Category Archive: history


Long lost photos of the Antarctic and Mount St. Helens discovered

Robert Capa’s Mexican Suitcase (previously on dva) surprised the photography world when it was discovered a few years ago. This week, announcement comes of the discovery of a set of undeveloped negatives from the Ross Sea Party of Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s 1914-1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was found frozen in a block of ice in a supply hut established by the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott Terra Nova Expedition. Conservators from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust found the box of photos (pdf) while restoring the supply depot, and have worked to restore the photos. You can see the collection of 22 photos at the Trust’s website.

Closer to the present, and a bit less interesting, comes the discovery of a lost roll of film taken The Columbian newspaper (of Vancouver, Wash.) photographer Reid Blackburn before the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. The film sat in a box in the back of a studio room at the newspaper for more than 30 years. Blackburn died in the volcano’s eruption a few weeks after the photos were taken. Blackburn’s camera was discovered about a week after his body was found following the blast. This roll of film, comprising mostly aerials of the mountain spewing ash, was recently found by the newspaper’s photo assistant. What interests me most about this case is that I don’t know whether something like this could happen with digital photography. It was a major news event and Blackburn’s photos were being taken for the local paper, National Geographic, and the US Geological Survey. A digital take from such a large event would be immediately distributed and backed-up by each entity and wire services. If, on the other hand, some digital photos were accidentally misplaced and forgotten for 30 years, changing formats, bit rot, and damage to drives, would likely make the photos unreadable.

(links via /r/photography)

Who owns the copyright to Vivian Maier’s street photography?

“In Illinois, if a person dies without a will, their property goes to their closest living relatives. But if they literally have no living kin anywhere in the world, then the decedent’s property will ‘escheat’ to the State of Illinois. That rarely happens, though, because the law is written so that the property will go to the decedent’s relatives, even if they are very distant.” – Steven Dawson, a trusts and estates lawyer with Bryan Cave LLP, speaking to Gapers Block

We’ve written about Vivian Maier before (first all the way back in 2009), and you’ve probably read or seen much more. I just saw one of the traveling exhibitions of her work at Brandeis University outside Boston, and it’s well worth going to see her work in person, if you can. There’s a recently-released documentary (trailer above, IMDB) that seeks to get the bottom of just who this woman was. There may be a biopic in the works. There have been exhibitions and publications of her work all around the world. Two books have anthologized her photos: Vivian Maier: Street Photographer and Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows.

All of these books and movies and exhibitions stem from three separate collections of Maier’s work bought at auction after her death. The larger and more well-known collection is John Maloof’s, but Jeffery Goldstein also controls a substantial number of images (here’s a piece on Lens about that collection. A third man, Ron Slattery, bought a smaller collection of negatives and prints in 2007, before Maier’s death, though I can’t find a link that collection. A forthcoming book, Vivian Maier’s Fractured Archive, tries to make sense of all of these different collections and the woman herself.

The question remains, however, of just who owns the copyright to these photos. Ordinarily, copyright of unpublished works with a known author stays in place for 70 years after the death of the creator. Maier died in 2009, which means her copyright belongs to her heirs until at least 2079. But because Maier left no will and had no known heirs, the ownership likely goes to the state of Illinois, where Maier died. As Chicago-area web publication Gapers Block reports, “First, the state could do nothing, which would allow the owners of her work to continue with their ventures. Second, if the state decides it is the rightful owner of Maier’s work, cease and desist letters will be sent to the current owners explaining the laws of succession, how the state is now the main beneficiary, and that any selling of her work needs to stop and all profits made would need to be paid to the state.”

Maier’s photographic legacy now is worth thousands, if not millions, of dollars, so the state and the stewards of the various Maier collections have a compelling interest to maintain and exercise their ownership of these materials. It will be interesting to see how this legal situation plays out over the coming years.

Tumblr of the day: Photographs Rendered in Play-Doh (UPDATED)

Left: Photos Rendered in Play-Doh / Right: Andreas Feininger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images - Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955

Left: Photos Rendered in Play-Doh / Right: Andreas Feininger—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images – Photographer Dennis Stock holds a camera in front of his face, 1955

So far, we’ve seen iconic photos recreated with Lego (comparisons), children, more children, Instagram (analysis), Star Wars figures, the elderly, and with their subjects removed. I’m sure there are more…

Now, a new tumblr showcases photographs recreated in Play-Doh. The site’s barely a week old, and there’s no information about the creator on the tumblr, but here’s hoping the project continues.

(via James Estrin)

UPDATE (27 Aug 2013): Just found the creator of the blog. Eleanor Macnair is behind the playdoh creations.

Leica ad recreates scenes from Robert Capa’s life (and death)

Leica Alma from Sentimental on Vimeo.

