That Damn Leica!

David Burnett,Vietnam Napalm Attack, 1972
Photo by David Burnett, 1972

There’s an interesting article in the Washington Post Magazine by veteran photographer David Burnett about how he missed capturing one of the most famous photographs of the 20th Century. That image--you may recognize the boy who’s in it as wel,l on the right above--was taken by Nick Ut. Turns out, Burnett was struggling to load his Leica, which if you are familiar with Leicas is not at all like loading a Nikon with a motor drive. Nick Ut’s Leica was ready and he got thePulitzer Prize-winning shot of Kim Phuc and her brothers before hustling the burned kids into a car for medical attention.
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War Photography by Armchair

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It looks like a Matthew Brady image from the Civil War, but it’s acutally an entirely fictional landscape captured by Irish photographer Karl Burke. What he’s done is converted color screenshots from inside the multiplayer video game Battlefield 2 (altered by Project Reality) and converted them into tintypes. The landscapes with burning tanks and wasted corpses are reminiscent of scenes from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, only the dead in these are virtual. It’s a very interesting project, linking the history of war photography with new meta-experiences of violence. The romantic, static quality of the images removes us from the adrenaline rush and horror of real war. It underscores how war, too, has become just another aesthetic product to be consumed by both civilians and veterans alike. The original story appeared in the NYT’s Lens Bloghere.
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My 9-11 Photos

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September 11, 2011 was primary day, so after I voted I took the subway to a Union Square studio where I was in the midst of a 5-day shoot. When I finally got to the studio, this was the scene that greeted me out the bay windows. While I had access to some very long lenses, 600mm and longer, after I put them on my Nikon D1, I found I couldn’t take pictures of the people jumping. It was just too horrifying and opportunistic and saddening. I did manage to take these photos before and after the towers fell. As you can see, there were a handful of workers repairing the side of a building in the foreground who didn’t seem to know what was going on, until the giant boom of the towers made them scramble onto to the roof. It was a surreal day, and unlike most of the world, I did not watch any of it on TV, just with my own eyes. Later in the afternoon, I walked back to Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge, through the dust, swirling papers, and stench of burning buildings. The chemical odor was so bad I had to wear a bandanna. The saddest part of the next few days was the city-wide sense of denial, the naive hope that somehow thousands of wounded survivors would emerge from the rubble and be rushed to St. Vincent’s and Beth Israel hospitals And then there were the thousands of missing person signs posted on telephone poles, at subway entrances, on car windshields, and handout fliers. All those enlarged, blurry snapshots of father and mothers and sons and daughters who’d never come home again.
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Over the next couple of days, I took the following photos (excuse the bad scans) at various vigils and impromptu memorials to the missing.
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Grass Ad, 1970s (Transit Museum, Downtown Brooklyn)

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Anniversary (Village)


This Friday, March 25 is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the city’s worst fire which claimed the lives of 146 garment workers, primarily young immigrant women, many just teenagers. I’ve written about this before because I’ve participated in artist Ruth Sergel’s annual chalking art project, Chalk, which asks volunteers to write the names of the deceased in front of the brownstones, tenements, and other buildings where these women lived at the time of their deaths. All week long, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is sponsoring events commemorating the fire. An HBO movie is set to be broadcast. A parade will take place at 11am by the site of the fire on Washington and Greene, now NYU’s Brown Building. Books, lectures, union talks, and on an on. A big deal, especially at a time when unions are being mightily threatened by Republicans all across the U.S. My good friend LuLu LoLo has also been performing excerpts from her solo show, Soliloquy for a Seamstress. In her one act play, LuLu dramatizes the tragedy through the life of Sara Saracino, a young seamstress who grew up not far from LuLu’s home in East Harlem. In three scenes, she plays Sara’s mother, Sara from the time she learns of the fire breaking out to the moment she jumps, and an William Gunn Shepherd, The World reporter who broadcast news of the unfolding fire. Some photos from her performance in front of the NYU Brown Building on Saturday follow.


