This is part one of a chronological list of the best photographs of all time. I created the list by collecting over 22 lists with titles like The Best Photography of All Time, The Greatest Photographs Ever, The Most Important Photos, The Most Iconic Photos, The Most Influential Photos from websites and books (including several history of photography books). In order to diversify the list, I also collected lists of the best photographs in particular genres, such as photojournalism, street photography, fashion photography, portraiture, nature and landscape photography and art photography. I then compiled all the lists into one meta-list to determine which photos were on the most lists. The most-listed photo was on 22 of the lists I found. The list below (Part I) includes every photograph that was on at least two of the original source lists, in chronological order, covering the period 1826-1945. For 1945-Present, see Part II here. Each entry includes the number of lists the photo is on, the title (note that many photographs have multiple titles – I have tried to mention alternate titles in the text), the date (usually the date of the exposure, but sometimes the date of the print) and the photographer’s name. A short essay with additional salient information, such as the photographic equipment used, follows in most cases.
A few warnings: (1) Some of the photos contained in these lists depict death and other tragic situations and may be disturbing. (2) Nudity is a fairly common theme in art and fashion photography. I find some of the photographers’ depictions of women to be objectifying and misogynistic, but you be the judge. (3) Some of the more recent photos are still under copyright, so please have respect for the photographers’ legal rights – I have added links to purchase prints in some cases. I believe my use of these lower resolution images falls under the doctrine of fair use and also serves an educational purpose.
For a list of photographs on three or more of the original source lists, organized with the most-listed (“best”) photos first, go to Best Photography of All Time – The Critics’ Picks. For a chronological list of the best photographers and their best photos, including portraits of the photographers, go here.
View from the Window at Le Gras (1826) – Nicéphore Niépce (on 14 lists)
This view from the window of French inventor Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833) is believed to be the first permanent photograph ever made. The process Niépce called heliography involved setting up a camera obscura in the window of his home in Saint-Loup-de-Varennes and focusing the image onto a pewter plate measuring 6.4 inches by 8 inches that he covered with bitumen. After an exposure of at least eight hours (an inference based on the sunlight illuminating both sides of the street), the bitumen hardened in the brightly lit areas, and Niépce washed away the bitumen in the dark areas with oil of lavender mixed with white petroleum. Unlike prior attempts to capture the images created by the camera obscura, the resulting photograph was permanent, although the image was only visible when the pewter plate was held at an angle. The plate disappeared about 1905 but was discovered by German historian Helmut Gernsheim in 1952. Gernsheim made a modern photographic copy (damaging the original in the process) and then heavily retouched it to create the image shown above. The original heliograph plate (shown below) is now at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. (c) Gernsheim Collection, University of Texas, Austin.
Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey (1835) – William Henry Fox Talbot (on 5 lists)
Although French inventor Louis Daguerre is generally credited with developing the first successful form of photography, some credit must also go to Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), some of whose experiments preceded Daguerre’s. In 1835, Talbot took a photograph of a Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey, his Wiltshire home. He achieved this first success by setting the camera indoors, which permitted an uninterrupted long exposure at a point where bright sunlight streamed through the window. Talbot’s process created what we today call a negative, with the darks and lights reversed. The negative above, which is located in the National Media Museum in Bradford, England, is only about an inch square. The next phase, creating a positive print from the negative, was more troublesome. It wasn’t until 1839, about the same time that Daguerre was announcing his daguerreotype process, that Talbot invented the calotype process for creating permanent prints from his negatives. A print Talbot made in 1839 from the Latticed Window at Lacock Abbey negative is shown below. (c) National Museum of Photography.
Still Life: The Artist’s Studio (1837) – Louis Daguerre (on 5 lists)
Still Life: The Artist’s Studio is one of the earliest images produced by French photography pioneer Louis Daguerre (1787-1851) using the daguerreotype photographic process, which he developed after the death of his mentor and collaborator Nicéphore Niépce. The subject matter – an arrangement of various objets d’art into a still life – indicates an early example of the desire to treat photography not just as a means of documenting reality but as an art similar to painting, another two-dimensional art form. Daguerre uses what appears to be natural light coming from the side, as well as light reflected in a mirror. After perfecting the process during 1837-1838, Daguerre announced his discovery in general terms to a joint meeting of the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Beaux Arts on January 7, 1839, with a public announcement following in August of that year. The original daguerreotype is now in the collection of the Societe Francaise de Photographie in Paris. Public domain.
Boulevard du Temple, Paris (1838) – Louis Daguerre (on 11 lists)
The most famous early image by French photography pioneer Louis Daguerre is this 1838 daguerreotype of the Boulevard du Temple, a busy Paris street. It is not only one of the first photographs but is also probably the first time the new medium captured the image of a human being. The daguerreotype process involved coating a thin silver-plated copper sheet with light-sensitive silver iodide and then exposing the plate in the camera. At first, exposure times were ten minutes or more, but over time, Daguerre was able to reduce the time to a few seconds. Daugerrotypes were known for their extremely detailed and realistic images, in contrast to the grainy and fuzzy pictures resulting from other early photographic processes. Drawbacks of the process were that multiple prints could not be made from an exposure, and the images degraded by contact with air or by any scratching or friction. Boulevard du Temple required a 10-minute exposure, which means that most pedestrians and carriages did not stay still long enough to be recorded, creating the illusion of a ghostly barren thoroughfare. The exception, in the lower left, is the man getting his shoes shined, who stood still long enough to register on film and in history as the first photographed human (see detail of image below). The original daguerreotype is located in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum in Munich, Germany. Public domain.
Self-Portrait (1839) – Robert Cornelius (on 2 lists)
In October 1839, Robert Cornelius (1809-1893), an amateur chemist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, created what is believed to be the earliest surviving photographic self-portrait (what would today be called a ‘selfie’). Using the recently-announced daguerreotype process, Cornelius made a camera from a box with a opera-glass lens and set it up in the yard behind his family’s lamp and chandelier store. He uncovered the lens and ran to a chair he had set up, sat motionless for a minute, then ran back to end the exposure, which recorded a man with unkempt hair staring suspiciously to his right. The original daguerreotype is now in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. For more information, see “Photographic Material,” by Carol Johnson, in Gathering History: the Marian S. Carson Collection of Americana (1999). Public domain.
Self Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840) – Hippolyte Bayard (on 4 lists)
French photography pioneer Hippolyte Bayard (1801-1887) invented a photographic process called direct positive printing, and, in 1839, became the first photographer to give a public exhibition of his work, but his most famous photograph, Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man, is a protest against what he felt was a lack of respect for his accomplishments. In the photo, Bayard presents himself as a victim of suicide by drowning. The staged scene symbolized his reaction to the French Academy of Sciences, which bypassed Bayard’s work in favor of Daguerre’s daguerreotype process when designating the inventor of photography. Bayard’s caption read in part, “The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard, inventor of the process that has just been shown to you. … The Government which has been only too generous to Monsieur Daguerre has said it can do nothing for Monsieur Bayard, and the poor wretch has drowned himself….” It must have been some consolation when, in 1842, the Societe d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale gave Bayard a prize of 3000 francs for his contributions to photography.
The Open Door (from The Pencil of Nature) (c. 1843) – William Henry Fox Talbot (on 9 lists)
The Open Door is a landmark photo by William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype process, which (unlike daguerreotypes) allowed multiple positive images to be printed from a negative. The Open Door appeared in The Pencil of Nature, the first commercially published photography book. It is significant for several reasons. First, the lowly subject matter of the photograph – a barn door and a servant’s broom – contrasts significantly with the monuments, cathedrals, famous people and spectacular scenery that photographers normally aimed their cameras at. The Open Door recognizes that the most quotidian subjects may capture the photographer’s eye and offer something new to the perceptive viewer. In addition to providing new subject matter for photographers, The Open Door opened a door to a new aesthetic sensibility. This is an early example of a photograph in which a setting was deliberately arranged for artistic effect. Talbot has opened the door of the farm building (allowing us to see through the window on the back wall), hung a lantern and propped a broom against the wall. He also appears to have chosen the time of day to enhance the contrast of light and shadow. Instead of treating the camera as a mindless machine simply replicating what happens to be in front of it, Talbot saw the potential of photography as an artistic endeavor, with the conscious input of the artist. As viewers, we appreciate the contrast of light and dark, sun and shadow, indoors and outdoors, the many textures presented, and the hint of a narrative. Talbot’s photo was a precursor of pictorialism, the late 19th-early 20th century movement that sought to make photography an art (like painting) by emphasizing the conscious manipulations of the artist over the chance effects of ‘straight’ photography. Public domain.
Portrait of Louis Daguerre (1844) – Jean Baptiste Sabatier-Blot (on 6 lists)
In 1844, when French portrait photographer (and Daguerre’s student) Jean Baptiste Sabatier-Blot (1801-1881) took this portrait, Louis Daguerre was world famous for his invention of the first successful photographic process. After announcing his discovery in 1839, Daguerre gave the rights to the French government in return for a lifetime pension. France then released the process to the world free of any copyrights or restrictions. Daguerreotypes were known for their extreme clarity and fidelity to the subject, but were easily damaged by light or touch and produced an image that could not be easily duplicated. Despite the invention of the calotype and wet collodion processes, daguerreotypes remained popular with European portrait photographers into the 1850s – even longer in the United States. The original of this daguerreotype is now at the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Public domain.
Portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot (c. 1844) – Antoine Claudet (on 4 lists)
It is more than a little ironic that the best surviving portrait of William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the calotype photographic process, is a daguerreotype, made using the technology of his arch-rival, Louis Daguerre. French photographer Antoine Claudet (1797-1867), a student of Daguerre, had a portrait studio in London and it was there that Talbot came to have several daguerreotypes made in about 1844. Talbot would have the last laugh, however, as his calotype process, which allowed multiple prints from a single negative, would eventually win out over the non-reproducible daguerreotype. Public domain.
A Newhaven Fisherman and Three Boys (1845) – David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (on 2 lists)
Scotsmen David Octavius Hill (1802-1870), a painter, and Robert Adamson (1821-1848), an engineer, teamed up in the 1840s to document life in their beloved Scotland using the new medium of photography. The photograph above, made using Talbot’s calotype process, comes from a series entitled The Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth, which documented the inhabitants of a fishing village near Edinburgh. According to the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the 130-image series “constitutes the first sustained use of photographs for a social documentary project.” Salted paper prints of the image may be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Edinburgh Libraries.
The Misses Binny and Miss Monroe (1845) – David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (on 2 lists)
The photographic partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson ended in 1848, less than four years after it had begun, due to Adamson’s untimely death. During their brief time together, Hill and Adamson made an estimated 3000 calotype photographs, most of them portraits of Scottish men and women. Little is known about the two Misses Binny and their companion Miss Monroe except what can be seen here. A print of this enduring triple portrait is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Public domain.
Portrait of Mother Albers, The Family Vegetable Woman (1840s) – Carl Ferdinand Stelzner (on 2 lists)
In 1842, successful German painter Carl Ferdinand Stelzner (1805-1894) left painting forever to dedicate himself to the new medium of photography. He and Hermann Biow opened a studio in Hamburg that year and began producing daguerreotypes, although the partnership ended only a year later, forcing Stelzner to open his own studio. It was there that he made a daguerreotype of Mother Albers, the Family Vegetable Woman, surrounded by the implements of her trade. The result was one of the earliest occupational portraits in the history of photography. In the early 20th Century, German photographer August Sander would continue the tradition with his portraits of individuals representing the various occupations. The original daguerreotype is located in the Museum for Kunst and Gerwerbe in Hamburg. Public domain.
Portrait of Alexander von Humboldt (1847) – Hermann Biow (on 3 lists)
Alexander von Humboldt was a famous scientist and explorer, best known for his discoveries during travels in South America between 1799 and 1804. His five-volume work Kosmos (1845), sought to unify the various branches of scientific knowledge. In 1847, von Humboldt sat for this daguerreotype portrait by Hermann Biow (1804-1850), an early German photographer with studios in Altona and Hamburg.