This ad (above) is a few months old, but just came across my desk again. Made for the launch of the Leica M-Monochrom rangefinder at the Sao Paulo Leica store, it recreates vignettes from Robert Capa‘s life, including paratroopers landing at Normandy, his relationship with Gerda Taro, and his death by landmine in Indochina (and his final images). The spot is beautifully shot; there’s no wonder why it has won a number of industry awards.

Notes from the Field: Andrei Pungovschi in Istanbul

Over the past two or so weeks of protests in Istanbul surrounding Gezi Park and Taksim Square, we’ve seen a lot of stories and photographs. Some of the first and best pictures I saw though were by my friend Andrei Pungovschi, a photographer based in Bucharest. While he was in Istanbul he was making a series of daily posts on his blog about what he was seeing and photographing in Istanbul. I wanted to share some of his work from the past week and his responses to a few questions I had about how he was covering this difficult and fast moving story.

dvafoto: When did you arrive in Istanbul?

Pungovschi: I arrived in Istanbul on Thursday evening, last week.

Did you go specifically to cover the protests?

When I first saw the protests on TV I thought it was just a local issue in Istanbul about Gezi park and didn’t really think it was something that could get any bigger. However, the brutality of the police intervention on what was a relatively small and peaceful protest triggered a very strong reaction in Istanbul. The movement turned from an ecological issue into a political one. That’s when I decided to go.

How have things changed in the time you’ve been there, what is the atmosphere in the park and the square?

By the time I got to Istanbul the police had backed off to such an extent that you could not spot a policeman anywhere around Taksim Square. Each evening, the square was filled with people and the whole scene looked more like a festival rather than a protest. The park and the square are two different scenes. The square is the place where each day after work people from all over Istanbul come to express their protest, sing, dance, or simply watch from the sidelines. The park is a community of people who want to express their support for their mutual cause by living together in this place in spite of the authorities who want them out of there. Most people I’ve spoken to in Gezi seem determined to stay there until their demands are met.

Tuesday seems like it was the most dramatic day in the last week, what was it like to photograph?

Everything changed on Tuesday morning around 7am when the police decided to clear the square (not the park). They attacked with what seemed like excessive use of gas and water canons. People fought back with rocks and Molotov cocktails. These things tend to get chaotic and this was no exception. Photographing under these conditions is not complicated, because there is always something going on. I prefer to get close to people, so I don’t use a telephoto lens. The problem then is that you have more than your frame to worry about. Plus the gas. Unless you have a proper gas mask, there is not much you can do at close range.

How are the police and the protestors treating the media and photographers? Is it difficult to work?

The police ignored us for the most part, which was good. I wish I could say the same about the protesters. They seem to be very discontent with their own media, so they would often throw rocks at groups of photographers and cameramen. Once you get close to them and get a chance to explain who you are and what you do, things get easier. The other problem I encountered was the way the police used the gas. The gas projectiles are supposed to be shot upwards at a 45 angle degree. More often than not, they would shoot horizontally, actually taking aim at protesters. A guy was shot in the face a few meters away from me while trying to throw a rock.

Overall, I can’t say it was particularly difficult to photograph. It’s not war photography. Common sense rules that apply everywhere apply here as well. With a little bit of luck and a lot of caution, you can get your job done.

Déjà Vu in 2012

Scott and I began sharing pictures with each other when we met at the University of Washington – a practice that ultimately became Dvafoto – and we’ve always been interested in what we call “photo battles”, instances of photographers publishing similar photographs either from the same event or the same place shot years apart. One classic example is the pair of photographs of a boy on a tank in Chechnya taken by James Nachtwey and Christopher Morris in 1996.

We’ve posted a few of these ‘battles’ on Dvafoto over the years but I have to hand it to Time Magazine photo editor Phil Bicker for putting together a fantastic post and gallery of 73 pairs of images from the last year that show off photography déjà vu on the Lightbox blog. Read the whole post 2012: A Year of Déjà Vu for intriguing descriptions (and categorizations) of the different kinds of photographic referencing that take place, from photographers repeating themselves to pure coincidence half a world apart. Bicker also wrote a post in 2011 about photographers who travel together, particularly in war zones, coming up with similar pictures in another great post Two Takes: One Picture, Two Photographers.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective déjà vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events — at the same time and place, year after year— as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of déjà vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same moment—seeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of masters—Cartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mind—who have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

-Phil Bicker, Time Magazine’s Lightbox.

Girl from Sebastião Salgado photograph found

In a story similar to the famous “Afghan Girl” photograph by Steve McCurry and the efforts National Geographic followed to track her down in 2002, the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paolo has found the girl whose photograph was the cover of Sebastião Salgado’s book “Terra”.

Joceli Borges was 5 years old in 1996 when Salgado made the portrait along a highway in Brazil. Borges, 21, lives now with her husband and daughter in a Landless Worker’s Movement camp near Iguaçu Falls, on the Brazil-Argentina border. Read the original article for more details about Borges’ life: “Girl immortalized in a photo by Sebastião Salgado is still landless” (in Portugues), or click here for a Google Translation to English.