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The Best Street Photographer You Never Heard Of


Her name was Vivian Maier and she was born in 1926 and died in 2009. Her father was Austrian, her mother French. She was born in New York, grew up in France, and returned to the U.S. when she was 25. Most of her working life was spent as a nanny in Chicago, where apparently she spent much of her free time walking the streets and photographing square compositions with her Rolleiflex. Her life’s work, 100,000 negatives, was won at auction by a real estate agent, John Maloof, who paid $400 for the mysterious boxes. Below are a selection of her work, all of it scanned by Maloof who has only catalogued a small amount of the total archive and has near total control of her photographic legacy. It is fascinating to look at all of this work and not be swayed by comparisons with other street photography greats: Robert Frank, Walker Evans, Lisette Model, Harry Callahan, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand. When a life’s work remains hidden, it doesn’t get a chance to dialogue with the culture and it’s hard to ascertain such chicken and egg issues as was she an imitator or a trend setter. Had she seen Callahan’s formalist work featuring Chicago’s light and shadows? Had she seen Helen Levitt’s photographs of kids in NYC? Whatever further research may reveal, what is undoubtable is that she had a great eye and cool sense of formalist aesthetics, and without a doubt, we’ve never seen such a treasure trove of fantastic street work of any city outside of New York. Interestingly, like Garry Winogrand, she died leaving hundreds (perhaps thousands) of rolls of undeveloped film. It will be very interesting to see what unfolds in the coming years. She left behind almost exclusively negatives—very few vintage prints—so all editorial decisions will be made for her. The first large scale exhibition of her work opened yesterday at the Chicago Cultural Center and a documentary film, Finding Vivian Maier, is set to be released in 2012. To read more about Vivian Maier, go to Maloof’s VM blog here and view a fairly candid interview with him here. Also check out this in-depth Chicago Magazine piece, as well as here and this TV story on the whole discovery. And as always in such a big find, there’s a bit of controversy on who “discovered” her and who controls what, here. Meanwhile, enjoy the fantastic photographs.
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Ernest Withers, Civil Rights Photographer, FBI Informant



You probably know many of Ernest C. Wither’s photographs. He documented the Civil Rights struggle in general and Martin Luther King in particular. He was even with MLK during the Memphis assasination. A few days ago, Memphis’ The Commercial Appeal, published a damning investigative report called Ernest Withers: Exposed, alleging that the photographer was a long-term FBI informant. Withers, pictured on the left, who died in 2007, was informant ME 338-R to the FBI. The thumbnails above reference Withers’ tips to FBI agents he made at MLK’s funeral. The Withers family is outraged at the accusations, understandably, and fear that the photographer’s legacy may be tarnished. While I haven’t had enough time to inspect all of the documents released under FOIA, the evidence appears to be convincing. The big question is why? Money seems a likely motivation. But who knows? I’m sure a book or two is underway.
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Park Slope Firemen 9/11 March

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NYC Fire Museum (SoHo)

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Should Have Been Burned?


Yesterday marked the official publication of The Original of Laura, Nabokov’s last work in progress. Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s son and executor, agonized over the decision not to burn and send these roughly written 138 index cards worth of notes into the wild. For diehard Nabokovians, it’s a treat, but I don’t think it will do the master stylist’s reputation any good. Reportedly, Lolita, too, was supposed to be consigned to the fireplace, but his wife Vera rescued it and now we all have one of the 20th Century’s masterpieces of literature. But that was a finished novel and this is just the opening notes. For more about TOOL, check here and here. The Times of London got the excerpt exclusive. Will I buy it? You betcha.
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Brooklyn Navy Yard

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Park Slope Rabbi Slaughters Nazis in "Call of Duty"

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The Kiss that Ends the War

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Necchi Sewing Machine Ad (Chelsea)

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WTC 7th Anniversary

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First History Lesson

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A Nose Is a Nose Is a Nose?


In a kind of Borgesian rewriting of history, United Artists has apparently doctored old photographs of Claus von Stauffenberg, the attempted assassin of Hitler, so they resemble better Tom Cruise who is playing the German hero in a film called Valkyrie slated to open in February of 2009. Read about the controversy and how it ties in to Scientology here.
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The Empires Strike Back: Big Oil Is Back in Iraq

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The Americans Turns 50!

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: Chalk Project

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Custom House History


Cass Gilbert's building in 1907. More info here. And some brief history here.
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