Le Stryge (The Vampire) (1853) – Charles Nègre (on 5 lists)
Photographers and friends, Charles Nègre (1820-1880) and Henri Le Secq both loved Paris and Gothic architecture, so it is no surprise that they photographed each other on the parapets of Notre Dame Cathedral overlooking their beloved city. Nègre’s 1853 photo, made using the wet-plate calotype process, was never exhibited in his lifetime, but its value was recognized after his death. The photo has acquired the title Le Stryge (The Vampire), after an 1853 engraving of the same gargoyle by Charles Méryon (see below). A salted paper print of this image is located in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Public domain.
Fire at Ames Mill, Oswego, NY (1853) – George N. Barnard (on 4 lists)
American photographer George Barnard (1819-1902) owned a studio in Oswego, New York when he made this daguerreotype of a Fire at Ames Mill, one of the earliest examples of spot news photojournalism in the US. (Images of an 1842 Hamburg fire made by Hermann Biow and others are probably the earliest examples of photo reportage worldwide.) Barnard hand-tinted the original daguerreotype, using crimson pigment for the flames. It would take nearly 50 more years until newspapers and magazines could easily print photographs in their publications using the half-tone process. Despite the limitations of technology, photographs still made their way into print, albeit indirectly. Unable to print photographs, newspaper and magazine publishers hired artists to make engraving of photographic images; a printer then made a print from the engraving that could be inserted into any form of print media. (A print from an engraving of a daguerreotype of the 1842 Hamburg fire published in the Illustrated London News is shown below.) George Barnard went on to photograph the U.S. Civil War, particularly Sherman’s march through Georgia, for Matthew Brady.
Pierrot the Photographer (1854-1855) – Nadar (on 2 lists)
Pierrot was a stock character of the French comic theater traditionally played by a mime. The most famous Pierrot was Baptiste Deburau, whose son Charles Deburau had followed in his father’s footsteps. When the French portrait photographer known as Nadar (the professional name of Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (1820-1910)) was looking for an attention-getting series of photographs to boost his recognition and business, he decided to to create a series of images featuring Deburau fils as Pierrot and present them the Universal Exhibition of 1855. The first and most famous of the series is Pierrot the Photographer (also known as The Mime Deburau with a Camera). In a role reversal that recalls the plot twists of the commedia dell’arte, Deburau plays the photographer while, presumably, Nadar is the subject. Pierrot mimics the photographer’s actions: motioning his subject to look at the camera lens, not him, and at the same time pretending to remove a plate from the camera itself. The Pierrot series won a gold medal and much recognition for Nadar’s fledgling studio. A salted paper print of the image is in the collection of the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. Public domain.
Self-Portrait (1855) – Nadar (on 4 lists)
Nadar was a newspaper caricaturist when he discovered photography in 1853 and changed careers. After two years of building a reputation, Nadar opened a studio in 1855 at 35 Boulevard des Capuchines in Paris. Nadar’s studio became the spot where artists and other well-known figures came to have their portraits made. (See 1860 photograph of Nadar’s studio below.) Nadar made numerous self-portraits, both to create a public image of himself as an artist and also to experiment with poses, lighting and other techniques. The Self-Portrait shown above dates from the time he opened his studio and probably represents an advertisement of sorts. A salted paper print of this image is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Public domain.
Roger Fenton’s Photographic Van, Crimea (1855) – Roger Fenton (on 2 lists)
Briton Roger Fenton (1819-1869) was possibly the first war photographer. With the support of the British government, he and his assistant Marcus Sparling loaded a wagon with photographic equipment (shown above) and went to the Crimea to photograph the Crimean War between Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire against Russia. Fenton was in the Crimea from early March until late June and returned with 360 photographs. Unlike later war photos, Fenton’s images do not show battle scenes (due to the limitations of the available technology), or dead bodies (due to sensitivities of the public). Unfortunately, a lack of interest in the war among the British public led to disappointing sales and Fenton left the field of photography a few years later. A salted paper print of this image is in the collection of the Library of Congress. Public domain.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) – Roger Fenton (on 3 lists)
Of the 360 photographs British photographer Roger Fenton brought back from his four months observing the Crimean War, the most highly-regarded image showed a barren landscape – a road in a narrow, lifeless valley that is covered with spent cannonballs, a testament to the intensity of the battle fought there. Fenton apparently believed that he had photographed the site of the horrific Charge of the Light Brigade of October 25, 1854, made famous by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s narrative poem of the same year, in which he described the battleground as “the valley of death.” When Fenton returned to England and displayed this and other Crimea photos in a public exhibit, the curators named it, in a curious amalgam of Tennyson and Psalm 23, The Valley of the Shadow of Death. In fact, the Charge of the Light Brigade happened elsewhere, but the cannonballs appeared to give proof that a fierce battle had occurred on the site. Many years later, controversy erupted over the veracity of the photograph after another of Fenton’s images surfaced showing the same scene with no cannonballs on the road (see image below). This discovery led to accusations that Fenton had manipulated the scene, particularly by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, whose series in The New York Times can be found here:
Portrait of Charles Baudelaire (1855-1858) – Nadar (on 2 lists)
French writer Charles Baudelaire, author of the classic poetry collection Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), did not believe that photography would (or should) ever rise to the status of an art. In his review of the Paris Salon of 1859, he warned that “[i]f photography is allowed to supplement art in some of its functions, it will soon have supplanted or corrupted it altogether … its true duty … is to be the servant of the sciences and arts – but the very humble servant, like printing or shorthand, which have neither created nor supplemented literature.” Baudelaire apparently saw no contradiction between his philosophical objection to photography as art and his decision to sit for his photographic portrait on multiple occasions, including seven times with French portrait master Nadar. This seated portrait captures Baudelaire in his mid-30s, confident and still youthful. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York. Public domain.
Portrait of Gustave Doré (c. 1855-1859) – Nadar (on 3 lists)
Gustave Doré was a French artist best known for his wood engraved prints and book illustrations. Nadar made several photographic portraits of Doré, including the above photogravure, made when the subject was in his 20s, about the time Doré received a commission to illustrate the works of Lord Byron. As noted by a curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum, “Nadar has captured the spontaneity and energy of a young artist on the rise.” Nadar, the most well-known photographer of his day, made the photograph during the early years of his career, shortly after opening his studio at 25 Boulevard des Capucines in 1855. Nadar achieved popular fame in 1858 when he took the first aerial photos from the basket of a hot-air balloon. A print of this image is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Two Ways of Life (1857) – Oscar Gustave Rejlander (on 6 lists)
Born in Sweden, Oscar Gustave Rejlander (1813-1875) spent most of his career in France and England. After starting as a painter, Rejlander switched to photography, and became known for allegorical, painting-like photos that often combined more than one image. He was an early proponent of the artistic style that became known as pictorialism. Rejlander stumbled onto his trademark technique of combination photography when, as a novice photographer, he had difficulty keeping all the elements of the composition in focus, and so decided to make a separate negative for each element and then combine the negatives and print them together in a complicated process of photomontage. Two Ways of Life was Rejlander’s best known work. Using a composition that relies heavily on Raphael’s painting The School of Athens, Rejlander depicts a father (or a sage) showing two young brothers a choice between two lifestyles: Virtue on the right and Vice on the left. Perhaps unintentionally, the brother on the side of Vice, with its nude women and lascivious behavior, seems more engaged than the brother presented with the more refined pleasures of Virtue. What appears to be a single scene is actually a seamless montage of 32 separate negatives, a process that allowed Rejlander to reassure his proper Victorian audience that the nude women and the men were never in the same room together. The nudity was controversial nonetheless, and one museum exhibited Two Ways of Life with a curtain over the left side. Much of the criticism subsided after Queen Victoria purchased one of the few prints as a gift for Prince Albert. A silver gelatin print is in the Royal Photographic Society Collection, National Media Museum Bradford, UK. Public domain.
Fading Away (1858) – Henry Peach Robinson (on 5 lists)
A student of Oscar Gustave Rejlander, British pictorialist photographer Henry Peach Robinson (1830-1901) combined five different negatives to create a single print of the fictional deathbed scene he called Fading Away. The storytelling quality of the photo and the deep sentiment it aroused made it a bestseller for Robinson, who exhibited it at no fewer than five exhibitions in 1858-1859. But the subject matter – a young girl dying of tuberculosis – and the artificiality of the technique raised some criticisms, particularly from those who thought death was not a proper subject for photography. As with Two Ways of Life (above), the royal family once again saved the day: Prince Albert purchased a copy of Fading Away and issued a standing order for every subsequent composite photo by Robinson. An albumen print of the image is in the collection of the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Public domain.
Young Woman in Profile (c. 1859) – Nadar (on 2 lists)
Many of the surviving portraits by French photographer Nadar have no identifying information associated with them, and the viewer is left to guess at the life and circumstances of the individuals whose names are lost to history. In making this portrait of a striking young woman, Nadar softened her features by keeping the lens slightly out of focus, and turned her head so that her face is nearly in full profile to emphasize the classic outline of her forehead, nose, mouth and chin. The woman’s dark clothing and hair frame her light face and neck, which are the focal points to which our eyes are drawn. Nadar’s expert control of light and shadow gives us a sense of the delicacy and fluidity of the woman’s pale skin, softening her strong facial features. Despite the simple elegance revealed in this luminous portrait, Nadar believed the photographic process was not flattering to women’s beauty and he preferred photographing men. In fact, of the many surviving Nadar prints, only a dozen or so are photographs of women. A salted paper print of the image is located in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris. Public domain.
The Ascent of Mont Blanc (series) (1861) – Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (on 3 lists)
In the summer of 1860, French photographer Auguste-Rosalie Bisson (1826-1900) and his older brother Louis-Auguste led a photographic expedition to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps, but failed to reach the summit. The next summer, Auguste-Rosalie Bisson tried again, this time with an experienced guide and a large crew to carry all the photographic equipment. On July 25, 1861, Bisson reached the top of the 15,781-foot peak and exposed three negatives of the view. On the way down, he decided to reenact the ascent in order to photograph it. Using the wet plate collodion process, Bisson took a number of striking photographs of his crew looking like ants surrounded by giant masses of snow (see photos above and below). Albumen prints from the glass negatives are located in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Public domain. Note: Some sources state that the photograph above was taken on the 1860 trip.
Tartan Ribbon (1861) – James Clerk Maxwell and Thomas Sutton (on 5 lists)
James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879), a Scottish scientist best known for his discovery that light, electricity and magnetism are all forms of the same energy, was also fascinated by the nature of color and in 1861 produced what is believed to be the first color photograph. Working with photographer Thomas Sutton (1819-1875), Maxwell photographed the Tartan Ribbon (a Scottish emblem) three times, each time with a different color filter (red, green and blue). Maxwell and Sutton then developed the three images and projected them onto a screen with three different projectors, each with the same color filter used to take the picture. When brought into focus, the three images formed a full color image. Maxwell presented his discovery as an illustration for a lecture on color he gave at the Royal Institution in London. The Maxwell-Sutton separation process became the basis for most subsequent color photography. The original three plates are now located in a museum in the house where Maxwell was born in Edinburgh. Public domain.
The Catacombs of Paris (series) (1861-1862) – Nadar (on 3 lists)
It was a de rigueur rite of passage for fashionable Parisians to venture beneath the city and explore its dark, skeleton-filled catacombs, a series of underground tunnels, formerly quarries, that had become the repository of the dead. Nadar, who had pioneered aerial photography in the 1850s using hot-air balloons, now sought to capture images in the darkest places imaginable. The result is a series of images, entitled The Catacombs of Paris, that may be the first artificially-illuminated photographs. Using a battery-operated flash lamp, a magnesium arc lamp and very long exposure times, Nadar photographed the skeletons (see photo below) and the men who worked in the catacombs. Unhappy with images of humans, who could not stand still long enough to avoid blurriness, Nadar used mannequins to stand in for the workers (see photo above). Public domain.
Civil War Battlefield, Antietam (1862) – Alexander Gardner (on 2 lists)
The Battle of Antietam, with 23,000 casualties, was one of the bloodiest in the American Civil War. Fought on September 17, 1862 in Antietam, Maryland, it was not a decisive Union victory, but it was enough to send Confederate General Robert E. Lee back to Virginia. Historians now believe that it was the Union win at the Battle of Antietam that gave Lincoln the political capital to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and convinced the European powers to stay out of this American dispute. The photograph here shows the bodies of Confederate soldiers lying on the battlefield at Antietam, next to an artillery gun on the east side of the Hagerstown Pike, with the Dunker Church in the background. This and many other Civil War photographs have long been attributed to American photographer Matthew Brady, but most of the photographs attributed to Brady were actually taken by others working in his studio. Here, the photographer working under the Brady name was Scottish-born Alexander Gardner (1821-1882), who arrived at Antietam just two days after the battle ended. There is another, very similar photograph of the same scene, also attributed to Gardner, in which the Dunker Church appears farther away than in the photo above, there is no horse by the church and the bodies seem to be spread out more neatly on the ground (see below). Public domain.
