Friday, July 29, 2011


Funeral for Iraq War Soldier, Lake Orion, Michigan,2006
Eric Smith: Funeral for Iraq War Soldier, Lake Orion, Michigan, 2006

By Maylin Wilson Powell
The Albuquerque Journal
July 29, 2011

In our current era of citizen journalism, when amateur submissions are used on Internet news sites, technology and media consolidation have rendered the work of professional photojournalists a much more contingent endeavor. There is, of course, great value in the kind of rousing images that were taken by young women with cellphones during the heat of Egypt’s uprising and transmitted instantaneously around the planet. But, what of the men and women who consistently invested in firsthand photographic reporting over a number of years? The number of photojournalism images published by news organizations has shrunk dramatically in the shift of emphasis to more entertainment and lifestyle coverage. Without courageous and seasoned photojournalists actually going and talking to and taking pictures of people during the eruptions of wars and revolutions, our understanding of the world becomes more and more distorted.

“History’s Big Picture” exhibition at the Monroe Gallery of Photography is a gripping selection of images that brings home the power of visual storytelling. Hung chronologically from the 1930s to the present, these 58 photo images by the masters of 20th and 21st century photojournalism are predominately sobering. The overall impression of history and the big picture presented here tells a collective story of “Woe is us.”

More than a third of the images are from what is known as the “Golden Age” of photojournalism, the 1930s to the 1950s, when magazines including LIFE, Look and Sports Illustrated (USA), Paris Match, and the Berliner Illustrierte Zetung along with newspapers The Daily Mirror (London) and The New York Daily News built huge reputations and circulations based on photography by such artists as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt and Margaret Bourke-White. The show opens with the work of these three celebrity photojournalists, including Eisenstaedt’s image of the self-satisfied architects of fascism, “The First Meeting of Mussolini and Hitler, Venice, June 1934,” along with an especially chilling image of the vampirish “Dr. Joseph Goebbels, Geneva, September, 1933,” the Reich’s minister of propaganda, himself a failed journalist and writer who organized the 1938 Kristallnacht for burning books and synagogues.

Capa’s “D-Day, Normandy, Omaha Beach, 1944″ is actually a great watery blur of a soldier swimming toward such massive implements for killing as fortified tank turrets and hundreds of thousands of land mines. Bourke-White is represented by two images –– the first captures three raggedy children in front of a raggedy sign that announces “Entering New Deal, Montana, 1936,” which was a mini-boomtown that faded away in the 1940s after the completion of a federally financed dam. Her second image is a riveting, crowded composition of “Buchenwald Prisoners, 1945″ each of them staring directly at us and still pressing forward across more than half a century from behind a metal fence on the day of their liberation. Scanning their figures and faces, it brings into question what the concepts of liberation and survival could mean to every one of these individuals and their descendants.

On view are five iconic images that were seen on the front pages of newspapers around the world the day after they were shot on location. In the case of Joe Rosenthal’s “Marines Raise the Flag on Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945,” the U.S. government also printed 3.5 million posters for free distribution, and this image was certainly the template for Thomas E. Franklin’s raising of the flag by “Firefighters at Ground Zero, Sept 11, 2001.”

As the gallery notes, other justly famous images of the turbulent and troubled 1960s still “shake and disquiet us,” including Robert Jackson’s “Jack Ruby Shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, November 24, 1964,” Eddie Adams’ “Execution in Saigon, South Vietnam, February 1, 1968,” John Olson’s “U.S. Marines at battle of Hue, Vietnam, 1968,” and Bill Eppridge’s assassination of Bobby Kennedy in 1968.

Mixed in with these images that are part of the collective consciousness of baby boomers and assembled to celebrate the gallery’s 10th year in Santa Fe (after 14 years in Manhattan) are many images that are no less powerful but that have never before been exhibited on gallery walls. All of the conventions of fine art composition and framing are deployed by these masters in the heat of the “decisive moment.” Cameras are angled upward to frame such famous men as Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. as towering presences. Ground level shots with strong diagonals that signal things gone seriously awry including Eppridge’s splayed, spot-lit pieta of Bobby Kennedy attended by a waiter on bended knee, Loomis Dean’s tilting blasted “Mannequins after nuclear test at Yucca Flats, Nevada, May 1955,” and John Filo’s “May Vecchio grieving over slain student, Kent State, May 1970.” Unflinching, upright, straight-ahead perspective confers dignity and gives the viewer a place of privilege in such heart-wrenching situations as Ed Clark’s image of a tear-stained African American accordionist “Navy CPO Graham Jackson playing” a dirge for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral cortege.

Sixties minimalism is used to great effect in Steve Schapiro’s austere and stripped-to-the-essential “White Women, Arkansas, 1961,” and in Eric Smith’s somber empty auditorium “Funeral for Iraqi War soldier, Lake Orion, Michigan, 2006.” Like Hiroshi Sugimoto’s late-1970s empty “Theatres” lit only by a streaming movie projector, Smith’s flag-draped, centrally illuminated casket with no one in attendance is an eerie metaphor, in this case, of offshore deaths that are intended to be kept out of sight and out of mind. In 2003, the Bush administration summarily banned all coverage of the bodies of U.S. troops returning from Iraq, a ban that was lifted in February 2009.

 Hadai Mizban: Iraq "War Games", Baghdad, Iraq, July 2, 2007 (c. AP)

That the gallery is almost always crowded with people talking about these images is due to a multitude of factors. The core reason is the consummate talent, quick response and fortitude of photojournalists working in often terrifying situations where their cameras make them prime targets. Are all those young viewers, who never had the opportunity to see them in print, a testimony to their thirst for truth, rather than entertainment? Certainly, it also has to do with the central location and welcoming open door of Monroe Gallery, a valuable addition to Santa Fe and a recognized international and persistent player in recovering and encouraging the best photojournalism.

In conjunction with this exhibition, the gallery is sponsoring an evening of conversation, next Friday, August 5, from 5 to 7 p.m., between two American photojournalists turned editors, Richard Stolley and Hal Wingo.

If you go WHAT: “History’s Big Picture”
WHERE: Monroe Gallery of Photography, 112 Don GasparÂ
WHEN: Through Sept. 25.
HOURS: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
CONTACT: 505.992-0800 or

Demonstrators in a Works Progress Administration (WPA) Strike, 1937 (Time Inc.)
Carl Mydans:  Demonstrators in a Works Progress Administration (WPA) Strike, 1937 (c.Time Inc.)

Read more: ABQJournal Online » Photos Capture History
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