It is alive! It is a LIFE!

This morning, I received a wonderful email (but its wonderfulness didn’t prevent it from being deleted from my increasingly cluttered email account). The email said, “LIFE and Getty Images have joined forces to provide instant access to millions of breathtaking photographs … with more than 3,000 new photos added every day.” So, LIFE, thrice-defunct magazine, is reborn again as of this morning. 

To commemorate this occasion, I selected a few less-famous, but notable photographs that defined 20th century in this blog:

Kings of Hollywood

In the above picture (left to right) Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper and James Stewart enjoy a joke at 1957 New Year’s party held at the Crown Room in Romanoff’s in Beverly Hills. A photo in the series of four made by Hollywood’s premier photographer, Slim Aarons, the photo-op came almost unexpectedly when Clark Gable cracked a joke at the photographer’s expense. The conspiratorial laugher invited many into the rarified lives of Hollywood’s elite, in the picture Smithsonian magazine termed “a Mount Rushmore of stardom” and the novelist Louis Auchincloss ”the very image of American he-men.”

Khurschev at the Lincoln Memorial


Burt Glinn took many notable pictures in his life—he is the right man at the right place for Magnum, a photo agency he co-founded. (He captured Fidel Castro’s triumphant entrance to Havana in ’59.) So, it seems ironic that the picture for which he is best remembered for today was the result of his tardiness. On the famous picture showing the back of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s head in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Glinn recounted: “I was late and I couldn’t get to where everybody else was, in front of Khrushchev …. If I’d been on time I would have gotten a very ordinary picture of Khrushchev and Henry Cabot Lodge looking at this statue of Lincoln but you couldn’t see the statue.”

Exposing a Gestapo Informer


If Death of a Loyalist militiaman exposed the pain afflicted on the individuals in the face of the unknown, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Dessau photograph exposed the society’s collective anguish in the aftermath of a war. “Dessau, Germany, 1945. In a camp of displaced persons waiting for repatriation, a Gestapo informer who had pretended to be a refugee is discovered and exposed by a camp inmate whose face is illuminated by the strong, sharp light of rage.” — that was how the photograph was described, but the words fail to convey the emotions seeping out of the picture. Like many a master with paintbrush centuries before him, Cartier-Bresson paints allegorical embodiments of Rage and Shame standing before Justice with a Greek chorus in the background. Cartier-Bresson himself spent three years in German prisoner-of-war camps, successfully escaping to France only on his third attempt.

Warschauer Kniefall

A picture can speak a thousand words, and that is what Willy Brandt had expected when he silently knelt down at the monument to Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The gesture of humility and penance was not favorably viewed by West Germans at that time. 48% thought the “Kniefall” was exaggerated. The opposition tried to use the Kniefall against Brandt with a vote of No Confidence in April 1972 which he survived by only two votes. However, Brandt’s Ostpolitik and Kniefall helped his reelection, as his reformist policies helped Germany gain international reputation, and he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

Alfred Krupp by Arnold Newman

“By exaggerating or minimizing his subjects’ surroundings, [Arnold Newman] crafted impressionistic gems… that suggested his sitters’ personalities,” wrote TIME magazine. He did, taking pictures of Igor Stravinsky under the piano which suggested a musical note or of Andy Warhol, whose photograph is a reflection of the latter’s paintings. In 1959, Newman cast master builder Robert Moses as a giant against the Manhattan skyline that he helped to shape. The above photo, although not notable in itself, was at the centre of a minor controversy in Newman’s life; the intentionally demonic portrait was that of German industrialist and alleged Nazi collaborator Alfred Krupp. “As a Jew, it’s my own little moment of revenge,” Newman later admitted.

The Red Flag over the Reichstag

Le drapeau de la victoirereichstag_altered_thumb1

Directly inspired by Joe Rosenthal’s photo of raising the flag on Iwo Jima, Stalin ordered the Ukrainian photographer Yevgeny Khaldei take a similar photo that would symbolize the Soviet victory over Germany. Taking a Soviet flag with him, Khaldei flew to Berlin where he sadly found out that the Soviet soldiers had already succeeded in raising a flag over the Reichstag a few days earlier. Yet, Khaldei recruited a small group of soldiers and, on May 2, 1945, proceeded to recreate the scene. On close examination, the censors noticed that one of the soldiers had a wristwatch on each arm, indicating he had been looting. Khaldei not removed the watches from the photo, but also darkened the smoke in the background (right) to make his picture more dramatic. The resulting picture(left) was published soon after in the magazine Ogonjok to achieved worldwide fame.

Lady Diana At the Taj Mahal


During her trip to India with Prince Charles in 1992, Lady Diana is pictured alone at the Taj Mahal. On a bench (now affectionately known as Lady Di’s Chair) in front of the greatest monument to love, Lady Diana was photographed alone. A statement on her solitude and a symbol of her failing marriage, the photograph shifted the public sympathy from the stoic prince to seemingly vulnerable princess.


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