President Lincoln on the Battlefield at Antietam (Oct. 4, 1862) – Alexander Gardner (on 3 lists)
On October 4, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln visited the battlefield at Antietam, bringing General McClernand (shown at right) and Allan Pinkerton, Chief of the Secret Service. During the visit, Lincoln also met with his general (and nemesis) General Robert McClellan (see photos below). There to take the pictures was Alexander Gardner, from Matthew Brady’s studio. Although Gardner’s shots of Lincoln at the front, with soldiers’ dirty laundry hanging on the trees, were good for morale back home in the North, it was his photos of the Antietam dead that most deeply moved those who saw them.
A Harvest of Death (1863) – Timothy O’Sullivan (on 11 lists)
The Battle of Gettysburg, a turning point in the American Civil War, raged from July 1-3, 1863. Just two days later, photographers Alexander Gardner and Timothy O’Sullivan (c. 1840-1882) arrived at battlefields that were still covered with the bodies of dead soldiers. Irish-born O’Sullivan had left Matthew Brady’s studio to work for Scottish-born Gardner, another Brady alumnus. O’Sullivan’s photo A Harvest of Death, taken July 5 or 6, became one of over 50 images reproduced in Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War (1866). We see Union and Confederate dead lying as they fell, with missing shoes and rifled pockets a sign that survivors had already come and taken anything they could make use of. The bloating of the corpses in the July sun has caused buttons to pop and clothing to open. Gardner’s original caption stated, in part, “It was, indeed, a ‘harvest of death’ … Such a picture conveys a useful moral: It shows the blank horror and reality of war, in opposition to its pageantry. Here are the dreadful details! Let them aid in preventing such another calamity falling upon the nation.” O’Sullivan used the collodion wet plate process, which by then had mostly replaced daugerreotypes, and Gardner made an albumen silver print for use in the Sketch Book. Public domain.
Portrait of Georges Sand (1864) – Nadar (on 5 lists)
French portrait photographer Nadar took this photograph of prolific French writer George Sand (born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) in 1864, when she was 60 years old. Sand was known for pushing the boundaries of gender identity by smoking and dressing in men’s clothes. Her affair with Frederic Chopin was legendary. The photograph was made using the newly invented woodburytype process, which was used to create prints for publication between 1864 and 1910, when the halftone process arrived. Public domain.
Paul and Virginia (c. 1864) – Julia Margaret Cameron (on 2 lists)
Unlike music, painting, sculpture, film and many other arts, which have been dominated by men until very recently, women have been an integral part of the growth of the photographic art since very early in the history of the medium. One of the first of these pioneering women photographers was Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879). Born into a well-off English family living in Calcutta, India, Cameron moved to Great Britain and settled on the Isle of Wight, where she became associated with Victorian England’s artistic and intellectual circles. She did not begin her career as a photographer until 1863 when, at the age of 48, she received a camera as a gift. Cameron made up for lost time by photographing family members and famous and non-famous friends for the next decade of her life. To the dismay of some of her colleagues, Cameron eschewed hyper-realism and sharp focus, preferring instead to create dreamy, soft-focus portraits that hinted at the essence within instead of celebrating exterior detail. Cameron liked to dress up her subjects as characters from legend, history or fiction to add another layer of unreality to her art. In this wet collodion photograph, she dressed up two children – Freddie Gould and Elizabeth Keown – as the protagonists of the popular 1787 French romantic novel Paul et Virginie, which takes place in the South Seas. An albumen silver print of the image is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. Public domain.
Portrait of Sarah Bernhardt (1865) – Nadar (on 7 lists)
The renowned actress Sarah Bernhardt was one of the most-photographed subjects of Nadar, Paris’s premier portraitist in the latter half of the 19th Century. The photo above comes from an 1865 portrait session, in which Nadar dressed the 23-year-old Bernhardt in classical robes, leaning on a column, suggesting that she transcends time and belongs to the ages. He manages to show his subject’s youthful beauty while giving her a timeless look, bringing out her theatrical essence, but also the vulnerability of a young woman near the beginning of what would be a long career. For a contrasting look, see Nadar’s more contemporary portrait of Bernhardt from one year earlier, where he wraps her in dark velvet and turns her head away from the camera. An albumen print of the portrait is in the collection of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Public domain.
Yosemite Valley from the Best General View (1866) – Carleton Watkins (on 5 lists)
On several occasions, American photographer Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) traveled from his San Francisco, California studio to photograph the remote and little-explored Yosemite Valley. Watkins carried nearly 2000 pounds of equipment by mule train, including two cameras: one that made stereographs (double shots for viewing in stereoscopes) and the other, a custom-built ‘mammoth’ camera that held glass plate negatives measuring 18 by 22 inches. The photos resulting from Watkins’ first Yosemite trek in 1861 were made into a limited edition book, a copy of which made its way to the desk of President Abraham Lincoln and likely influenced his decision to set aside the valley as the first protected public land in the U.S. in 1864. On a return trip in 1866, Watkins captured this iconic image, which takes in Yosemite Falls (in the center), Bridal Veil Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan and Cathedral Rock. Using a foreground object (here, the tall tree) to contrast with a majestic background was a trademark Watkins technique that would be adopted by subsequent landscape photographers. An albumen print is in the collection of the Library of Congress. Public domain.
Portrait of Sir John Herschel (1867) – Julia Margaret Cameron (on 4 lists)
In 1867, Sir John Herschel – son of astronomer William Herschel – was an illustrious scientist and photography innovator in his twilight years. Like many of Julia Margaret Cameron’s subjects, he was also a good friend and a member of the artistic and intellectual circles that often congregated at Dimbola Lodge, Cameron’s home on the Isle of Wight. In this and other portraits, Cameron rejected the tropes of traditional portraiture. Instead of cluttering the background with faux classical columns, books, or symbols of the subject’s profession, or dressing her subjects in the robes of antiquity, Cameron chose to arrange the lighting carefully (here, from the right side) and use emotional truth as a guide for focus and pose, avoiding perfect sharpness that, in her view, accentuated every detail at the expense of the whole. The result is a Gestalt instead of a collection of attributes; it is a truly human portrait – no distractions and full of life. An albumen silver print from a glass negative is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Public domain.
Cape Horn, Columbia River, Oregon (1867) – Carleton Watkins (on 2 lists)
In the 1860s, photographic technology was still in its infancy and the size of a print was restricted by the size of the negative; it would be years before photographers could make an enlarged print from a smaller negative. It was this size restriction that led American photographer Carlton Watkins to invent the mammoth camera, which could accommodate 18 X 22 inch glass plate negatives. Watkins was convinced that only the gigantic prints he could produce from these negatives accurately represented the majesty and grandeur of the American West’s monumental landscapes. The success of Watkins’ photos of California’s Yosemite Valley in 1861 and 1866 in influencing American government policy proved him correct. In 1867, Watkins trekked by mule train north from his San Francisco home into Oregon – at the time not accessible by rail – to photograph the stunning landscapes along the Columbia River in in the new state of Oregon. (Oregon became a territory in 1848 and a state in 1859; Washington Territory was separated from Oregon in 1853, using the Columbia River as a boundary, but Washington did not achieve statehood until 1889). The wet collodion process that Watkins used required him to develop the photographs soon after exposure, so he traveled with a mobile darkroom. This view was taken from what is now the Washington side of the Columbia and shows a boat at the edge of a perfectly still river surface. Albumen prints from wet-collodion negatives are in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Public domain.
Communards in their Coffins (1871) – André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (on 4 lists)
Also known by the more prosaic title Dead Communards, this image depicts 12 men who had participated in the failed 1871 Paris Commune uprising, were arrested and executed, then placed in shabby wooden coffins and unmercifully photographed. Each one has a number placed on his chest, but there is no reason or rhyme to this apparent attempt at efficiency (two ‘4’s, no ’12’?). It is not clear whether French photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (1819-1889) is seeking merely to document the dead, perhaps at the government’s behest, or whether he intends some political commentary about the cruelty of those who put down the revolt or the price one pays for rebellion. Disdéri was best known as the person who patented the mass production of the carte de visite, a small self-portrait mounted on thick paper and used as a calling card. An example of an uncut print from 1860 containing eight cartes de visite of an anonymous woman is shown below. An albumen print of Communards in their Coffins is in the Gernshein Collection, Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Public domain.
Hot Springs on the Gardiner River, Upper Basin (stereograph) (1871) – William Henry Jackson (on 3 lists)
When Ferdinand Hayden was organizing a U.S. Geological Survey expedition to Wyoming, he selected American William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) as his team photographer, thus giving Jackson the opportunity to be one of the first to capture the wonders of Yellowstone through the relatively new medium. The double print above, known as a stereograph, is designed for use in a stereoscope (see image below), which created the illusion of three-dimensionality, similar to the 20th Century View-Master (for those old enough to recall). The stereograph shows duplicate images of the terraces of the Mammoth Hot Springs on the Gardiner River in Wyoming in what is now Yellowstone Park. The man with his back to the camera is probably Thomas Moran, the staff artist. Jackson’s photos and Moran’s sketches and paintings were important factors in the federal government’s decision to make Yellowstone the nation’s first national park in 1872.
Ancient Ruins in the Canyon de Chelly (1873) – Timothy O’Sullivan (on 4 lists)
In the 1870s, Timothy O’Sullivan obtained a position as photographer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers survey of the Western U.S. led by George Montague Wheeler and lasting from 1872-1879. The ruins in the photograph, known as the White House, are located in Canyon de Chelly in what was then New Mexico Territory and is now Arizona. The White House is the remains of an Anasazi cliff dwelling built and inhabited between 1100-1300, when the Anasazi people left the area. Canyon de Chelly is part of the Navajo Nation as well as a National Monument. In his photograph, O’Sullivan emphasizes the vast striated cliffs, which dwarf the ruins and serve as a substitute sky. The most famous photograph taken in Canyon de Chelly is a 1904 image by Edward Curtis showing seven Navajo riders (see below). Albumen print. Public domain.
Mount of the Holy Cross (1873) – William Henry Jackson (on 5 lists)
In 1873, American photographer William Henry Jackson went to Colorado to find a legendary mountain that displayed a cross of snow. Jackson found the Mount of the Holy Cross in the high Rockies in the Sawatch Range – it was late summer and just enough snow had melted to allow the snow remaining in crossing ravines to create the shape of a Christian cross on the mountain’s northeast face. Jackson climbed up another mountain to get the best angle and the early morning light and took eight photographs, the best of which is shown above. The photo confirmed the legend. Over the years, Jackson returned to the spot in an attempt to duplicate the image, without success. Public domain.
No. 27, Once a little vagrant; No. 28, Now a little workman (c. 1875) – Thomas John Barnardo & Thomas Barnes (on 3 lists)
Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) was an Irish philanthropist who founded 112 homes for homeless children in England between 1870 and his death in 1905. In 1874, Barnardo began photographing each child upon arrival and then several months later to show the improvements brought on by education, nutritious food, loving care and the gainful use of their time. Barnardo hired East End photographer Thomas Barnes to make these ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, which were sold in sets as a way to publicize the charity and also to raise funds. One such pair of photos is shown above: No. 27, Once a Little Vagrant and No. 28, Now a Little Workman focuses on the worst fears and best hopes of the average citizen: the shiftless homeless child, likely as not to steal your purse, has been transformed by Dr. Barnardo into an industrious cobbler’s apprentice, who will benefit society instead of preying upon it.