I first saw this photograph in another of Salgado’s books, “The Children”, featuring portraits of children from around the world. Like McCurry’s photograph of Sharbat Gula, the picture of Joceli Borges lept out at me from the pages of the book when I was in the University of Washington library, and it has long been one of my favorite portraits, for reasons I cannot quite explain. I always felt I could see both a girl and a woman who had already lived a life of struggle in the very same eyes, the two people flashing together with the same face. It seems it has come true, sadly.

Worth a look: Stanley Kubrick’s centered single point perspective

Matt and I are both big fans of Stanley Kubrick, so I was especially excited to see this video montage (above) exploring centered single point perspective composition throughout the director’s oeuvre. Turn the sound up and hit that fullscreen button.

While you’re on the subject of Kubrick, here are some hi-res 2001: A Space Odyssey promotional and behind-the-scenes images from the film that I ran across recently. Here is some of Kubrick’s photojournalism from Chicago in the 40s, and here’s a post from way back that I did on attempts in film to capture a historical quality of light, including Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

There are similar video montages exploring other directors’ hallmarks, as well: Tarantino from below, Wes Anderson from above, Breaking Bad POV, Sounds of Aranofsky.

(via metafilter)

Worth a look: Revolution Revisited by Kim Komenich and University of Miami multimedia grad students

Kim Komenich - University of Miami - screenshot of Revolution Revisited website

Kim Komenich - University of Miami - screenshot of Revolution Revisited website

Photojournalism has a history problem. What was a banner headline and 6-column photo is often forgotten just weeks later. Rarely do we get to see what happened a year or a decade or longer after the main news event. Revolution Revisited does just that. Josh Meltzer, photojournalism instructor at Western Kentucky University, wrote in recently to let us know about this project that he and his classmates finished as part of a Master’s in Multimedia at the University of Miami. It focuses on Kim Komenich‘s 1987 Pulitzer-winning coverage of the Philippine Revolution for the San Francisco Examiner, and pairs that with follow-up photos and interviews with people in the photos and Komenich. The students started the project by working with over 800 contact sheets from Komenich’s original work, and the website makes more than 500 images available online, substantially broadening the tight edit of the work awarded the Pulitzer.

While you’re at it, also check out Maggie Steber’s excellent The Audacity of Beauty (recently featured on Lens), the website for which was created by students in the same program.

Reddit users discuss the most powerful images they’ve ever seen (NSFW)

I’m always fascinated to learn how people outside of the insular photo community interact with and relate to photography, especially photojournalism. This Reddit thread, posted to the AskReddit subsection of the site, offers just such a glimpse into how (a section of) the public reacts to imagery, focusing on “powerful” photos. The gallery presented above collects the 10 most popular images in the thread and the most popular opinion posted in reply to those images. I’ve added caption and photographer information where I could find it.

The initial poster posed the question “Reddit, what is the most powerful photo you have ever seen?” and, to start off the discussion, offered this image of a monk praying for a dead man in a Chinese train station. This Reddit thread is particularly notable because of its popularity: the thread was featured on the front page of Reddit (no small feat for a site that receives thousands and thousands of posts each day), was posted to one of the most popular subsections (with 1.2 million subscribers), and, as of my writing, the thread had a total score upwards of 1200 and nearly 4000 comments. It’s a very popular post, to say the least.

The demographics of Reddit are hard to know, but a few attempts have been made. The site’s users are about 80% male, are 80% American, are middle class, have some college education, and are under 35 (most under 25). That doesn’t mean the respondents in the thread fit into this demographic, but it’s a good approximation.

So, taking a few assumptions, the thread shows us the types of pictures that young, educated, American men find important, powerful, and interesting. This is a demographic for which much of our culture is targeted and which I’m sure many magazines and newspapers would love to appeal to.

This selection is striking to me for a few reasons. One, it’s a pretty interesting collection of images from a community whose stock and trade is usually closer to LOLcats and “fail” pictures (~1.5 million subscribers) than great visual journalism (~400 subscribers). Two, it includes some very subtle pictures, especially those by NASA and those focusing on political tensions. The image of the sunset on Mars, in particular, is a wonderful surprise and a sensitive choice. It’s certainly not an “obvious” picture; the image speaks deeply about humanity’s role in the universe, but in a less clear way than, perhaps, The Blue Marble. Three, there are no images from Iraq or Afghanistan (the boy receiving the flag from his father’s casket comes close) and few from the US. The selection reflects some very contemporary events, but few are directly related the community’s own experience. Four, at least half of the images aren’t the sort that win awards, though a few here are from the canon of photojournalism (including the colorized self-immolation picture). In spite of that, the images communicate quite powerfully. Content is king.

Most of all, this selection gives me hope that strong imagery still has the power to reach out to the public, even sections of the public which may have been written off by publications desperate to hang on to their aging and dwindling audiences. Quiet and emotive imagery still resonates with the young and digital audience raised on the never-not-breaking-news cycle.