Photography — The Year in Review

Every year, I do a ‘Year in Review’ for a different publication, reviewing the year past and predicting the year ahead (usually with dismal results). This year, I decided to do the same for photography, but it predominantly reads like a litany of deaths:

In the roster of those we lost this year, we saw such familiar names Dennis Stock, the man who made Jimmy live forever; Corinne Day, the discoverer of Kate Moss; Garry Gross, the originator of a thousand controversies; and Felice Quinto, the original paparazzo who served as a template for the aggressive celebrity photographer in La Dolce Vita. Some names harkened back to Don Draper’s America: Louis Fabian Bachrach, the last patriarch of the esteemed Bachrach Photo Studios; and Peter Gowland, “America’s No. 1 Pin-up Photographer,” according to the New York Times, whose pin-up photos graced more than 1,000 magazine covers, from Playboy to Modern Photography.

To remember Bill Hudson, Charles Moore, Elfie Ballis or Jeff Carter is to ponder the fortunes of the voiceless to whom their photographs gave a clear voice. Hudson and Moore captured the most enduring images of the Civil Rights Movement. Elfie Ballis’s monumental work — 30,000 photographs of labor leader Cesar Chavez and migrant farmworkers — highlighted their struggle in the Californian fields. Jeff Carter’s letterhead read “photographer for the poor and unknown”, and so he was to many Australians in the outback.

Music, too, lost those who hailed her ballads through photos. Brian Duffy, though best remembered for his fashion photography, created the iconic “Aladdin Sane” cover for David Bowie. Jim Marshall’s images of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash and many others helped define their subjects as well as rock ’n’ roll itself. Herman Leonard defined smokey aura of jazz in the United States while in France, Jean-Pierre Leloir was doing the same for Edith Piaf and Charles Trenet.

And then there were those whose lives were somehow intertwined with the memorable images past and present. Edith Shain was almost certainly the nurse who was the subject of Alfred Eisenstadt’s famous VJ day photograph. In his sympathetic 10-part series in the 1980s, Geoffrey Crawley, the then editor in chief of British Journal of Photography, gently deflated the Cottingley Fairies myth by showing the original cameras were incapable of producing such crisp images.

Among the lesser stars, we find those whose names are forgotten, but whose works are instantly recognizable: Lee Lockwood, the untiring chronicler of life in various Communist countries, Martin Elliott, the herald of teen angst via his saucy picture of the Tennis Girl; Alfred Gregory, the official photographer of the British expedition which made the first ascent of Everest; John Hedgecoe, the royal photographer whose photo of the Queen graced over 200 billion postage stamps. The year that saw the drawn-out saga of Ansel Adams prints also witnessed the passing of Joe Deal, who rejected the sweeping romanticism of Adams and Edward Weston to embrace the modern American landscape and its degradation at the hands of developers, corporations and suburban colonisers.

There would also be no more photographs courtesy of Alejandro López de Haro, Alexander Sliussarev, Balthasar Burkhard, Bahman Jalali, Běla Kolářová, George Pickow, Mario Pacheco, Mark Ellidge, Marty Lederhandler, Rigmor Mydtskov, Sigmar Polke and Werner Forman.

Lights were a little dimmer for photojournalism and print media themselves, but Time kept the beacon alive. The Tea Party photoshoot, and Platon’s assignment in Burma were just two recent examples; genius of the magazine’s new phono director Kira Pollack shone through as Time produced pictorials and portraits that harkened back to the Golden Age of Photography throughout 2010.

To learn of Margaret Moth’s death was to be reminded of this courageous photographer who barely survived being shot in the face in Sarajevo in 1992. But dangers for photographers didn’t diminish with more cameras; governments still oppress and struggles still claim collaterals. Those who died in 2010 — a dangerous year for journalists — lost their lives in places where no casual traveller would stroll, where no cellphone camera would be allowed to snoop: places like Caracas, Ciudad Juarez, Gaza and Baghdad. With the incapacitation by an Afghan land mine of Joao Silva, the former member of the Bang-Bang Club, the world lost a photojournalistic talent prematurely.

Afghanistan, with its election, its mercurial leader and general chaos of its existence, provided enough fodder of photojournalists like Silva. Therefore, it is not surprising that the most memorable picture of the year came from Afghanistan. On August cover of Time magazine was a shocking image: Aisha, a shy 18-year-old Afghan woman who was sentenced by a Taliban commander to have her nose and ears cut off for fleeing her abusive in-laws. If the photo was intended as a pastiche of Steve McCurry’s National Geographic cover, it succeeded in providing not only a face to anthropomorphize the dire situation there, but also a haunting Ur-text to contemporarize Afghanistan, still tragically war-torn thirty years after McCurry poetically depicted another Afghan Girl whose eyes had seen it all.

Strictly speaking, a faithful facsimile of McCurry’s photo could not possibly be made anymore. When McCurry took it in 1984, he used Kodachrome, a method that was de facto retired in 2010. Kodak officially discontinued the film two years ago, and Kodachrome’s death-knells had been sound exceedingly louder as many labs worldwide that processed Kodachrome closed one by one. In December, a shop in Kansas — the last lab for Kodachrome — stopped processing it. Demanding both to shoot and process, Kodachrome was once nonetheless valued for its availability, economy, and radiance. It offers a rich palette of color and light and “makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” as Paul Simon famously sang in his eponymous 1973 hit. Even as they more and more abandoned it for digital cameras, many photographers remembered Kodachrome’s unique treatment of light as being incomparable. Kodachrome and eras and events it chronicled are irreplaceable. The same can be said for lives and works of those who left in 2010.


A. S. H.

31. 12. 2010. San Francisco


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