The Crawlers (from Street Life in London) (1877) – John Thomson (on 3 lists)
After many years of travel in the Far East, British photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) settled in London where in 1876 he embarked on a collaborative project with journalist Adolphe Smith. Together, they published a monthly magazine called Street Life in London, in which Thomson’s photos (made using the woodburytype process) and Smith’s text documented the lives of the city’s desperate poor. The magazine ran from 1876-1877, after which Thomson and Smith published a book of the same name in 1878. In the most well-known of the Street Life photos, an older woman sits on the steps of a workhouse, caring for the child of a woman who has managed to find some work. In return, the woman received some scraps of food. She and others were called crawlers because they no longer had the strength to beg. Public domain.
The Horse in Motion (series) (1878) – Eadweard Muybridge (on 10 lists) X
In 1872, prominent California politician and businessman Leland Stanford asked English-born photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to settle a question that had perplexed both experts and the public for years: Did all four of a running horse’s legs ever leave the ground at the same time? (The legend that there was a large sum of money riding on the outcome is probably false: https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=39117.) The horse’s legs moved too quickly for human eyes to see, but Muybridge convinced Stanford that he could answer the question with photography. Muybridge initially experimented with a single camera using very short shutter speeds to photograph the horse Occident in 1872, 1873, and 1877. This resulted in one grainy photograph that showed all four feet off the ground but retouching of the negative led experts to regard the resulting published print as a manipulated fake. In 1878, Muybridge tried a different approach. He set up 12 closely-spaced cameras along a racetrack with wires that the horse’s legs would trip, causing each camera to make an exposure of approximately 1/500 of a second. With the press watching on June 15, 1878, trainer Charles Marvin ran the trotter Abe Edgington around the track at a 2:24 gait. Muybridge quickly developed the film, which showed all four legs off the ground in the ninth frame of the series, and presented it to the gathered crowd (see images below). During the next few days, Muybridge had several different horses run the track at different paces – trotting, cantering and galloping. Later in the same year, he published The Horse in Motion, a set of six photographic cards that included the 12 photos from the original Abe Edgington run as well along with two other trots by the same horse on June 18 (one with eight frames and one with six frames), a trot by Occident, a canter by Mahomet on June 17 (six frames) and a gallop at a gait of 1:40 by thoroughbred Sallie Gardner on June 19 (12 frames). Sallie Gardner (see image above) became the most well-known of the six-pack of cards, perhaps because the second frame of the series illustrates the “flying horse” pose much better than the photographs of the trotters. Soon after the success of The Horse in Motion, Muybridge doubled the number of cameras, resulting in even more detailed information about motion. Engravings of Muybridge’s series made it into newspapers and the front page of Scientific American magazine. Muybridge also converted the photos into silhouettes and then ran them in a zoopraxiscope to create an animated ‘movie’ of the horse galloping, one of the earliest precursors of motion pictures.
Birds (1879) – Louis Ducos du Hauron (on 2 lists)
After Maxwell and Sutton’s early experiments, the next important innovator in the field of color photography was French physicist Louis Ducos du Hauron (1837-1920), who invented and obtained a patent for a new color technique called the trichrome process. Trichrome photography required Ducos du Hauron to take photographs of the subject using three different filters tinted green, orange and violet. He then printed the three negatives on transparent sheets of bichromated gelatin containing carbon pigments in the complementary colors of red, blue and yellow. When all three transparencies were superimposed, the result was a full color photograph. The color photograph shown above is known variously as Birds, Mounted Birds, Still Life with Rooster and Still Life with Rooster and Parakeet. As is so often the case with scientific discoveries, at almost the same time that Ducos du Hauron was inventing the trichrome process, another French scientist, Charles Cros, arrived at the same result, although he was 48 hours too late to claim the patent. A print of Birds is in the collection of the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. Public domain.
Storks (series) (1884) – Ottomar Anschutz (on 3 lists)
German photographer Ottomar Anschütz (1846-1907) was interested in capturing objects and beings in motion, so he invented a camera that could take sharply-focused pictures of momentary events using a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second. Using his unique equipment, he produced a famous series of pictures of Storks (also known as Storks in Flight) that would prove to be an inspiration for Otto Lilienthal’s later experiments with gliders. Albumen prints may be found in the collection of the Otto Lilienthal Museum in Anklam, Germany. Gelatin silver prints are located at Western Michigan University and the University of Michigan.
The Art of Living a Hundred Years (series) (1886) – Paul Nadar (on 3 lists)
The September 8, 1886 edition of Le Journal illustré, a Paris newspaper, contained an extensive interview with 100-year-old French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul conducted by Nadar, the famous French photographer. Accompanying the article, which was titled The Art of Living 100 Years, were 13 halftone prints of Chevreul, both alone and with Nadar, using photographs taken by Nadar’s son Paul (1856-1939). The resulting article is considered the first photo-interview, a blending of photographs and text that was made possible by the recent invention of the halftone process. Gelatin silver prints are in the collection of the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
An Ancient Lodger and the Plank on Which She Slept, at Eldridge Police Station (c. 1888-1890) – Jacob A. Riis (on 3 lists)
Born in Denmark, Jacob Riis (1849-1914) came to New York and became a journalist. In 1878, he obtained a prime position as a police-beat reporter for the New York Tribune, covering the notorious slum neighborhood of Mulberry Bend. He documented the squalor and misery of the tenement dwellers and the homeless in newspaper articles and lectures, all of which were designed to bring about social reform. In 1888, Riis began supplementing his articles and lectures with photographs: he used glass-plate negatives and the recently-invented magnesium flash to pierce the dark tenements, alleys and hideouts that so often featured in his stories. For ten years, Riis made images of searing power, and then, satisfied that he had enough documentation, he put down his camera. This image, with an unexplained hand entering from the right, is part of a series of photos of indigent men and women who lodged at the de facto homeless shelters set up at various police stations. Riis was convinced that these police lodging houses were breeding grounds for crime and disease. A gelatin silver print of this image is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. An albumen print is in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.
The Onion Field (1889) – George Davison (on 3 lists)
The Onion Field is the most highly-regarded photograph by British photographer George Davison (1854-1930). After experimenting with techniques that rendered sharp, realistic images of landscapes, Davison opted instead for the hazy impressionism that would become the hallmark of pictorialism. The Onion Field was made with a pinhole camera and printed on rough paper to create the impression of a painting. Davison’s pictorialist views found no favor in the Royal Photographic Society, so he left that organization and founded his own, the Linked Ring Brotherhood. Years later, Alfred Stiegliz paid tribute to Davison by publishing the image in 1907 in Camera Work with the title An Old Farmstead. Raised in poverty as the son of a shipyard carpenter, Davison obtained employment at Eastman Kodak UK in 1888 and eventually became a millionaire.
The Photographer’s Wife (1890) – Nadar (on 2 lists)
Ernestine, the wife of French photography innovator Nadar, was the subject of many of his photographs during their 54 years together, but no other portrait has the impact of this 1890 image, taken in 1890, when the couple had been married 36 years, Ernestine was 54 years old and Nadar, having retired professionally in 1873, was 70. In The Photographer’s Wife, Ernestine holds a flower to her mouth – to kiss it? to stifle her own voice? – while her penetrating eyes gaze back at the man she has chosen to spend her life with – searching, critiquing, and accepting him all at once. In his book Camera Lucida, art theorist Roland Barthes called The Photographer’s Wife “one of the loveliest photographs in the world.”
Chronophotographic Study of Man Pole Vaulting (1890-1891) – Étienne-Jules Marey (on 3 lists)
Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) was a French physician who became fascinated by animal movement and became a pioneer in the fields of both photography and cinema. Beginning in the 1870s, he began experimenting with cameras that could create multiple exposures within a single frame, thus allowing a scientific study of motion. After early work with birds and a famous series showing how a cat always lands on its feet, Marey turned to human beings. In 1882, he developed a chronophotographic camera that could take 12 photographs per second and expose them all on a single negative. On at least two occasions, he aimed the camera’s gun-like barrel at a man performing a pole vault. An earlier version dates to 1886-1887, while the above image (or images) dates to 1890-1891. Like Harold Edgerton’s strobe-flash photos, Marey’s scientifically-titled Chronophotographic Study also has much artistic beauty in it.
The Terminal, New York (1892) – Alfred Stieglitz (on 4 lists)
American photography innovator Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) – who campaigned his entire career to promote the young medium as a serious art form – had recently returned from several years in Europe in 1892 when he found himself in front of the New York City Post Office where two different streetcar lines terminated. The winter scene of steaming horses and their drivers restIng at the end of the line expressed Stieglitz’s sense of being a stranger in his hometown. Stylistically, The Terminal shares much with pictorialism, but the candid urban setting (and Stieglitz’s use of a 4 X 5 camera, which was much more mobile than the usual tripod-bound 8 X 10) prefigure the straight photography movement of the 20th Century. Public domain.
A Venetian Canal (1894) – Alfred Stieglitz (on 2 lists)
Photography-as-art booster Alfred Stieglitz took the photograph A Venetian Canal on his 1894 honeymoon, and he admired it so much that he published it at least three different times: in Camera Notes magazine in 1897; in The Photographic Times in 1898 and in his book Picturesque Bits of New York and Other Studies (1897) (under the title A Bit of Venice). A Venetian Canal was also included in the Camera Club of New York’s 1899 portfolio. A contemporary reviewer thought the photograph “gives a better idea of Venice than many a painting.” (Sadakichi Hartmann, “An Art Critic’s Estimate of Alfred Stieglitz”, The Photographic Times: June, 1898.) An 1898 print from the original negative is in the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio. Public domain.
Denver, Colorado (panorama) (1898) – William Henry Jackson (on 2 lists)
Born in Keesville, New York in 1843, William Henry Jackson moved to Omaha, Nebraska in 1867 and began a long career as one of the foremost photographers of the American West. After photographing the building of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867-1869 and capturing Yellowstone during the Hayden Survey, Jackson moved to Denver, Colorado and in 1879, established a studio there. Denver remained his home base until 1898, when he relocated to Detroit, Michigan. His 1898 color panoramic photograph of Denver was taken from the top of the state Capitol building, looking northwest down 16th Street, with the intersection of 16th Street and Broadway in the foreground. The domed building on the left side is the Arapahoe County Courthouse, which was demolished in 1933. The Brown Palace Hotel is visible on the right. Public domain.
Blessed Art Thou Among Women (1899) – Gertrude Käsebier (on 2 lists)
Influential American photographer Gertrude Käsebier (1852-1934), the first woman to be accepted in the New York circle that included Alfred Steiglitz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand, was a dedicated practitioner of pictorialism, which aspired to make photography a high art by using soft focus and other painterly effects and by addressing profound themes and subjects. Blessed Art Thou Among Women – a double portrait of Agnes Lee and her daughter Peggy (Agnes, a poet, was married to amateur Boston photographer Francis Watts Lee) – is a masterpiece of the style. The ethereal white-clad mother becomes almost one with the white door frame as she leans over to create a tender arch at the threshold where the young girl – her dark clothing drawing our gaze – is ready to step out into the world. The intimacy of this mother-daughter moment is made universal by the painting on the wall of the Annunciation, during which the Angel spoke the title’s words to Mary in announcing that she would be the virgin mother of Jesus. A 1907 reviewer praised “the utmost reach of tender maternity, the affection that is of renunciation and self-control rather than demonstration.” (Giles Edgerton, “Photography As An Emotional Art: A Study of the Work of Gertrude Käsebier,” The Craftsman, vol. 12 (April 1907): 92.) A platinum print is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Brooklyn Museum of Art possesses a photogravure of the image. Public domain.
The Red Man (c. 1899) – Gertrude Käsebier (on 2 lists)
Alfred Stieglitz published The Red Man, Gertrude Käsebier’s moody portrait of a Native American, in the very first edition of his new magazine Camera Work in January 1903. The portrait embodies the principles of pictorialism: “refined compositions with soft-focus effects and low tonalities.”(http://www.artsconnected.org/resource/15013/1/the-red-man.) Käsebier became fascinated with Native Americans and their culture after seeing Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show when it visited New York City in 1898-1899. Many of the cast members visited Käsebier in her studio to have their portraits taken, including Takes Enemy, the Sioux Nation member depicted in The Red Man. The fortuitous survival of the original negative from this session (shown below) demonstrates the extent to which the photographer manipulated the image in the darkroom (another key aspect pictorialism, which held that straight, realistic photographs were not art). A photogravure of The Red Man is in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota. Public domain.
