight . . . fat or thin. But as he was in navy blue and everybody he grabbed was also wearing dark clothes, you couldn't see. So I ran ahead of him. When I looked over my shoulder he grabbed somebody in white, and I photographed four or five pictures of the same thing. I turned the film in and forgot about it. The next day they told me what a great picture I had made and I said, 'What picture?'"
Joe Rosenthal, speaking of his historic Iwo Jima flag-raising photo, taken earlier in 1945-wrongly accused of being a set-up shot-echoes Eisenstaedt: "I had no notion that anything historic had happened though I thought it should be a good shot if I got it . . . but you don't say 'tell the office I got it' until it's developed."
Carl Mydans had a similar experience with his image of General Douglas MacArthur's dramatic return to the Philippines, and he recognizes that it is more the norm than the exception. "In many cases photographers who have made what have come down through the years as historical pictures were not aware when they pressed the shutter that what was frozen in their camera was a great picture."
Years earlier, advice to a young Carl Mydans from Roy Stryker, head of the photographic division of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in the 1930s, helped clarify what he was to look for as an FSA photographer documenting the devastation across the forty-eight United States. Mydans would find that "what was happening to the people during these depression years would be written on their faces."
Horace Bristol was acutely aware of this, recalling his trips with John Steinbeck to central California to document the plight of the migrant workers who had fled Oklahoma during the Great Depression. Bristol's images ran in Life, while Steinbeck's impressions were expressed in his literary epic The Grapes of Wrath.
Half a century later and at the opposite end of the economic strata, Peter Lindbergh's studies of the faces of supermodels are an interesting contrast to the depression-era images. Using the same medium to interpret his subjects-black-and-white film-Lindbergh has been able to pierce the facade of glamour to show us the person underneath.
While some photographers may be decidedly aware of where their work is coming from, Manuel Alvarez Bravo in our discussion acknowledges that, even though the Aztec influence on Mexican society and growing up in revolutionary Mexico have greatly affected his work, "One doesn't really know how one receives influences. One just receives them and absorbs them. It's like food. You eat it and then it affects you."
Like Bravo in Mexico, Eikoh Hosoe in Japan and Brazilian-born Sebastiao Salgado give their unique perspectives on life and photography outside the so-called Western world.
The twentieth century, like all those preceding it, has had its share of warfare. Photographic documentation of military conflicts started in the nineteenth century with the Mexican-American War (1846-48), followed by Roger Fenton's in-depth coverage of the Crimean War (1853-56), Felice Beato's recording of the Second Opium War (1856-60), and the massive efforts of Mathew Brady and his team of photographers during the Civil War (1861-65), with numerous skirmishes covered in between. Because of technical limitations, war coverage concentrated on environmental portraits of soldiers and on the aftermath of battles. A landscape of Civil War dead following the bloodbath at Gettysburg, The Harvest of Death by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, serves only too well as an example.
Exposures using wet-collodion plates-the most popular method of the day, which replaced the even slower daguerreotype-were counted in seconds, not fractions thereof. But the scenes of misery that bring us down to what war is-man killing man-have not changed, though their recording has. Late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century photographic technology has given us the ability to freeze moments in battle, while more sensitive films allowing for faster shutter speeds and more compact camera designs have given photographers the equipment they needed to react spontaneously to action on the battlefield.
Photography-an invention of the early decades of the nineteenth century-had by 1900 evolved to the point where it could be utilized to document moments of real life in real time. As Naomi Rosenblum points out in her World History of Photography, Alfred Stieglitz, after opposing the hand camera for years, by 1897 "had come to regard it as an important means of evoking the character of contemporary life. His suggestion that those using the hand camera study their surroundings and 'await the moment when everything is in balance,' seems to have forecast a way of seeing that thirty years later became known as the 'decisive moment.'"
