The great days of magazines like Picture Post are sadly long gone, and with them most of the great photo journalists and war photographers that filed so many magazines with their craft. The combination of the photo mags and those first photojournalists gave us what many consider the ‘Golden Age’ of photojournalism.
Today the instant fix of the mobile phone has managed to capture so much that professional photographers never could, the sheer numbers that are are in the right place at the right time has transformed much of what we see today.
Although the immediacy of this type of image making makes compelling viewing as images are flashed across the world by the internet, we have lost that craft and that placement those photographers gave us in the past. There are a few still in war zones plying their trade and also in the field of social photography, but it is not the lucrative trade it once was, and numbers are much reduced.
Newspapers have largely reduced their photographic sections down to the minimum, only sports photography appears to remain on a level similar to that of old and even there television and video have taken away a large chunk of the output. There do not seem even in sports to be the same images we had emblazoned in our memories today as we did in the past: I remember the Guardian, back when it was a newspaper worth reading, had numerous awards for its sports photography.
One of the last remaining war photographers alive, Don McCullin who in 1958 submitted a photograph of a London street gang to the Observer and as they say the rest is history. He worked for the Sunday Times magazine between ‘66 and ‘84 covering war and man made disasters, famines, building up a reputation for the highest quality of work.
In later life he has been involved in recording social life rather than wars, though not entirely and also became a prolific author. A film based on his life in his autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour is planned for the coming year.
Coming from an early career based on using film his comment on digital photography is apt: "Digital photography can be a totally lying experience – you can move what you want, the whole thing can’t be trusted really," though film was also manipulated. in different ways, and there are many examples of fakes going back to the beginnings of photography, some of which I showed in an earlier piece I did.
|Shell-shocked soldier, Vietnam|
|The artist Francis Bacon, Primrose Hill, London|
Brandt was a social and landscape photographer in the main, though of the modernist school his work eschews the use of unusual angles, the impact is from the use of light to create mood.
- Bill Brandt
Brandt was also known for ‘staging’ photos to get what he wanted: he used family members in shots, using his brother Rolf and sister-in-law Ester in some early works.
I wonder how today seeing images like this we can speak of poverty in the modern world. We of the older generation saw some of it, in the East End in my case, but even then we were coming out of scenes like this, though aspects of it still existed - when I first met my wife her parents' house still had gas lighting, today that is hard to believe, all in less than 100 years.
War photographers are almost a breed apart, to risk one's life as many did to get the ‘shot’ takes a special type of mindset that puts you in the frontline with nothing else but a camera as a ‘weapon’.
Of all the war photographers Robert Capa is the one who is most referred to, the best is a subjective word in this context and there will always be an image that will prompt one to say that was the best until you see another.
His life was in many ways as interesting as his photography. Robert Capa, not his birth name, was a Hungarian – American war photographer who was also the companion of Gerda Taro herself a photographer. Before he became an American citizen he established himself with his images of the Spanish civil war; in WW11 he covered some of the heaviest fighting in Sicily, Africa, Italy and then the Normandy invasion.
In 1947 he joined with Cartier-Bresson and others to form Magnum, the first co-operative of freelance photographers and spent most of that period helping others to become established. He did cover the war in Palestine and later volunteered for an assignment with Life magazine to photograph the war in Indochina and was killed by a landmine.
His relationship with Gerda Taro also had a sad ending as when fleeing Spain during the civil war before the borders closed Taro was hitching a ride on a lorry when it encountered a Spanish tank. It went off the road and she died soon afterwards. She was the love of Capa’s life but she would not marry him.
His work includes the controversial Death of a Loyalist Soldier, below, described by many as staged and reputed to be taken in an area different from that as posted. Capa denied all those comments saying ‘In Spain you don’t need tricks to shoot photos, the pictures are there. you just take them. Truth is the best picture.'
|The Falling Soldier|
|Somewhere in France|
For many the father of photojournalism was Henri Cartier-Bresson. As with all masters of their craft he had an eye for the moment, so many of his images have you asking how did he manage to get that picture? His portfolio is superb and I was lucky to see an exhibition of his a couple of years back at the Sainsbury centre in Norwich.
Cartier- Bresson was born in France in 1908. He was a humanist, a taker of candid photographs and was really the forerunner to what we call today street photography. He came from a wealthy family in the textile business, went to a private art school but was discontent with what he saw as the rigidity in the teaching. He studied art literature and English at Cambridge University and became bilingual, and his first camera was purchased when he was 21. A convoluted story saw him escape to the Cote d’Ivoire and he sold pictures of game to survive, caught blackwater fever that nearly killed him and returned the same year (1931) to recoup in Marseille.