Lampshade Peddler (1899-1900) – Eugène Atget (on 2 lists)
Eugène Atget (1857-1927) was a French documentary photographer known for his photos of Parisian street scenes and architecture. Beginning around 1897, Atget dedicated himself to documenting what remained of the Paris of old before it was lost or destroyed. American photographer Berenice Abbott met Atget in Paris in the 1920s while she was working for Man Ray and she became a friend, booster and ultimately preserver of his work. When Atget died, Abbott bought his negatives and in 1956, she produced a book containing 20 photographs, including this portrait of a Parisian Lampshade Peddler at the turn of the century. In his portraits of Paris tradesmen and women and others, Atget drew upon his experience in theater. Critic James Borcoman points out that the background in Lampshade Peddler and other portraits “slopes upward and into the distance in the manner of the exaggerated perspective of stage scenery.” Eugene Atget, 1857-1927 (National Gallery of Canada, 1984). A toned gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calfornia. Public domain.
Versailles Parc (1901) – Eugène Atget (on 2 lists)
French photographer Eugène Atget did not think of himself as an artist but as a collector of images, or “documents for artists.” But history has revealed that Atget’s photographs of Paris and its environs contain a deep level of craft and artistry. For example, Atget’s photos of the parks and gardens of Versailles transform what could otherwise have been banal tourist snapshots into a celebration of the “combination of elegance, order and baroque excess” that “embodied the essence of French civilization”, in the words of the curators at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In Versailles Parc, Atget has used the light sensitivity of the albumen printing process to underexpose the vast dark mass of foliage, while at the same time overexposing the sky and light dirt path, leaving us with almost abstract patches of dark and light to frame the points of interest – the man-made statue and bench. Versailles became a touchstone for Atget in his last years as he struggled to document the beauty of the French past. The National Gallery of Canada has a matte albumen silver print of the image in its collection. Public domain.
Rodin and The Thinker (1902) – Edward Steichen (on 2 lists)
Luxembourg-born photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973) came to the U.S. as a young man and came to be closely linked with Alfred Steiglitz as a proponent of pictorialism. Later, Steichen became famous for his Hollywood portraits. As a cap on a brilliant career, he influenced the course of the medium he loved as curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art from 1947-1961. In 1902, during his pictorialist phase, Steichen traveled to France to meet Auguste Rodin and make a portrait of the man considered the greatest living sculptor. Steichen visited Rodin every week for a year – getting to know the man, his studio and his working methods – before making the green-tinted portrait shown above, which embodies the quintessence of the pictorialist style. Steichen wanted to show Rodin in profile facing the bronze Thinker, with the marble Monument to Victor Hugo behind them. Unfortunately, the two statues were placed too far apart in the crowded studio to permit such a composition. Instead, Steichen produced two negatives – one of Rodin and The Thinker, the other of the Victor Hugo, and combined them in the darkroom to create the composite shown above, with the dark figures silhouetted against the massive marble monument. Crucial to Steichen’s vision – and the pictorialist philosophy – is his rendering of the surfaces of the bronze and marble statues so that they lose their particular characteristics and blend instead into a soft-focus texture that harmonizes with the figure of the artist himself. Steichen eliminates any element that would destroy the illusion that these are three animate beings united in the pursuit of high art. Gum bichromate prints of Rodin and the Thinker (also known as Rodin-The Thinker) are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Musée Rodin in Meudon, France. A photogravure is in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Public domain.
Portrait of Miss N (Evelyn Nesbit) (1902) – Gertrude Käsebier (on 3 lists)
As photographer and subject, Gertrude Käsebier and Evelyn Nesbit could not have been more different: Käsebier was a mother of three, married to a man she did not love, who had decided to go to art school at the age of 37 and become a professional photographer. At 18, Evelyn Nesbit was already a notorious celebrity: a fashion model and stage actress who had been associated with numerous men, especially architect Stanford White, who began his relationship with Nesbit when she was 16 and he was 47. Years after this photo was taken, Nesbit’s unstable millionaire husband would shoot and kill Stanford White in a restaurant. Käsebier was the first woman in Alfred Stieglitz’s Photo-Secession group, and she was considered the best portraitist of her day. She adhered to the dominant pictorialist style, which emphasized hazy painting-like effects and composition over harshly etched realism. Portrait of Miss N. is lucid enough to create a useful likeness of this turn-of-the-century ‘It’ girl, but the composition (particularly the gesture of offering the pitcher) and the gauzy overlay place the photography squarely within the pictorialist tradition. Ironically, after becoming one of the first women to be accepted by her male cohorts, Käsebier split from Stieglitz and others over the issue of commercialism. With three mouths to feed, and a chronically ill husband, Käsebier found the Photo Secession’s ‘art for art’s sake’ philosophy a luxury she could not afford. Public domain.
The Wright Brothers’ First Flight, North Carolina (Dec. 17, 1903) – John T. Daniels, Jr. (on 3 lists)
Although he took one of the most famous photographs in history, John T. Daniels, Jr. (1873-1948) was not a photographer. Daniels was a member of the Kill Devil Hills Lifesaving Station in North Carolina, which was run by the U.S. Coast Guard. He and other members of the station assisted and witnessed Orville and Wilbur Wright when they made the first heavier-than-air, manned, powered flights, on December 17, 1903. The Wrights had come equipped with a Gundlach Korona view camera with a 5 X 7 inch glass-plate negative to record the event (and stave off patent disputes). They set the camera on a tripod and Orville asked Daniels – who had never seen a camera before – to squeeze the bulb when the plane was airborne. Orville won a coin toss and made the first flight, first running the plane along a monorail installed in the sand, then taking off. Daniels took the picture as the biplane was rising up and had reached an elevation of two feet. The first flight was only 12 seconds long. Other photos taken that day, including a photo of the much longer third flight, did not come out clearly. Public domain.
Flatiron Building, New York (1903) – Alfred Stieglitz (on 3 lists)
Like so many innovators, Alfred Stieglitz had a complicated relationship with his art. He is best known for his passionate crusade to have photography taken seriously as an art form. He founded the Photo-Secession and Studio 291 (with Edward Steichen) and the influential magazine Camera Work. At first, he believed that pictorialism – manipulating photos to create painting-like effects – was the artistic style, while documentary or straight photography – just pointing the camera and taking the picture – could not be defended as art. But throughout his career, Stieglitz’s work betrays a straight photographer hiding beneath the pictorialist trappings. His photo of the Flatiron Building – then a symbol of modernism – belies an interest in pure form (particularly the tree in the foreground) that would resurface in The Steerage and the work of Paul Strand. Public domain.
The Flatiron Building, New York City (1905) – Edward Steichen (on 4 lists)
One of the first skyscrapers in Manhattan, the 22-story Flatiron Building opened in 1902 and immediately became a magnet for photographers. Pictorialist photographer and Photo-Secessionist Edward Steichen chose to take his Flatiron portrait at twilight in winter, with bare tree branches and horse carriages in silhouette, to create the hazy sense of a painted canvas. Steichen experimented with color by adding dyes in the production process – he used three separate dyes, each one to reflect a different aspect of the growing darkness of twilight, to create three original prints from a single negative. Public domain.
Looking down Sacramento Street, San Francisco (April 18, 1906) – Arnold Genthe (on 5 lists)
A massive earthquake shook San Francisco at just after 5 a.m. on April 18, 1906 and almost immediately set off fires across the city. German-born photographer Arnold Genthe’s (1869-1942) studio and all the cameras in it were destroyed by falling debris, so he went to a friend’s camera shop the same morning and borrowed a 3A Kodak Special camera and lots of film and began photographing the devastation. The best known shot is one taken on Sacramento Street on Nob Hill, looking down toward the advancing fire. On the right, we see a house whose front has fallen into the street. Up and down the hill, groups of people stand or sit in chairs watching the spectacle. Public domain.
The Steerage (1907) – Alfred Stieglitz (on 12 lists)
When American photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his family traveled to Europe in a first class berth on the SS Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1907, the movement known as pictorialism had dominated photography for several decades. Pictorialists believed that photographs could become art, but only through the skillful manipulations of the artist at all stages of the photographic process. Straight photography, is it was known, was merely scientific representation of reality, with no artistic mediator. Pictorialist photos were rarely in sharp focus, and tended to have the quality of perfectly-composed paintings. Some pictorialists went even further and constructed artistic photographs by using multiple negatives. A gallery owner and magazine editor, Stieglitz was a major force behind the notion that photography could be art and was considered a pictorialist in 1907. Yet his photo of the steerage section of the Kaiser Wilhelm, with its sharp details and attention to structural lines, is anything but pictorialist. Instead, The Steerage eventually became evidence that straight photography could also be artistic. Stieglitz himself did not immediately recognize the importance of his watershed image – it was only four years later, in 1911, that he published it in one of his photography magazines. He published it again in 1913 and by 1915 devoted a whole issue of 291 magazine to The Steerage. By that time, the tide had begun to turn away from pictorialism and toward straight photography. Stieglitz’s photo is now considered both a cultural document and a work of art. Public domain.
Sadie Pfeifer. 48 inches tall. Has worked half a year. Lancaster Cotton Mills, South Carolina (1908) – Lewis Hine (on 7 lists)
As the photographer for the U.S. National Child Labor Committee, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending the practice of child labor, Lewis Hine’s (1874-1940) assignment was to capture in photographs the truth about working children in the U.S. in the early years of the 20th Century. Hines traveled all over the U.S., taking documentary-style photographs of children working in factories, mills and mines, as paperboys and in all-night bowling alleys. The photographs were instrumental in the passage of child labor laws. Here, Hine shows a young girl in a tattered dress working in a South Carolina cotton mill. Hine composes the shot so that the huge machines and factory walls dwarf the girl and her co-worker. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Library of Congress, which owns all the original photographs. The original photos and captions can be viewed at:
http://www.lewishinephotographs.com/. Public domain.
Spinner in Whitnel Cotton Mill (1908) – Lewis Hine (on 5 lists)
Lewis Hine’s original caption for the National Child Labor Committee for this photograph read as follows: “One of the spinners in Whitnel Cotton Mill. She was 51 inches high. Has been in the mill one year. Sometimes works at night. Runs 4 sides – 48 [cents] a day. When asked how old she was, she hesitated, then said, ‘I don’t remember,’ then added confidentially, ‘I’m not old enough to work, but do just the same.’ Out of 50 employees, there were ten children about her size. Whitnel, North Carolina.” The original is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
http://www.lewishinephotographs.com/. Public domain.
Child Laborer in Newberry, South Carolina Cotton Mill (1908) – Lewis Hine (on 2 lists)
It is hard to imagine today’s public relations experts and spin doctors allowing Lewis Hine to photograph children at work in their business establishments, but security was apparently lax in the early 20th Century, and Hine (sometimes posing as an insurance inspector) was able to capture the reality that children were working long hard hours at strenuous jobs all over the US. A common ruse given to explain the presence of quite young children, such as this girl in a South Carolina cotton mill, was that they didn’t really work there but had just stopped by to see a family member. In his caption for this photo, Hine reported: “The overseer said apologetically, ‘She just happened in.’ She was working steadily. The mills seem full of youngsters who ‘just happened in’ or ‘are helping sister.’ Newberry, South Carolina.” The way the girl plasters her arms to her sides in an almost military posture is deeply touching. Library of Congress. Public domain.
One a.m. but young pin boys are working, Brooklyn, NY (1909) – Lewis Hine (on 2 lists)
Lewis Hine’s photograph shows young boys working in a Brooklyn bowling alley long after midnight, with their mustachioed boss standing watch over them. The mural on the back wall shows ships, a hint that this establishment may have been in or near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In his notes, Hine indicated that there were three even younger boys working that night, but the employer would not allow him to photograph them. Library of Congress. Public domain.
Playground in Mill Village, Boston (1909) – Lewis Hine (on 4 lists)
While working for the National Child Labor Committee, Lewis Hine not only documented children at work but also at play, as in this photo of a ball game in a crowded alley between two sets of tenement apartments in Boston, beneath drying laundry. Playground in Mill Village (also known as Playground in Tenement Alley) was useful in documenting the lack of safe places for children to play and supported efforts to build playgrounds and parks in the inner cities. Library of Congress. Public domain. http://www.lewishinephotographs.com/.
