Clearwater Beach Sugar Sand Festival

Just the other day my wife and I went to The Clearwater Beach Sugar Sand Festival at Pier 60. I believe this was the third year we attended this event. Every year there is a different theme. Last year was a Celebration of Musicians which you can see here. This year’s theme is  Celebrating America. The eleven sculptors come from all over the world. The artists do not use molds. It’s all done using brushes, utilities tools and other instruments.

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Mount Rushmore

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Salty Fishermen

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Wall Street

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Edgar Allan Poe

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Abraham Lincoln

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Louis Armstrong and Charley Patton

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Holiday Road

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Lighthouse

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Route 66

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Monroe and Chaplin

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Casey at the Bat

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America’s National Parks

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From Real to Reel: Still Photographers in the Movies – Alfred Stieglitz

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This is my fourth in a series on real life photographers as portrayed in the movies. Here we take a look at Alfred Stieglitz.

Today, photography is recognized as an art form. Photographs hang in museums and galleries right next to paintings, sculptures and other works of art. It wasn’t always like that. The change in perception was primarily due to one man: Alfred Stieglitz. As a photographer, as a cultivator of taste, an entrepreneur and as a publisher of a magazine (Camera Work) dedicated to photographic art, Alfred Stieglitz changed photography taking it away from the pictorialism style that mimicked painting and dominated photography in the early 20th century. It was a break from the past of photographers like David Octavius Hill and Julia Margaret Cameron. Stieglitz was inspired by them but did not want to emulate them.

AlfreddAlfred Stieglitz was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1864 to a monetarily well off family. His father, Edward, was in the clothing business and made a financial fortune, enough so that in 1871 he moved his family to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Edward would soon retire and devote himself to overseas travel and the arts. The Stieglitz family was living in Europe with young Alfred studying engineering at Berlin’s Technische Hochschule first became interested in photography. He spent his out of class time at the racetrack, local cafes and the opera. Most of the time there was a woman by his side. Stieglitz soon dropped the engineering education as his interest turned toward photography. In 1884, with his family now back in the States, Alfred remained in Europe to further his much self-taught education in photography. By 1887, Stieglitz was an expert enough photographer to win both first and second prizes in the English journal Amateur Photographer.

In 1890, Alfred returned to America. He discovered that Kodak with the release of their first point and shoot camera along with the slogan “you press the button and let us do the rest” amateur photographers were flooding the market. Stieglitz’s goal was to prove photography, like painting, was a form of artistic expression. As a member of the Camera Club of New York, he became editor of the journal, Camera Notes. As the editor, he promoted his personal beliefs on what were the artistic qualities of photography, publishing photos of other photographers who held similar creative points of view.

As time went by Stieglitz began to come into editorial conflict with the majority of the membership.  He and other like-minded photographers eventually decided to break away from the staid Club members and form their own group known as the Photo-Secessionist. They believed photography was not just a mechanical thing but like painting and sculpture involved craftsmanship. In 1905, with the financial help of Edward Steichen, Stieglitz opened the Little Galleries, commonly known and called 291 (the 5th Avenue street address).  It was at the Little Galleries where Stieglitz exhibited works by photographers and artists, both American and European.

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The Steerage by Alfred Stieglitz

In 1907, Stieglitz made what remains today his most famous work. The Steerage was shot during a family trip to Europe. His wife, Emmy, insisted on first-class accommodations. Their passage was on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, then considered one of the largest passenger ships. Strolling on the deck one day his eye caught the view dividing the upper first class passengers from the lower class, aka steerage. The photographer raced back to his cabin and grabbed his camera, a 4×5 Auto-Graflex. The camera used glass plate negatives. He only had one plate prepared. With that one plate, he made the photograph.

It was another week until the ship landed in Paris that Stieglitz would be able to use an Eastman Kodak darkroom and print the picture. The photographer claimed he knew he had a masterpiece right away, yet he did not publish the photo until four years later in the October 1911 issue of Camera Work.