The ability to capture the decisive moment-theorized and practiced so skillfully by Henri Cartier-Bresson-has been greatly aided by the advent of the 35mm camera. Andreas Feininger, with his selection of a 35mm camera as a prop in his portrait The Photojournalist, acknowledges that since the introduction of the Leica in 1925 the 35mm camera has been the overwhelming choice of photojournalists for recording events as they happen. Robert Capa's Death of a Loyalist Soldier, taken in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, and Eddie Adams's Street Execution of a Viet Cong Prisoner, taken half a world and a little more than three decades later, are 35mm images indelibly woven into the visual fabric of this century. Within the category of war photography, scenes of compassion have given us ripples of hope in a sea of misery, perhaps no images more strongly than W. Eugene Smith's World War II photograph of a U.S. Marine holding a Saipanese baby.
After World War II a humanistic view of life in the vein of Smith was needed to shake off the scenes of devastation that overwhelmed the world. Nowhere was this movement stronger and perhaps more necessary than in France, where photographers including Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis, Edouard Boubat, and Sabine Weiss highlighted the simple goodness of daily life. Boubat explains: "After the war, we felt the need to celebrate life, and for me photography was the means to achieve this." Jean-Philippe Charbonnier, who during the liberation of France recorded one of the most dramatic sequences of the century-a chronology of an execution of a collaborator-on one roll of 35mm film, turned his lens toward images that celebrated life after the last bullet of World War II was fired in 1945.
Marc Riboud, Sebastiao Salgado, Gordon Parks, and Mary Ellen Mark continue to exemplify the postwar humanist approach. Brazil-born Salgado feels his photography and the work of others can spark dialogues that might lead to solutions to global problems. A trained economist with an acute awareness of the world economic situation and its effect on the environment and Third World countries, Salgado voices a global, humanist point of view: "The photographs that I do in places like the Sahel I do because I trust that with these pictures we can discuss problems-huge problems. . . . I don't believe in a quick solution to these problems. But humanity is just one humanity." Mary Ellen Mark, whose work, like Salgado's, shows an intimacy with and a compassion for her subjects, discusses her motivation: "I'm interested in the guy that doesn't have all the breaks in life and the people who live on the edge." Gordon Parks experienced years of racial injustice but refused to be a victim. We talked about how he was able to overcome adversity to rise to the top of his field and gain a perspective on twentieth-century race relations.
Not all of life, of course, is a world event or serious issue. Perhaps no one is better at capturing the more subtle human and humorous aspects of our existence than Elliott Erwitt, who points out: "Life is not only misery and hysteria, it's also everything in between."
Other master photographers-Jeanloup Sieff, Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh-capture the beauty of our existence in the human form. They also create photographic movements along the way. In the 1980s Lindbergh, along with Bruce Weber, gave fashion a new direction with very real, reportage-style images.
In an occupation that tends to cubbyhole its practitioners into specific categories-documentary, fashion, product, fine art-with subdivisions of each, Annie Leibovitz has been able to rise above the status quo, moving back and forth between photographing celebrities in a controlled environment, often with highly stylized set design, and powerful reportage assignments. Her celebrity portraits are revealing documentary pieces. John Lennon and Yoko Ono's embrace photograph invites us to linger and study, perhaps gaining insight into the couple's relationship and the celebrity mystique. Eve Arnold had numerous photo sessions with Marilyn Monroe, and reveals for us the complex life of one of this century's most photogenic icons.
As with Leibovitz, Helmut Newton's strong personality comes through in his photographs, and he has used the camera to expose and attack the sexual mores of the last four decades of the century.
What becomes apparent in these interviews is that the singular vision that creates a photographic style, if it is to have any depth, comes from within. Too often the demand put on young photographers, at times self-inflicted, to "have a style," causes many to try consciously to create a certain look. That outward search tends to lead to catching the tail end of the latest trend, leaving the body of work shallow. Eisenstaedt said that young people today want to learn overnight what took him a lifetime. Marc Riboud advises, "By looking very intensely we improve our way of seeing and our way of photographing and we develop a personal style." "Don't go out and search for a style, shoot what you feel and what you're inspired by" are words that echo in one form or another from each of the photographers. The strength of Atget's and Curtis's work a century after it was created stands as testimony to this. At the end of the twenty-first century the work and words of the photographers included here will undoubtedly do the same.