Newsies at Skeeters Branch (May 9, 1910) – Lewis Hine (on 2 lists)
Lewis Hine’s most famous photograph shows young newspaper boys dressed and acting like grown men. In contrast to the many heartbreaking images in Hine’s catalog, here the humorous element predominates, although scratch the surface and we realize that these boys worked as hard as their fathers and mothers did, and so their grown-up mannerisms were ironically apt – hard labor had stolen their childhoods. Hine’s original caption: “11:00 A.M. Monday, May 9th, 1910. Newsies at Skeeter’s Branch, Jefferson near Franklin. They were all smoking. Location: St. Louis, Missouri.” A gelatin silver print is in the Library of Congress. Public domain.
Breaker Boys in Coal Chute, South Pittston, Pennsylvania (1911) – Lewis Hine (on 3 lists)
Breaker boys were used in the anthracite coal mines to separate slate rock from the coal after it had been brought out of the shaft. The boys often worked 14 to 16 hours a day. Notes taken by photographer Lewis Hine, then working for the National Child Labor Committee, indicate that this picture was taken at the noon break, although the sun shining through a rear window barely illuminates the dreary, soot-drenched interior. Hine asked the boys their ages, but they were suspicious of him and often lied, telling him they were 12 or 14 when it was clear they were much younger. This and Hine’s many other photos of children at work were instrumental in the passage of laws prohibiting child labor in the US. Library of Congress.
The Octopus (1912) – Alvin Langdon Coburn (on 3 lists)
American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) blends the soft focus aesthetic of pictorialism with a modernist sensibility in The Octopus, a photo of New York City’s Madison Square taken from the top of a skyscraper. The unusual top-down perspective creates a dizzying sense of dislocation; the black paths (the arms of the octopus) winding through the white snow and the phallic shadow of the unseen building function as much as abstract forms as architectural elements. Taken together, these elements transport this image far from the painterly scenes of earlier pictorialists and into an new type of modernist art that is willing to challenge the viewer.
Young Farmers, Westerwald (1914) – August Sander (on 2 lists)
August Sander (1876-1964) was a German photographer best known for his portraits of people from all walks of life. Unlike much of Sander’s later work, the young men in the photograph (also known as Three Young Farmers in Sunday Dress and Three Young Farmers on the Way to a Dance) are not dressed for their occupation, but are instead wearing suits and hats and carrying walking canes as they walk through the muddy fields to a social event. According to John Green of vlogbrothers, the photo represents a moment in history when manufacturing technology had advanced enough to allow young working men to afford clothing once only available to professionals. That the three were heading to a dance has in retrospect an ironic double meaning, as they were likely to have gone off to war – a much different ‘dance’ – in just a few months. According to a recent German newspaper investigation, the three men were actually miners, not farmers, and only two of them survived World War I. The photo of these young men from Sander’s own home district of Westerwald was featured in his 1929 book Face of Our Time and was part of his unfinished project, People of the 20th Century. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Tate Gallery in the UK. © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK-Stiftung Kultur August Sander Archive, Cologne. Random Trivia: Sander’s photograph inspired American writer Richard Powers’ first novel, Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance, which was published in 1985.
Wall Street (1915) – Paul Strand (on 7 lists)
By 1915, American photographer Paul Strand (1890-1976), like his mentor Alfred Stieglitz, was moving away from pictorialism and towards the modernist mode of straight photography. He also came under the influence of Lewis Hine, who saw photography as a tool of social justice. Wall Street shows the impact of both influences. Strand captures a nearly abstract scene of anonymous workers, dragging long shadows behind them as they rush past a monumental structure – the recently erected J.P. Morgan Trust Company building at 23 Wall Street – that seems to dwarf them. Strand’s formal emphasis on lines and shapes, light and shadow, is very modernist, as is the candid, unposed nature of the shot. But beneath the abstraction is a social message about the way that capitalism turns individual humans into anonymous cogs in the money-making machinery. The dark rectangles in the bank’s facade not only create a dramatic chiaroscuro effect but also loom as caverns that might swallow up the tiny workers passing by, or hide the nefarious doings of the capitalists inside those impenetrable walls. A print is in the collection of the Library of Congress. (c) The Aperture.org. For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
Lovers, Budapest (1915) – André Kertész (on 2 lists)
In 1915, André Kertész (1894-1985) was a talented amateur photographer living in Budapest, Hungary and working at the Stock Exchange. Lovers, also known as The Kiss, is one of the many delightful photos he made before leaving his home country to start a professional career in Paris in 1925. With his childlike gaze of wonder, as well as his knowing wink at the antics of adults at play, Kertész inspired many other photographers to capture the emotional essence of what they saw around them, including Brassaï and Henri Cartier-Bresson, who once said, “Whatever we have done, Kertész did first.” © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
Making Human Junk (poster) (1915) – Lewis Hine (on 3 lists)
As official photographer for the National Child Labor Committee from 1908 until the First World War, Lewis Hine photographed children working in all sorts of industries to publicize the degrading and unhealthy conditions of child labor and encourage the passage of laws banning the practice. His employer, a non-profit advocacy group, regularly presented his photographs at public exhibitions. For one of these exhibitions, Hine created a montage of photographs on a poster entitled Making Human Junk showing that child labor took healthy young children and processed them into ‘junk’ – unhealthy young people who could look forward to “no future and low wages.” Hine then asked, “Shall Industry be Allowed to Put this Cost on Society?” Some have praised the poster for its powerful polemic impact but others have criticized it as overly judgmental. Unlike Hine’s stand-alone photographs, which present the children as individuals without making value judgments, Making Human Junk categorizes the children according to their worth: the children in the top photos are “good material” while those at the bottom are “human junk.” Perhaps unintentionally, Hine’s poster, in trying to make a valid point, misuses the images of the children it seeks to help.
Blind Woman, New York (1916) – Paul Strand (on 5 lists)
In 1916, Paul Strand took a number of candid street portraits using a handheld camera with a special lens that allowed him to point the camera in one direction while taking the photograph at a ninety-degree angle. In this case, the elaborate ruse was pointless, as the subject could not see either Strand’s camera or the image he created. As one commentator noted, Strand manages to capture the “misery and endurance, struggle and degradation” in this human being, who has a license to beg and a sign that reduces her to a single attribute. (In fact, many publications give this photo the one-word title, Blind.) Alfred Stieglitz published Strand’s image in his magazine Camera Work in 1917 as an example of the new modernism, which integrated social documentation with boldly simplified formal compositions. (c) The Aperture.org.
For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
White Fence, Port Kent, NY (1916) – Paul Strand (on 2 lists)
By 1916, Photo-Secessionist Paul Strand had abandoned pictorialism and begun to experiment with line, shape and the power of abstraction. A photograph of a white picket fence set him on a journey of exploration he would follow for many years. Strand himself was quoted as saying, “Why did I photograph that white fence up in Port Kent, New York, in 1916? Because the fence itself was fascinating to me. It was very much alive, very American, very much a part of the country.” A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (c) The Aperture.org. For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
Porch Shadows (1916) – Paul Strand (on 3 lists)
Many artistic innovations are born by accident or discovered only in retrospect, but Paul Strand’s daring experiments in geometry and abstraction arose out of a conscious effort to translate Cubism into the photographic medium. Porch Shadows, taken in the summer of 1916 at Strand’s family cottage in Connecticut, presents quotidian objects and situations – a table on a porch on a sunny day – in a way that obscures their functionality. Strand choses an angle that removes the table’s “tableness” and instead presents these objects (and the shadows they cast) as two-dimensional abstract geometric figures: straight lines, curved lines, alternating dark and light parallels. Porch Shadows was featured in the last issue of Stieglitz’s Camera Work and represents a new direction in modernist photography, with pictorialism’s fuzzy manipulations left behind, armed with the new tool of straight photography, Strand and others embarked on a new aesthetic of abstraction – sharply focused images of reality, but rendered abstract by the photographer’s art. Another print of the scene from Porch Shadows, in which the table takes up more of the frame, creating a dominating triangle, is shown below. (c) The Aperture.org. For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
Wire Wheel (1917) – Paul Strand (on 3 lists)
Paul Strand’s Wire Wheel continues in the vein of Porch Shadows; he photographs a common object – an automobile – in such a way that emphasizes the lines and abstract shapes over the practical purpose of the object. But Strand’s photo shows us enough to let us know that this is an auto, and that glimpse of the object’s functionality echoes the fascination of artists in the years before World War I with machines and speed. The Futurists in Italy were the most obvious speed freaks, but all over the world, artists in various media were celebrating the machines that made them go faster. After the Great War, which demonstrated the power of machines to cause untold misery, a more pessimistic attitude would replace this childlike enthusiasm. (c) The Aperture.org. For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
Underwater Swimmer (1917) – André Kertész (on 2 lists)
André Kertész’s photograph of a swimmer in Esztergom, Hungary plays with the deceptive effects of light on underwater objects. The photograph shows us what appears to be a headless swimmer suspended motionless above his shadow, while light streaks create abstract patterns on the floor, echoing the stripes on his trunks. The photographer would explore the effects of distortion on images of the human body with a series of nudes much later in his career, such as his 1933 photograph, Distortion #40 (shown below). A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
Vortograph No. 1 (1917) – Alvin Langdon Coburn (on 3 lists)
In 1913, American photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn relocated to England, where he met Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and their group of abstract artists, the Vorticists, who were inspired by the Cubist revolution in art. Coburn took it upon himself to construct a camera that was capable of taking photographs of real objects that were truly abstract. He constructed a kaleidoscope-like device using three mirrors and attached it the end of the camera. The results were what Pound called Vortographs, the most highly abstract photos to date. Vortograph No. 1 includes household objects and crystal, which create a myriad of reflections in Coburn’s mirrors. The experiment was short-lived, however, and only a couple of dozen vortographs are known to exist. A gelatin silver print is in the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
Power House Mechanic Working on Steam Pump (1920) – Lewis Hine (on 6 lists)
Americans lost interest in child labor after World War I, so photographer Lewis Hine left the National Child Labor Committee and began to work on other projects. Beginning in 1919, he began to create ‘work portraits’, photographs intended to raise the stature of industrial workers. This shift in subject matter also brought about a change in photographic style, from the gritty realism of the child labor images to a more stylized approach, with posed figures and careful lighting that recall in some ways the formulas of Soviet Realism. In Power House Mechanic, a worker hunches over in front of a circular machine (which encloses him like a womb), straining his muscles to move the nut with his wrench. He struggles with the machine, yet he seems to become part of it. The message is that there is dignity in hard work.
Circus, Budapest (1920) – André Kertész (on 2 lists)
André Kertész was quoted as saying, “I photographed real life—not the way it was, but the way I felt it. This is the most important thing: not analyzing, but feeling.” Here, a couple (the man may have only one leg) stare through cracks in a wooden fence at a circus they probably cannot afford. The viewer of the photograph watches the watchers, and instead of feeling superior, we are left out – barred from seeing what the couple is seeing; from this simple observation, Kertész has created a poignantly ironic work of art. © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
Echeveria (c. 1922) – Albert Renger-Patzsch (on 3 lists)
Albert Renger-Patzsch (1897-1966) was a German photographer who was associated with the Neue Sachlichheit (New Objectivity) artistic movement. His photographs of plants, animals and other features of our world were designed to capture the essence of the subject without introducing any ‘artistic’ effects. His approach may be seen in his choice for the title of his second book. Ultimately, the publisher chose the cheery titled The World Is Beautiful over Renger-Patzsch’s bluntly prosaic suggestion: Things.
Lathe No. 3, Akeley Shop, New York (1923) – Paul Strand (on 3 lists)
In 1917, the United States entered World War I and photographer Paul Strand joined the Army Medical Corps, where he worked as an X-ray technician. After the war, Strand’s artistic focus changed from still photography to film. He purchased a movie camera from the Akeley Shop in New York and collaborated with painter/photographer Charles Sheeler on an avant-garde film portrait of Manhattan. (You can watch the 10-minute film Manhatta here.) Sheeler worked in the realistic style known as precisionism, and Strand came under his influence in the 1920s. Among the few still photographs Paul Strand made in the years after the war are a series of images depicting the lathes and other machines used by the Akeley Shop to repair the movie cameras they sold. Despite the horrors wreaked by modern machinery in World War I, Americans in the 1920s still had a general faith in the ability of machines to bring about progress and a better life. The idealized portrait of Lathe No. 3 (notice that the gleaming surfaces appear brand new, and not in their working state) reflects this confidence in mechanical salvation, the same confidence that Charlie Chaplin would later lampoon in Modern Times. (c) The Aperture.org. For reproductions, go to www.aperture.org.