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Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

“Finally, a woman on paper!”

Those were the words Alfred Stieglitz uttered after seeing the charcoal drawings twenty-two year Anita Pollitzer, Georgia O’Keeffe’s closest friend, and six years her junior, presented to the photographer at his 291 Gallery late New Year’s Day, January 1916.  Later that year in May, Stieglitz included O’Keeffe’s drawings in a group exhibition. O’Keeffe was unaware of the exhibit and only found out through a fellow student about the work of a “Virginia” O’Keeffe on display at 291. Georgia made her way to the gallery and quickly rebuked Stieglitz for exhibiting her work without permission. Alfred was unapologetic; he was too enthused. He went on to rave about her work; how it moved his soul.

From this point on, their personal and artistic lives were entwined. Georgia took a teaching job in Texas, but they corresponded regularly. In 1918, he convinced her to move to New York, promising her a place to live and studio space where she could work. Soon after, Stieglitz began taking a series of nude photographs. When his wife Emmy found out, she gave him an ultimatum, stop seeing O’Keeffe or get out. The photographer quickly moved out and into the same apartment as O’Keeffe. At this point, they still had not been sexually intimate, but that would soon change.

Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

Stieglitz was obsessed with O’Keeffe. Over the next five years, he photographed her more than 300 times creating in the process a brilliant catalog of work and portraits of an emerging artist. He was the teacher; she was his muse. Though over the years that would change.

He was a quarter of a century older than her and married to a staid, dull woman. Alfred and Georgia came from different backgrounds. Stieglitz, an old-fashioned, European, steadfast traditionalist while O’Keeffe was a poster child for the modern liberated woman.  Naturally, their relationship was both passionate and unorthodox.

The Terminal and the Flatiron Building by Alfred Stieglitz

They married in 1924. Stieglitz continued to exhibit O’Keeffe and other artists including Marsden Hartley, John Marin and Paul Strand. As O’Keeffe became more confident and independent, they would disagree on many fronts. One major impediment was Dorothy Norman.  Stieglitz met Dorothy Norman in 1927. Like him, she was married. Beautiful, financially well off and a patron of the arts, she began spending a lot of time at Stieglitz’s gallery. The photographer, always a man with a roving eye started an affair with Dorothy Norman which lasted until his death.

In 1929, O’Keeffe, with Rebecca Strand (Paul Strand’s wife), went to Taos, New Mexico and the art colony of heiress Mabel Dodge Luhan. It was the beginning of a love affair with the New Mexico landscape that would influence her life and art for the remainder of her life. To the dislike of Stieglitz, O’Keeffe began spending a portion of her time every year in Southwest. Part of her reason for getting away from New York was Alfred’s continuing affair with Dorothy Norman.

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Dorothy Norman by Alfred Stieglitz

During the final years of his life, Stieglitz had a series of heart attacks. With O’Keeffe spending her time in New Mexico, Dorothy Norman managed the gallery during these times. In 1946, Stieglitz suffered a stroke. O’Keeffe came back to New York. She found Norman in his hospital room. Norman left, and O’Keeffe was at his bedside when he died.

O’Keeffe remained in New York for an extended period arranging Stieglitz affairs. In 1949 she donated over 1,300 of Stieglitz’s prints to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Later, in 1980 she would give another 325 photographs including many nudes. The total collection, aka The Key Set, is the largest collection of Stieglitz work in the world. (1)

 

Alfred Stieglitz on Screen

Alfred Stieglitz has yet to make it to the big screen, but made for television productions have been a bit kinder. In 1991, American Playhouse, a PBS produced series presented A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. The production starred Jane Alexander as O’Keeffe and Christopher Plummer as Stieglitz. It was written by Julian Barry (Lenny) and directed by Ed Sherin. There are few, if any, artistic couples who loom as significant in the history of culture and art as Stieglitz and O’Keeffe. Alfred Stieglitz did not consider himself a photographer, but an artist and through his galleries and his highbrow magazine, Camera Work he almost single-handedly made photography a recognized art form. Additionally, he was a pioneer in introducing the Modern Art movement to America.

