A Photographic Memory of Art

1914: The Arrest of Gavrilo Princip


Gavrilo Princip is unintentionally one of the most influential people of the 20th century. The 19-year-old Serbian student started World War I by pulling the trigger on Archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. After shooting Franz Ferdinand and his Duchess Sophie von Chotkovato, Princip–the member of the Black Hand organization, tried to shoot himself. A man behind him saw what he was doing, and seized Princip’s right arm. A couple of policeman joined the struggle and Princip was arrested. The above photo, one of the biggest photodocumentary scoops of the century was born as Princip was being led to a police station. After a 12-day murder trial in Sarajevo in October 1914, Princip was sentenced to 20 years, the maximum penalty since he was younger than 20 when he committed his crime. Probably tubercular before his imprisonment, he had an arm amputated because the disease spread to the bone. He died in hospital in April 1918.

1933: Migrant Mother


Dorothea Lange was one of the photographers hired by the Farm Security Administration (FSA) to document the social condition as a result of the Depression. Exhausted from photographing farms in Nipomo, California, Lange turned down a dirt road to investigate a migrant camp of pea pickers. In less than fifteen minutes, Lange was back on the road after making five exposures of a woman (Florence Thompson) and her children in the camp. She submitted one of these images (titled Migrant Mother) to her agency. The image put a face to the Great Depression, and became its symbol as well as one of the most iconic and important photographs in the history of photography.

1944: Cartier-Bresson’s Matisse


Henry Cartier-Bresson’s photograph of Henri Matisse is fully of ironies. The great French painter, known for his use of color and called Fauve (wild beast) is depicted in black and white, surrounded by birds. Moreover, the photograph does not show energetic, vivid Matisse remembered by many of his contemporaries. Although it is taken in 1944, ten years before the master’s death, Matisse was already a broken man. In 1939, he and his wife of 41 years separated. In 1941, he underwent a colostomy, which confined him to a wheelchair. His daughter is a captive in a Nazi concentration camp. The photograph showed all these ravages. Cartier-Bresson and Matisse remained good friends–when Cartier-Bresson published his seminal book, The Decisive Moment, Matisse drew the cover for him. 

1945: Potsdam Conference


When the Great Powers assembled in the conference room at Potsdam’s Cecilienhof palace in July 1945, it was without doubt that a Quadripartition of Germany was imminent. The conference’s progress had been hindered by the change in the British government and by Stalin’s illness, but the end result was certain on everyone’s mind. The U.S. Army photographer Frank Gatteri’s picture of the council room at Potsdam reflected this atmosphere. Unlike any other photograph of the event, Gatteri took this picture from a high vantage point, revealing all parties’ cards and reminding the viewers the earlier cartoons of partitioning nations. Josef Stalin is the only figure distinctly recognizable in this figure–it is as if Gatteri foresaw that the shadow of Uncle Joe would be upon Eastern Europe even after the other people around the table (Truman, Attlee, Eden, Byrnes) were gone. 
1949: Picasso in Madoura
“Why not have him draw in the dark, with a light instead of a pencil?”  mused the photographer Gjon Mili as he was on his way to the Riviera to photograph the painter Pablo Picasso. At Madoura Pottery, Mill accomplished just that; he showed Picasso some of his photographs of light patterns formed by a skater’s leaps – obtained by affixing tiny lights on the points of the skates. Picasso reacted instantly and this photo of Pablo Picasso drawing a centaur in the air,  taken in the dark with a flashlight, was born. ‘This spectacular “space drawing” is a momentary happening inscribed in thin air with a flashlight in the dark – an illumination of Picasso’s brilliance set off by the spur of the moment,’ wrote Mill in “Picasso’s Third Dimension”.  

1954: A Man of Mercy
W. Eugene Smith took a magnificent photoessay for LIFE in 1954. A Man of Mercy, which chronicled Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s humanitarian work in French Equatorial Africa is at times controversial because Smith used his darkroom prowess to manipulate and composite negatives. [See Schweitzer’s famous portrait, where a second negative of the hand and saw is superimposed on the first] However, in the above photo, the photography plays a second fiddle to the documentary–Schweitzer tired after a hard-day’s work is seen working back to his quarters. In the foreground play the Africans who contrast sharply with the white-washed tents Schweitzer set up in Lambaréné. It is a documentary of what a true Christian Empire looks like.    

1959: Eisenhower at the Lincoln Centre

During Robert Moses’ program of urban renewal in the early 1960s, a consortium of New Yorker led by John D. Rockefeller III started “Lincoln Square Renewal Project” to transform the place into New York’s new cultural centre. Thus, Lincoln Center was born. On May 14, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower thrust a shovel into the ground on the Upper West Side of Manhattan to signal the start of construction. The occasion was lavishly commemorated. Leonard Bernstein was the master of ceremonies; the New York Philharmonic (which Rockefeller lured away from its old venues at the Carnegie Hall) and Juilliard Chorus performed the national anthem. The baritone Leonard Warren sang the prologue to Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci.” The mezzo-soprano Risë Stevens sang the “Habanera” from Bizet’s “Carmen.” 

1966: Chagall at the Lincoln Centre
In this photo of Sept. 8, 1966, the painter Marc Chagall poses by his mural “Le Triumphe de la Musique,” The Triumph of Music, during the unveiling ceremonies in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, in New York. Through the transparent windowpanes of the building, The Sources of Music in yellow (right) and The Triumph of Music in red (left) dominate the frontal view of the opera house. Although specifically created for the opera house, there were various autobiographical elements by Chagall in those paintings. Only at night, the murals are on view. During the day they are covered with white sheets in order to protect them from the sun. 

1974: Nixon in the Knesset

Richard Nixon disliked Jews and may even have been anti-Semitic. However, in Israel, Nixon is fondly remembered for his role in saving Israel in the dark days of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. When Israel had run dangerously low on ammunition during the war, Nixon sent planeload after planeload to resupply the depleted Israeli military stocks. The relations between Nixon and Golda Meir remained strong throughout their administrations. In June 1974, Nixon visited Prime Minister Rabin–the first visit by an American President to Israel. Under central tapestry which depicts the history of the Israelites from Moses to the Holocaust in the Chagall Hall, the President spoke to the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset. The picture by Harry Benson shows the president being upstaged and propped simultaneously by Moses who is seemingly preaching the Law to the beleaguered President, who will resign a few months later.


One Response to “A Photographic Memory of Art”
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  1. […] schon Pablo Picasso benutzt, der einfach mal so aus dem Handgelenk eine Zentauren gemalt hat.  Das Foto und die Geschichte dazu sind hier zu […]

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