Illustrations for Mayakovsky’s “About This” (1923) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 3 lists)
Soviet Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) made art in a variety of media, including photography and graphic design. In the early 1920s, he began experimenting with photomontage, using his own photographs and images clipped from magazines. His masterpiece is the set of eight photomontage illustrations he created for a book-length poem by his friend Vladimir Mayakovsky. The poem, About This: To Her and to Me, details Mayakovsky’s love affair with Lily Brik, wife of art critic Osip Brik. The illustrations, one of which is pictured above, include photographs of Mayakovsky, Brik and their friends, set in a topsy-turvy world in which Rodchenko ignores both the rules of linear perspective and the traditional hierarchy of sizes. The image below is a maquette (the original collage used to make prints) of another one of the illustrations for About This.
Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) – Man Ray (on 8 lists)
Man Ray (1890-1976), born Emmanuel Radnitzky, was a modernist American artist who worked in Paris, primarily as a photographer, and whose work was associated with Surrealism and Dada. Le Violon d’Ingres is meant to operate on several levels. It is a semi-nude portrait of famous Paris model Kiki de Montparnasse, with a turban and towel, seen from behind. But Man Ray has painted the f-holes of a violin onto the photograph, then re-photographed it, to imply that Kiki’s seemingly armless torso is actually a musical instrument. The title refers to the painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, known for his nude figures, with their long and winding curves. The phrase “Le Violon d’Ingres” is also a French idiom for ‘hobby’ based on Ingres’s fondness for playing the violin. Thus, the photo implies that, while Ingres liked to play the violin, Man Ray likes to ‘play’ with the objectified Kiki. (c) Man Ray Trust. For reproductions, go to http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php.
Portrait of My Mother (1924) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 5 lists)
Russian photographer and montagist Alexander Rodchenko’s mother had just recently learned to read when her son made her portrait in 1924. His original shot (see below) shows her holding up her glasses to decipher a Soviet magazine. In the darkroom, however, Rodchenko rethought the composition, and focused on his mother’s intensely-concentrating heroic/tragic face, her working class hands and the strange swirl of her glasses. Gone are the contextual magazine and walls and what remains is a more dramatic, more universal image. © A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive.
The Critic, Osip Brik (1924) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 2 lists)
In the first years after the Russian Revolution, many artists found new freedom to experiment and innovate. Alexander Rodchenko moved from painting to photography and collage, while at the same time he and like minded artists began an art movement called Constructivism. The new movement needed a forum, and so Rodchenko, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, poet and art critic Osip Brik and Lilya Brik (in the dual role of Osip’s wife and Vladimir’s mistress) founded a magazine called Leftist Front for the Arts. When Rodchenko made Osip’s photographic portrait in 1924, he placed the Cryllic initials of the magazine’s title in the right lens of his subject’s glasses. The innovation and experimentation of Constructivism came to an abrupt halt not many years later when Stalin rose to power. © Estate of Alexander Rodchenko/VAGA.
Portrait of Gloria Swanson (1924) – Edward Steichen (on 2 lists)
In 1923, Edward Steichen was at a crossroads. After more than two decades as a Photo-Secessionist with an artistic reputation second only to that of Alfred Stieglitz, Steichen was not earning enough to afford his alimony and child support payments. So when Condé Nast publications offered Steichen a well-paying position as a photographer, he set aside the anti-commercialism compunctions of his artistic circles and entered an exciting new phase of his career. When Steichen began working as a portraitist for Vanity Fair and fashion photographer for Vogue he brought the pictorialist aesthetic with him, but by the time of his 1924 Vanity Fair portrait session with movie star Gloria Swanson, he was making a transition to straight, sharply-focused images. As Steichen recalled, he was nearly done with the session when he picked up a piece of black lace veil and held it up in front of the actress’s face. Instinctively, Swanson widened her eyes and adopted the look of a leopardess watching her prey through the jungle foliage. The image became iconic. (c) Estate of Edward Steichen.
Avenue des Gobelins, Paris (1925) – Eugène Atget (on 4 lists)
The sign over the Paris studio of French photographer Eugène Atget read ‘Documents for Artists’, and when avant-garde artist Man Ray suggested that Atget was making Surrealist photos, Atget insisted that he was simply documenting the people and places of Paris and its environs. Atget avoided the obvious – for example, he never pointed his camera lens at that postcard favorite, the Eiffel Tower. Toward the end of his life, Atget became fascinated with shop windows. He appreciated the theatricality of the medium, particularly mannequins (and the confusion of human clerks with non-humans dressed the same way, as seen in 1925’s Avenue des Gobelins). He also enjoyed the reflective quality of the glass windows, which allowed him to contrast the old buildings with new fashion and place the objects of the display in unfamiliar surroundings, here the headquarters of the famous Gobelins tapestry manufacturer directly across the street from the storefront. Atget also printed a second photograph of the same window display from a different angle (see below). (c) Estate of Eugene Atget.
Noire et blanche (1926) – Man Ray (on 2 lists)
Man Ray’s photograph of his lover, Kiki de Montparnasse, with an African mask first appeared in French Vogue with the title Visage de nacre et masque de ébène (face of mother of pearl and mask of ebony). At the time, both African masks and elongated oval faces were highly popular in fashion circles. Man Ray tried other compositions that included a full view of his model’s body, but the pose isolating attention on the two heads alone has superior artistic merit. Vogue, which had published an article on Man Ray earlier in the same year, presented the photograph accompanied by a poetic text about the evolution of women.
(http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/photographs/man-ray-noire-et-blanche-1926-4972176-details.aspx). (c) Man Ray Trust. For reproductions, go to http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php.
Satiric Dancer, Paris (1926) – André Kertész (on 4 lists)
Hungarian photographer André Kertész came to Paris in the 1920s to join the thriving Modernist movement there. Satiric Dancer, made in Paris in 1926, includes the participation of two other Hungarian émigrés: István Beöthy provided both the setting – his studio – and the sculpture on the left; dancer and cabaret performer Magda Förstner was the model, drawing her inspiration from Beöthy’s statue to adopt a fetching pose. © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
Two Shells (1927) – Edward Weston (on 3 lists)
American photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958) began his career as a pictorialist, but eventually abandoned the style in favor of straight photography. In the 1920s, Weston began to explore classic art subjects such as the nude and the still life. His notebooks show an obsession with trying every possible combination of background, lighting and arrangement to achieve his goal of depicting both the physical and spiritual natures of his subjects. While identifiable as natural objects, Weston’s vegetables, shells and nudes take on symbolic meaning through abstraction and manipulation. In Two Shells, for example, Weston nestles one chambered nautilus shell inside another, creating a hybrid form that does not exist in nature. The man-made construction rests on the top of a barrel, creating a sense of depth, and stands out starkly against a black void. The non-reflective matte finish of the lower shell contrasts with the glossy polished upper shell, which catches and reflects the light source, as if some bright idea was flashing through the head of this fantastic being. (c) Cole Weston. For prints, go to www.edward-weston.com.
Criss-Crossed Conveyors, River Rouge Plant, Ford Motor Company (1927) – Charles Sheeler (on 5 lists)
It wasn’t long after the birth of photography that big business discovered ways to use the medium to increase profits and improve its image. The image above was created by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) as an assignment for an advertising company working for Ford Motor Company. Empty of human life, the scene depicts the machinery and metallic structures of a modern factory, with soaring smokestacks reaching heavenward, as a kind of technological utopia, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s commentator points out. Sheeler’s lens finds harmony and dynamic energy in what to some eyes might be a jumble of mundane industrial structures. Ford used the image in many of its publications, but Criss-Crossed Conveyors rose above its advertising origins to become an example of photography as art. Gelatin silver print. (c) The Lane Collection.
Upper Deck (1928) – Charles Sheeler (on 2 lists)
Aboard the ocean liner S.S. Majestic, Charles Sheeler, a photographer and painter known for his artistic philosophy of precisionism, was attracted to not to the luxury of the great ship or its passengers, but to the sources of its mechanical power. As the curators of Metropolitan Museum of Art note, Upper Deck manages to “at once abstract and highly realistic.” The absence of any human presence in this highly organized world of machines implies that some internal force or energy is motivating the ship, a true deus ex machina. Sheeler believed that paintings and photographs had equal value; as a case in point, his 1929 painting Upper Deck is shown below. A gelatin silver print is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (c) The Lane Collection.
The Execution of Ruth Snyder (1928) – Tom Howard (on 2 lists)
It didn’t take long for police to discover that the 1927 death of magazine editor Albert Snyder of Queens, New York was not the result of a botched robbery but a carefully planned murder scheme by his wife, Ruth Brown Snyder, and her lover Judd Gray, who wanted the man’s insurance money. (The murder later became the basis for James M. Cain’s 1943 novel Double Indemnity and Billy Wilder’s 1944 movie of the same name.) After Snyder was convicted, she was sentenced to the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison – the first woman to be executed there since 1899. Determined to get around Sing Sing’s no cameras policy, the New York Daily News brought in an unknown reporter from Chigago, Tom Howard (1894-1961), and fitted him with an ankle camera that he could trigger with a button in his suit jacket. After Snyder uttered her last words, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”, and the electricity began flowing, Howard pointed his leg at the chair, pulled up his pant leg and squeezed the trigger. The blurry front-page photo that resulted gave the impression that Snyder was shaking uncontrollably as the electricity coursed through her body. Ever since, reporters are searched from head to toe, and an execution has almost never been photographed in the U.S. in the 88 years since Tom Howard’s tabloid coup. The sensational front page of the January 13, 1928 New York Daily News is shown below. (c) Tom Howard/New York Daily News.
On the Telephone (1928) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 3 lists)
Among the new aesthetic theories thriving in the Soviet Union in the 1920s was the idea that art should renew the immediacy of human experience by showing us familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Photographer Alexander Rodchenko put this maxim into action by photographing ordinary scenes from extraordinary (usually oblique) angles. He began in his own apartment building, where his bird’s eye view gives us a new perspective on an otherwise banal subject – a person talking on the telephone. © Estate of Alexander Rodchenko/VAGA
Portrait of James Joyce (1928) – Berenice Abbott (on 3 lists)
Before becoming famous for her portraits of New York City, American artist Berenice Abbott (1898-1991) traveled to Europe, where, in 1923, she signed on as Man Ray’s assistant in his Paris photography studio. In 1926, after her first show of original work, Abbott opened her own Paris studio and began photographing artists, celebrities and others seeking portraiture. She photographed Irish expatriate writer James Joyce twice, in 1926, in his home, and in 1928, in the studio. The 1928 portrait shown above, which was taken after Ulysses and before Finnegan’s Wake, is considered the definitive Joyce portrait. © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.
Pastry Cook, Cologne (1928) – August Sander (on 5 lists)
German portrait photographer August Sander did not believe in gimmicks. His goal was to create social documents that identified the people of Germany according to their social class, economic status and occupation. To achieve this goal, Sander used a large format camera and photographed his subjects full length and facing the camera. He liked to show working people with the tools of their trade, but he also narrowed the depth of field to avoid distracting background details. Even without the title, we can easily identify the eponymous Pastry Cook (also translated as Pastry Chef) of Sander’s 1928 portrait by his costume, whisk and bowl. Sander’s eye has caught the imposing figure with an expression that hovers between the neutrality of the humble tradesman “just doing my job” and the pride taken in job well done. Pastry Cook was included in Sander’s 1929 book Face of our Time, which sold well for years until the Nazis removed it from the shelves on the grounds that it depicted too many non-Aryan faces. © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK-Stiftung Kultur August Sander Archive, Cologne.
Handyman, Cologne (1928) – August Sander (on 2 lists) X
Another of German photographer August Sander’s occupational portraits. Sander’s German title for the photograph is Handlanger, Cologne. The most accurate translation of “Handlanger” into English is Handyman, although many sites give this photograph the title Bricklayer or Brick Worker. The photograph was included in Sander’s 1929 book Face of Our Time. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Die Photographische Sammlung/SK-Stiftung Kultur August Sander Archive, Cologne.