To date, two films have featured Alfred Stieglitz, and as one would expect, Georgia O’Keeffe. In July 1991 PBS’ American Playhouse premiered a 90-minute film called A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stiglitz with Christopher Plummer as Stiglitz and Jane Alexander as O’Keeffe. The film was the brainchild of Alexander, a passionate admirer of O’Keeffe. She wanted to do a feature film but was unable to raise the financial backing needed. According to a New York Times article[1] Alexander’s husband, Ed Sherin whose credits include Valdez is Coming and TV shows Homicide in the Streets and Law & Order, suggested she try the PBS route. It would be a lower cost production but doable.

Plummer was not the first choice to play the photographer. Initially, the excellent Scandinavian actor Max Von Sydow was set to play Stieglitz, but he dropped out before production began because of a conflict in schedules. Martin Landau was next, but he too dropped out. Finally, Christopher Plummer came on board. He loved the script and quickly agreed. He became Alfred Stieglitz and is as sublime in the role as Jane Alexander is as Georgia O’Keeffe. Written by Julian Barry, the film illuminates the financially strapped art world of that period as well as two of its most gifted artists. It reflects how Stieglitz was not just a superb photographer but a wheeler and dealer in the art world of their time.

Stieglitz was a bigger than life character: mischievous, loyal, and generous, yet he could be domineering, sexist, brooding and demanding. He was a father figure to many upcoming artists of his time. Plummer captures all of this in his portrayal.  Jane Alexander’s take on O’Keeffe is as compelling as Plummer’s. Stieglitz was already married when he left his wife for O’Keeffe, twenty-four years younger. The two were opposites in just about every way except for artistic talent. Their life together was a constant battle of tug and pull. However, this film does not only focus on their personal relationship. Unlike most biopics, much of the time is spent on their respective arts. We see the Stieglitz photographing O’Keeffe, and how the photographer fought for and supported her work.

Creative partnerships are a rocky road; Stieglitz and O’Keeffe were no different. Her allegiance to Stieglitz forced her at times to submit to his demanding nature, including when he demanded she abort his baby she was carrying and wanted to keep. He also was a philanderer, cheating on his first wife with O’Keeffe and then later cheating on O’Keeffe after they married.  Eventually, she would make her way out to Santa Fe, coming back to New York and Stieglitz on occasion.  She was always uncomfortable living in New York, and even more so during their summers spent at the Stieglitz compound in Lake George, upstate New York. Alfred Stieglitz died in 1946. O’Keeffe would spend the rest of her life at her Ghost Ranch just outside of Santa Fe.

In 2009, Georgia O’Keeffe, another made of TV film arrived on Lifetime. Directed by Bob Balaban, the film stars Jeremy Irons as Stieglitz and Joan Allen as O’Keeffe. Like the earlier film, Georgia O’Keeffe had an extended gestation period. It was in development at HBO for four years before they decided to pass on it.[2]  Lifetime decided to pick it up. Unlike the stage-bound A Marriage: Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz it was shot on location in New Mexico including O’Keeffe’s Ghost Ranch just outside of Abiquiú, New Mexico. It was the first time filmmakers were allowed to film there.

Unlike the 1991 film, Georgia O’Keeffe focuses more on the complicated relationship, between O’Keeffe and Stieglitz and not as much on her art and what made her so unique. People who know little about O’Keeffe’s art will not learn much about what made her so extraordinary. The same can be said about Stieglitz, if you do not know who Stieglitz is and his importance, not just to Georgia, but to the evolution of photography as an art form, well the viewer will still be clueless after watching this film. For me, that the film’s central weakness. That said, it’s entertaining, a primer into the world of these two artists. Hopefully, making you thirst for more. Visually, it is beautiful to look at; the New Mexico locations as photographed by cinematographer Paul Elliot make you want to go there.