It was here that he embraced the surrealists, gave up painting and started on his stellar career as a photographer. He purchased his Leica camera and a 50mm lens in Marseille and that served him well for many years. it was the small size of the Leica that gave him the ability to remain unnoticed in the crowd when he took those early street photographs.
His first photojournalist assignment was the coronation of King George the V1 and Queen Elizabeth for a French weekly magazine Regards; his pictures showed the crowds and individuals, not one was taken of the King!
|Hyde Park, England, 1937|
Margaret Bourke-White was a first in many ways: the first American war photojournalist, she also had one of her photographs on the cover of the first edition of Life magazine and was the first foreign photographer to be allowed to take pictures in Soviet Russia of industry under the Soviets' Five Year Plan.
Her interest in photography started in her youth as a hobby when she lived in the Bronx. She went to several colleges and graduated from Cornell with a BA degree in 1927. A year later she left NY and went to Cleveland, Ohio where she set up a studio concentrating on architectural and industrial photography.
During WW11 she was attached to the US Army and spent time in Italy and Germany and the US Army Air force in North Africa. She flew as the first woman on a lead aircraft in a B17 on a raid on Tunis.
She became known as Maggie the indestructible having been torpedoed in the Med, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic island, bombarded in Moscow and pulled out of the Chesapeake river when her chopper went down.
Later as she travelled through a retreating Germany with the army under Patton she was present at the arrival to Buchenwald where she says her camera shielded her from the horrors present in front of her.
|Kentucky flood, 1937|
|DC 4 over Manhattan, 1939|
And finally a picture of the lady herself taken by Oscar Graubner as she sets up for a shoot on the 61st floor of the Chrysler building. Despite her 'indestructible' title she had a long 15-year battle with Parkinson's before dying in 1971, but not before photographing Gandhi, Churchill and Stalin; an amazing woman and an amazing career.
Alfred Eisenstaedt became almost as much of a celebrity as those he photographed. In later years his images of stars and prominent people took over much of his work and he himself appeared with them in many shots.
A German-born American he began his career in Germany prior to WW11 and became one of Life magazine's photographers when he went to the States.
He was another who when the opportunity arrived took advantage of the small size of the 35mm Leica camera for its relatively low presence for his candid work.
Eisenstaedt became a full-time photographer in 1929 when he was hired by the Associated Press office in Germany, and within a year he was described as a "photographer extraordinaire." He also worked for Illustrierte Zeitung, published by Ullstein Verlag, then the world's largest publishing house. Four years later he photographed the famous first meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Other notable early pictures by Eisenstaedt include his depiction of a waiter at the ice rink of the Grand Hotel in St. Moritz in 1932 and Joseph Goebbels at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933. Although initially friendly, Goebbels scowled at Eisenstaedt when he took the photograph, after learning that Eisenstaedt was Jewish.
In 1935, Fascist Italy's impending invasion of Ethiopia led to a burst of international interest in Ethiopia. While working for Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Alfred took over 3,500 photographs in Ethiopia, before emigrating to the United States, where he joined Life magazine, but returned in the following year to Ethiopia to continue his photography.
In 1935 his family and himself emigrated to the USA as the threatening situation for them in Germany became more obvious.
The Kiss, one of the most iconic images of all time, taken in Times Square on VJ day. The two participants did not know one another and Eisenstaedt said at the time he was in such hectic surroundings he failed to get their names; they were revealed decades later.
Of his earlier images in Germany and Ethiopia there are several that stand out, the German ones for historical reasons.
With Goebbels by then knowing that Eisenstaedt was Jewish this is not a look that would have given the receiver any joy.
I have to admit this is one photographer with whose work I could easily fill a whole piece. His almost endless list of stars and important people as well as those in the street are a joy to behold, all on top of all his other work.
The one below is from a series taken in Paris pre-war at an outdoor puppet show.
His other works included many using symmetry as the main ingredient, nowhere better than this one taken at La Scala.
Impossible to nominate just one of his hundreds of stars and important people; who to leave out? Well, all but the two that I have chosen, not because they are necessarily the best but because of the warmth it shows in the subject; again one of a series, the name doesn’t have to be mentioned it is self-evident, taken in 1961.
The second is a rare candid shot of Churchill complete with cigar and siren suit. Churchill was not an easy subject as having an artistic bent he thought he knew better than Eisenstaedt about where and when the pictures should be taken.
My God, though, how we need someone of that calibre today!