Among the extraordinary experiences I have had during the course of research for this book is a day I spent in Provence with Henri Cartier-Bresson and his wife, Belgian photographer Martine Franck, in August 1994. Before lunch Cartier-Bresson soon proved that his wit is as quick as his legendary eyes. Looking through an issue of Camera & Darkroom, he quipped, "You should change the name of the magazine to A Dark Camera That Doesn't Take Room, that's the only way to get good photographs. My Leica doesn't take room. It's the size of my hand. For me it has to be a very small camera and unnoticed."
Our only other discussion about equipment that day was about lenses: "With the wide angle, only once in a while, if the composition needs it . . . it works. But it's a trick. So many people use it as a permanent thing. It shows very much. It's like a dish that has garlic."
We talked about farming in the region, and he explained how the "little people" were getting squeezed out. "The farmer here pays his debt to the bank for buying a piece of equipment, for three years. He leaves farming to become the patron [manager] of a bistro. It's abominable. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can run a bistro, but a farmer . . . no, it takes generations." He suggests that I talk with Salgado, a trained economist, about this the next time I see him. "What does progress really mean? Computers replace imagination. Television is just something to swallow. At least radio uses some imagination."
While he declined to have his portrait taken and did not want to discuss his life in photography in any great detail-"that was twenty years ago"-Cartier-Bresson was happy to chat about life in general, reminisce about a few old friends, and tell me about his continued enjoyment of drawing. While he still shoots an occasional portrait, he hasn't done reportage since the early 1970s, when he decided to concentrate on drawing. But it became apparent that he had not lost interest in the photographic medium.
Looking through my portfolio of photographers' portraits, Cartier-Bresson spots an old friend: "I like Carl very much." I mention the fact that Carl Mydans covered five wars. "It can become addictive." Looking at a photograph of Edouard Boubat and renowned printer Pierre Gassmann: "Photography to me is about capturing the instant . . . instant drawing. That's why I had no interest in the darkroom, I had others like Pierre Gassmann to print." Looking at Manuel Alvarez Bravo's picture: "Somebody who is not known was his first wife Lola. She was a very good photographer." He was astonished to hear that Eisie was still alive at the time of our first meeting: "Eisie's alive? Wooo! [Looking at the photograph of Eisie] He's doing very well. [Gjon] Mili did a very good film on Eisie. He was a company man. He's got his luggage there with his cameras all ready. A phone call . . . out he goes. It doesn't matter if he likes a story or not. There is something innocent about him."
There was something very innocent about Eisie. He lived as full, as long, and as good a life as anybody could ever hope to, but when he died a year later in August 1995, it was still a very sad day. I was honored when Life picture editor Marie Schumann telephoned me and said that they would like to run my portrait of Eisie as a final full-page memorial to him. Eisie had said that this was his favorite portrait of himself.
At the conclusion of each interview session I shot a simple environmental portrait of my interviewee, almost always using ambient light. The shoot usually lasted no more than a roll or two and in some cases, just a few frames. I've been asked how it felt to photograph these elite photographers. "Were you intimidated?" Intimidated, no. In awe, on more than one occasion.
As we move into the next millennium, the technology to fix a shadow-a dream of man since antiquity, a reality since the 1820s-continues to evolve, with high-quality motion picture, videotape, and digital possibilities. Yet the still image remains an irreplaceably powerful force-a moment in time frozen forever, to be studied and contemplated, capable of being far more moving in one sense than its motion picture counterparts.
|Manuel Alvarez Bravo||23|
|Mary Ellen Mark||111|
|Index of Titles||183|