 

Footnotes:

[1] New York Times, Drawn From Life, July 23, 1991, Michael Kilian

[2] Reuters, Kimberly Nordyke, Lifetime Paints O’Keeffe Portrait, Nov. 5, 2008

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Linda McCartney

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This is my third in a series on real life photographers as portrayed in the movies. Here we take a look at Linda McCartney.

For a short period after high school, Linda Eastman attended the University of Arizona. However, she spent more time out in the Arizona countryside horseback riding, a passion since her youth, than in school. In 1962, her mother, Louise Eastman died in an airplane crash, and she came back to New York for a short period. The pressures of her mother’s death on her family sent her escaping back to Arizona. Upon her return, she soon became pregnant by her boyfriend, Melville See. They quickly married, and Heather was born. During this time, Eastman’s experience with photography was limited. While married to See, she took classes in photography at the Tucson Arts Center under the guidance of Hazel Archer. Her photographs at this point consisted mostly of her beloved horses as well as the Arizona landscape. The marriage didn’t last long. See, a geologist took a position that would send him to Africa. Linda declined to follow along. The marriage quickly dissolved. Linda and Heather went back east.

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Brian Jones – Photograph by Linda Eastman McCartney

Linda got an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She took a low-level job working as an editorial assistant for Town and Country magazine. She met David Dalton, a photographer, and writer, one day while both were waiting for the elevator in the same building where they both worked, though for different magazines. Dalton had a Pentax camera slung over his shoulder, and she began asking questions. They became friends and even dated. He taught her about lighting and other aspects of photography which she eagerly soaked in.

Among Linda’s functions at Town and Country were bill checking, calendar managing and opening the mail. On one occasion there came a press invitation for a reception aboard a yacht that would be cruising up the Hudson River. The guests of honor were the Rolling Stones. With the invite in one hand and a 35mm camera in the other, Linda, and her co-worker/best friend Christine Berlin were allowed on the yacht. [1]

Aboard the invitation-only yacht, Linda was both nervous and excited.  On deck, she photographed Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richard, et al. She hoped the photos would come out good enough to sell. They did. Eastman’s success was due to a couple of factors. She had a natural eye and sensitivity. Her pictures were different; they were informal portraits, unlike the regular press photographers who wanted more standard shots. For example, a photo of Brian Jones had him sitting there with his legs wide apart; this was never seen before. It helped that she had a talent for being sociable and was a bit of a flirt with the boys managing to get uncooperative rockers to pose and work with her. After the reception, Linda sold some of her photos to both Hullabaloo, where Dalton was now working, and Datebook teen magazines; this was her big break. Her career as a photographer began. Over the next few years, Linda would photograph rock and roll luminaries like Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Simon and Garfunkel, Jim Morrison, the Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Who and many others. In May of 1968, Linda became the first female photographer whose work, a photo of Eric Clapton, would grace the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Ever the black sheep of the Eastman family, her father Lee Eastman, never approved of her rebellious lifestyle or her photography career.

Eric Clapton – Photo by Linda  Eastman McCartney

During these days, Linda gained an unfair reputation for being a groupie. It’s a sexist term. After all, if guys had sex with many women, he’s a stud. And unlike most so-called groupies, Linda wasn’t a hanger-on, she had a job, and as a single working woman, she came into contact with famous and rich men who saw her as attractive and exciting as she found them. Why shouldn’t she spend a night with some of the men she came into contact with?

A photo assignment in 1967 brought her to London. One night while hanging out at The Bag o’ Nails, a well-known and popular club at the time, she met Paul McCartney. There was an immediate chemistry between the two even though Paul was still seeing Jane Asher at the time. Linda was invited to photograph The Beatles launch party of their groundbreaking album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. She photographed the event getting shots of all The Beatles for the first time.

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Linda Eastman’s photo of The Beatles launch party for St Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Paul and Linda would meet again in New York in May of 1968. Four months later he asked her to come to London and move in with him; they married on March 12th, 1969. Linda continued to photograph, but her devotion over the years the couple were together was split between family, photography, animal rights and vegetarianism. Family was number one.

From those early rock n’ roll photographs to the last years of The Beatles, Paul’s solo career, the raising of their kids, Linda’s camera was always there to capture the beauty and the spontaneity of their lives. Her work was fresh, self-effacing and warm. When she died at the age of 56, she left behind a visual rock n’ roll history of some of the most significant artists of our time.

One of her proudest moments in her photographic career happened in 1982 after a coffee table size book of her work called Photographs was published followed by an exhibit that traveled across Europe. The high point for Linda though happened when the great French photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, then 88 years old, requested a print of Linda’s shot of a young Scottish boy running across a field. At the time, Lartigue did not know who the photographer was.

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Despite the many films made about The Beatles, Backbeat, The Two of Us, Nowhere Boy, Birth of the Beatles to name a few, Linda McCartney was portrayed only in one film. Two years after her untimely death in 1998 at the age of 56, CBS came out with The Linda McCartney Story. Based on Danny Fields book, Linda McCartney: A Portrait, the film tries to have it all by attempting to appeal to Beatles fans, always hungry for another “inside look,” baby boomers, the tearjerker crowd, and the romantic audiences who love a good love story. The film has it all. But as it flashes back and forth between the early days where we see Linda’s beginnings as a photographer, her success, even before meeting Paul, then jumping ahead to her final years, and her fight against the cancer that took her life. You get the feeling none of the targeted audiences will be completely satisfied.

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Elizabeth Mitchell and Gary Blakewell as Linda and Paul

Elizabeth Mitchell was a particularly good choice to play Linda. She manages to make Linda come across as frank, aggressive as well as charming and endearing. The script lets her down toward the second half of the film as it focuses more on the breakup of The Beatles and her health issues effects on Paul with Linda fading into the background of her own life.

Paul is decently played by Gary Blakewell who previously portrayed him six years earlier in the 1994 film Backbeat. George Segal plays, Lee Eastman, Linda’s hard-ass father who before her marriage to Paul saw Linda’s photography career as nothing more than shooting a bunch of long-haired freaks. Tim Piper[2] plays John Lennon in one of the creepiest portrayals of the rocker ever who at one point burst into the McCartney home like a madman, screaming and ranting, finally breaking a framed drawing he did that he previously gave to Paul.

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The Linda McCartney Story

In the beginning, Beatles fans hated Linda. She wasn’t pretty enough for the cutest Beatle, she, along with Yoko, was accused of breaking up world’s most famous band. Then she had the nerve to go on stage and perform with Paul in his new band Wings. Hell, she couldn’t sing or play an instrument, yet there she was. She looked uncomfortable on stage, but Paul wanted her in the group, and what Paul wanted, he got.

Except for the week, Paul spent in a Japanese jail for pot possession; the couple never spent a night apart. Their love for each other and their family was real. Real enough for a wild rocker who slept with an infinite number of women to give it all up for a family and a farm in Scotland. McCartney, always the romantic in his work proved it works offstage too.

In the end, The Linda McCartney Story is mostly a tearjerker overshadowing the photography story, The Beatles, and the love story.  For me, it’s best to remember Linda McCartney as a talented photographer, an animal activist, and vegetarian who brought peace and love to her husband and family and not as a victim of a horrible decease.

Footnotes:

[1] Some Beatles and Paul McCartney biographies have stated that Linda was the only photographer on board the yacht. This was not only untrue, but ridiculous if you think about it. The reception was a press junket and to have had no photographers on board would have defeated the purpose.

[2] Tim Piper has made a career out of playing John Lennon. In 2002, a one night only tribute show called ‘Just Imagine’ premiered at the Stella Alder Theater. The critics liked it so much, the William Morris Agency took it on and put the show on tour across the United State and the world. It still tours to this day.

 

 

 

Sources:

Linda McCartney: A Portrait – Danny Fields,  2000, Renaissance Books

Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney, 2010, Howard Sounes

 

 

Bald Eagles Along the Skagit River

The Skagit Valley, particularly the Skagit River, is known at this time of the year to be a haven for Bald Eagles.  It’s located in the northwestern part of Washington State. About half of the time on our recent trip was spent on the Skagit River photographing eagles, and the other half on land photographing swans, snow geese, and a bit of landscape. Although the weather was cold and rainy, the experience yielded some exciting photos making the colds, both my wife and I now endure, worth it. Below are some photographs.

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Covered Bridges of New England

I love New England! One of the many regional attractions are its covered bridges. They scream out NEW ENGLAND!  Every New England state has them. Most go back to the 1900’s and were used daily by the local population. Today, they are still used, and are major attractions to both photographers and artists looking to capture a true piece of New England architecture and landscape.

Tannery Hill Bridge – New Hampshire

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White Mountain Nat’l Forest Covered Bridge – New Hampshire

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Pemigewasset River Bridge (1886) – New Hampshire

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Blair Covered Bridge  (White Mountains) – New HampshireBlair BRidge-6469

 

Middle Bridge – Woodstock Vt.

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Martin Bridge – Vermont

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Jeffersonville Covered Bridge – Vermont

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Gorham Bridge – Vermont

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Cooley Bridge – Vermont

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Bridgewater Covered Bridge – Vermont

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Quechee Covered Bridge – VermontQuechee Covered Bridge - CW-

Taftsville Covered Bridge – Vermont

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Lincoln Gap aka Warren Bridge – Vermont

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Chamberlin Mill Covered Bridge, Lyndon, Vermont

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Photographer Heaven

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I was in Barnes and Noble the other day and found these new books in the recent arrivals  section. Three newly published biographies of photographers: Vivian Maier, Richard Avedon, and Robert Frank. This is a holiday trifecta for any serious photographer. Photographer bios are rare enough, so to have three come out within weeks of each other is a holiday bonanza.

 

From Real to Reel: Real Life Photographers in the Movies – Joe Rosenthal and Flags of My Fathers

WW2_Iwo_Jima_flag_raisingAt 5’ 5” Joe Rosenthal had to place some rocks and sandbags on the ground for him to stand on so he could take what would become one of the most iconic photographs of World War II: the raising of the American flag on the small Japanese island of Iwo Jima. Located 760 miles south of Tokyo, the island was crucial to American forces strategies who planned to use the volcanic island as an air base in their march toward Japan.

USAProsenthalPJoe Rosenthal

Rosenthal, who died in 2006 at the age of 94, was born on October 9th, 1911 in Washington D.C. to Russian Jewish immigrants. During the Great Depression, Joe moved to San Francisco where he lived with his brother as he searched for work. It was during this period, Joe developed an interest in photography; what began as a hobby, soon turned into a career when he got a job working for the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Nearsighted, Rosenthal was classified as 4-F around the time of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. However, through connections, he managed to get his 4-F status overturned, and would spend his first year of military service in Europe and North Africa. In 1944, he convinced the Associated Press to give him credentials as a war photographer. Rosenthal was sent off to the Pacific where he was present for the invasions of Guam, Anguar, and Hollandia.

On Feb 19, 1945, Rosenthal landed on the Japanese fortified island of Iwo Jima with the first wave of U.S. Marines to come ashore. Dodging bullets, Rosenthal’s only weapon was his unwieldy Speed Graphic, shooting shot after shot of dramatic battlefield photos during those first days of the invasion. About four days into the battle, and after suffering heavy losses, the Marines made their move up Mount Suribachi; the tallest point on the island, and the Japanese stronghold. After a fierce struggle, the Marines controlled the mountain. Louis Lowery, a photographer for the Marine publication Leatherneck, arrived on top of the mountain first and photographed the raising of a small American flag. It was the first American flag to fly on Japanese territory.

First_Iwo_Jima_Flag_Raising - Lowery

The raising of the first U.S. flag – Photography by Louis Lowery

Rosenthal did not make it up to the top in time for that first flag raising, but he along with two other photographers still chose to make the trek up the hill. Meanwhile, the Marine command decided to replace the original small flag with a larger flag.   Rosenthal, arrived with his Speed Graphic in hand, as the soldiers were preparing to raise the second and bigger flag. He quickly got himself into position, on top of those rocks and sandbag, and shot a series of photos including the shot that would be seen around the world.

At first, it was one of many photographs Rosenthal took that day; he thought nothing was special about it, it was just one of the numerous images he captured on film. He noted the shutter speed at 1/400 with an aperture of F/11. The film was sent to Guam and the Associated Press headquarters where it was processed and transmitted back to the States.

 Then it happened. The picture began to appear in just about every Sunday newspaper across the country. The photo became a sensation, and a symbol back home that the war was starting to turn. Rosenthal was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  The committee described it as depicting “one of the war’s great moments.” Five months after the flag raising, a stamp with Rosenthal’s photo was issued. It was the first time a living person appeared on a U.S. stamp. Time magazine includes it in its list of the 100 Most Influential Images of All Time. Today, Joe Rosenthal’s picture remains one of the most iconic and recognizable photographs of war ever taken.

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In Clint Eastwood’s 2006 film, Flags of Our Fathers, based on a book by James Bradley and Ron Powers, we first meet Joe Rosenthal (Ned Eisenberg) as an older man. He is being interviewed by James Bradley (Tom McCarthy), the now adult son of John “Doc” Bradley (Ryan Philippe), a Navy Hospital Corpsman assigned to the U.S. Marine Rifle Company invading Iwo Jima. James is researching his father’s life for what would become the book, Flags of Our Fathers. While a younger version of Rosenthal appears later on in the movie recreating the Flag raising on top of Mount Suribachi, it’s this early scene listening to the photographer talk about the historic photograph and its relevance that is most fascinating. Rosenthal states how he took many other photographs that day, many depicting the raw cruelties of war. No one wanted to see them. Somehow though, he goes on, “we had to make some sense of it; we needed to make it easy to understand, using few words. The right photograph can win or lose a war.”

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS

Ned Eisenberg as Joe Rosenthal in Flags of Our Fathers

“Look at Vietnam,” he continued, referring to Eddie Adams famous photo of the 1968 execution by South Vietnamese National Police Chief, General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, holding a raised 38 caliber pistol, coldly shooting Viet Cong prisoner, Nguyễn Văn Lém, in the head, right on the streets of Saigon. “That was it!” he continues, “the war was lost. We just hung around trying to pretend it wasn’t.”

Rosenthal goes on to discuss how his picture helped turn the perception of the war back home. People back home saw the photo, and it changed their opinions; the war was beginning to go in America’s favor. Folks were buying bonds and feeling good.

 In their own time, both Rosenthal and Adams pictures reverberated around the country, and the world, one photograph helped win a war; the other helped realize another war was a lost cause. Both men won a Pulitzer Prize for their work.

Photographs tell a hard truth, yet they can, and do lie. In both Rosenthal’s and Adams pictures, we see one side, what the photographer photographed. We never know what came before or after. We see just what they want you to see, a moment in time. What both these photographs do reveal, though taken more than twenty years apart, is the power of the visual image. No words are necessary. The picture tells the story.

Joe Rosenthal’s career spanned more than 50 years, however, like many photographers, there is that one image that he remains best known for and has become iconic.