The Fork, Paris (1928) – André Kertész (on 2 lists)
Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész had the ability “to elevate seemingly trivial details into quite meditative poems.”
(http://www.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2014/august/05/the-melancholy-life-of-the-amazing-andre-kertesz/.) Nowhere is this skill better depicted than in The Fork, a photograph originally used in an advertisement for Bruckman-Bestecke, a silversmith. Note that while Kertész emphasizes the formal and abstract qualities of the common household item, he never separates it from its functional context. Although the photographer certainly arranged the composition to emphasize the lines and shadows, it is perfectly plausible that this is just a fork resting on a plate after a satisfying meal. © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
Steps (1929) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 2 lists)
In one of Russian photographer Alexander Rodchenko most famous images, a woman carries a child up the steps of a Russian Orthodox Church (not visible) in Moscow. The composition is highly formal, with the diagonal lines of the Steps (or Stairs) highlighted by the sunlight and shadows. The addition of a human element softens the rigidity and would have reminded Russians of the famous Odessa Steps sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin (see still image below). Although the woman is moving up the stairs to the right side of the image, the diagonal lines also create a sense of movement from the bottom to the top. Note that the woman’s journey starts with a white triangle and ends with a dark one. Note: Some sites identify this photograph as taken in 1930, not 1929. A silver gelatin paper print is in the Moscow House of Photography Museum. © A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive.
Equivalent (1929) – Alfred Stieglitz (on 3 lists)
Pioneering modernist photographer Alfred Stieglitz made at least 220 photographs of the sky with clouds (and occasionally the sun or some trees) between 1922 and 1935. This was a significant technical achievement, as the early chemical processes tended to wash out the sky, making the clouds disappear. But Stieglitz’s goal was not merely technical. He wanted to use these straight, representational photos to create the first fully abstract artworks in the medium. Beginning in the mid-1920s, Stieglitz began to title these works Equivalents, based on the theory, proposed by Wassily Kandinsky and discussed at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery, that abstract colors, shapes and lines were the equivalent of emotions and other mental states, what Kandinsky called the inner “vibrations of the soul.”
Carrefour, Blois (1930) – André Kertész (on 2 lists)
A carrefour is a road intersection. Blois is a city in France. The photograph shows a T intersection from a significant height, looking down. The bicyclists, the man with his horse cart, the pedestrian, and the two men talking near the riderless horse become abstracted and dehumanized somewhat from this unnerving perspective. The most striking aspect of the composition is the bold geometric beam of light entering the intersection from what appears to be an alley between buildings, illuminating the man with the cart, but not his horse. Another bar-shaped light beam intersects with the first to create a second carrefour, this one made of light. From a history of technology perspective, it is notable that although it is 1930 – 40 years since the invention of the automobile – there are no cars in the road. Gelatin silver prints are located in the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon. © Estate of André Kertész/Higher Pictures.
The Lynching of Young Blacks – Indiana (1930) – Lawrence Beitler (on 7 lists)
On August 6, 1930, in Marion, Indiana, three young black men – Thomas Shipp, Abram Smith and James Cameron – were arrested and charged with murdering a white man and raping his girlfriend (who later recanted her accusation). The next night, a mob broke into the jail and dragged them out. Cameron was able to escape, but the lynch mob killed the other two men by hanging them from a tree. Lawrence Beitler (1885-1960), a local studio photographer, took a photograph of the hanging men, surrounded by the gleeful mob. Beitler sold thousands of copies of the picture over the next 10 days. When Abel Meeropol saw a copy of the photo in 1937, it inspired him to write the poem Bitter Fruit, later adapted into the Billie Holiday song, Strange Fruit. James Cameron, who escaped the lynching, became a civil rights activist and director of the Black Holocaust Museum. No one has ever been charged in the deaths of Shipp and Smith. mob lynched Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith after they were falsely accused of rape.
Pepper No. 30 (1930) – Edward Weston (on 8 lists)
In the 1920s, American photographer Edward Weston began photographing still lifes – mostly shells, vegetables and fruits. He first photographed a green pepper in 1927, and made 26 pepper photos in 1929. Weston later wrote that peppers had “endless variety in form manifestations [and] extraordinary surface texture” and he admired “the power … suggested in their amazing convolutions.” In early August 1930, Weston tried something new: instead of his usual burlap or muslin background, he placed a pepper just inside the opening of a large tin funnel. The funnel was, he said, “a perfect relief for the pepper” by “adding reflecting light to important contours.” Weston made a six-minute exposure using a Zeiss 21 cm. lens on an Ansco 8 X 10 Commercial View camera. Of all the pepper photographs Weston took, it was Pepper Number 30, with its curves and contours, light and shadows, and even a small blemish at the lower right, that has received the most regard. Legend has it that after Weston finally obtained the shot he wanted, he cut up the pepper and added it to a salad for dinner with his family. (c)Cole Weston. For prints, go to www.edward-weston.com.
Pioneer Girl (1930) – Alexander Rodchenko (on 2 lists)
By 1930, Russian photographer Alexander Rodchenko had become convinced that “the most interesting viewpoints of today are ‘from the top down’ and ‘from the bottom up.’ ” To achieve his vision, Rodchenko lay on the ground and climbed on roofs and fire escapes to capture startlingly original images of the ordinary. In photographing Young Pioneers (the Soviet equivalent of Boy and Girl Scouts), Rodchenko’s odd angles created unusual perspectives that sometimes distorted the human faces of his subjects. Unfortunately, Rodchenko’s constructivist principles clashed with changing aesthetic principles within the Soviet leadership. After an exhibition of Rodchenko’s photographs, one critic condemned Pioneer Girl as politically incorrect: “The Pioneer Girl has no right to look upward. That has no ideological content. Pioneer girls … should look forward.” A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. © A. Rodchenko – W. Stepanova Archive.
Divers, Swimwear by Izod (1930) – George Hoyningen-Huene (on 2 lists)
George Hoyningen-Heune (1900-1968) and his family fled Russia at the time of the Revolution. By 1930, he was in Paris and was chief photographer for French Vogue. The photograph Divers, Swimwear by Izod (sometimes called Bathing Suits by Izod) was published in French Vogue in July 1930. The fashion image is representative of Hoyningen-Huene’s highly formal, almost abstract style. The male model is Horst P. Horst, Hoyningen-Huene’s lover and protégé, who would later become a Vogue photographer. (c) George Hoyningen-Heune.
Self-Portrait with Camera (1930-1932) – Man Ray (on 2 lists)
Solarization, in which the tone of part or all of a photograph is reversed so that the darks are light and vice versa, had been observed accidentally through overexposure since the early years of photography. By 1859, photographers had learned to mimic the effect in the darkroom but the practice was not perfected until the 1930s, when Man Ray and his assistant Lee Miller became experts at solarization, such that it became a common feature of Man Ray’s surrealist images. In addition to being solarized, Man Ray’s Self-Portrait with Camera contains much of interest. Man Ray appears in profile, looking not as the camera taking his picture but at the lens of another camera which he adjusts, thus demonstrating the human element in the act of creating a photograph. The camera is aimed at the viewer, as if the photographer is preparing to photograph the audience. The camera we see makes us wonder about the other camera, the one we don’t see, that is photographing Man Ray. A solarized gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Jewish Museum in New York. (c) Man Ray Trust. For reproductions, go to http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php.
Glass Tears (1930-1932) – Man Ray (on 3 lists)
It is probably no coincidence that American expatriate artist Man Ray created Les Larmes (loosely translated as Glass Tears) at a time when his romantic relationship with assistant Lee Miller was ending. The closely-cropped face of the female subject reveals details such as clumps of mascara on her eyelashes and clearly exposes her tears as fake – mere glass beads. These glass tears lead us to question whether the woman’s distressed glance is also manufactured. Glass Tears combines elements of autobiography with dada and surrealism. Its resemblance to a still of a film close-up reminds us that in addition to his acclaimed work as a photographer and painter, Man Ray made a number of experimental films – is Glass Tears in part a critique of the artifice of cinema? (c) Man Ray Trust. For reproductions, go to http://www.manray-photo.com/catalog/index.php.
Rose and Driftwood (1932) – Ansel Adams (on 2 lists)
Best known for his dramatic landscapes, Ansel Adams (1902-1984) also photographed smaller aspects of nature. Adams was living in San Francisco in 1932 when his mother brought in a pale pink rose from the garden. Adams looked around for an appropriate background, finally settling on a piece of driftwood he had found on the beach that had a curved pattern similar to the rose petals. He used his 4 X 5 in-view camera at six different exposures – the one that worked best was f/45 with a five second exposure. At the time, Adams had not yet committed himself to a photography career and he did not have the expertise in the darkroom for which he later became famous. Over the years, Adams made many different prints from the original Rose and Driftwood negative, changing the darkroom technique as he became more adept. After experimenting with different types of paper, he began toning the prints with selenium to produce the effect he desired. (c) Ansel Adams (For reproductions, go to http://anseladams.org.)
Brussels (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 2 lists)
French street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) used a Leica – a small, unobtrusive camera – to capture odd moments filled with promise, intrigue, humor, and pathos, or often a combination of these and other traits. Here, in conscious or unconscious imitation of Circus, Budapest, by André Kertész, Cartier-Bresson captures two men standing at a screen that is blocking their view of what is going on inside. One of the men has found a peephole, but the other looks to the right with a puzzling look. Is he afraid? Ashamed? A lookout? Is he frustrated? Cartier-Bresson sets up this tension and then lets it sit. We will never know the answer. Gelatin silver print are in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo. For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Lunch Atop a Skycraper (1932) – Charles C. Ebbets (attrib.) (on 5 lists)
The 1932 photograph known as Lunch Atop a Skyscraper is not what it seems. It does show 11 construction workers of varying ethnic backgrounds – some of them immigrants – sitting on a beam on the 69th floor of the nearly finished RCA building at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York. And yes, they are having lunch. But historians have revealed that this was no candid shot, but a carefully-planned publicity stunt designed to get positive press coverage for the city’s latest skyscraper. According to a letter written by one of the workers at the time, there was a floor just below the beam but outside the frame, reducing the risk considerably. The picture ran in the New York Herald American without a photo credit; Charles Ebbets was not identified as the photographer until 2003. More recently, however, Corbis, which owns the original photo, has labeled the photographer as ‘unknown.’
Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Place de l’Europe (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 7 lists)
As a matter of principle, Henri Cartier-Bresson composed his photographs within the camera lens and almost never cropped his photos in the darkroom. In the case of Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, however, he had no choice but to crop. He was looking through a hole in a fence that was not quite large enough for the lens of his Leica camera, so he found it necessary to crop the blackened portion on the left side of the image, which was blocked by the fence. In other respects, the photograph is the quintessential example of Cartier-Bresson’s philosophy of finding “the decisive moment” (a phrase he borrowed from 17th Century cleric and memoir writer Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz) when subject and composition come together to create memorable images. Here, we see the puddle-jumper blurred in motion, suspended over water and his own reflection, while a circus poster behind him (also reflected) echoes his jumping stance. The title, which refers to a train station, is echoed by the name on the poster, which contains the English word ‘rail’, and the train-track appearance of the ladder from which the man has jumped. Within the borders of the frame, Cartier-Bresson gives us the sense of a moment frozen in time, yet filled with potentiality. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo. For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Harlem Couple in Raccoon Coats (1932) – James Van Der Zee (on 3 lists)
Born in Lenox, Massachusetts, James Van Der Zee moved to New York City as a young man with a passion for photography. By 1916, he had opened his own studio in Harlem, just in time to catch the Harlem Renaissance. His portraits of Harlem residents, including many wedding and post-mortem photographs, often double-exposed or otherwise manipulated, captured the growing black middle class in the years between the wars. Harlem Couple in Raccoon Coats (sometimes called simply Couple in Raccoon Coats) provides a wealth of data for the sociologist and the art critic alike. The well-to-do man and woman proudly display their personal wealth through their luxurious raccoon coats and their shiny Cadillac Roadster automobile. The sunshine truly gleams off the chrome of the front end and spare tire. Note the poses – the man sits comfortably, shadows obscuring his face slightly, while the woman stands beside the car, erect, looking away from the camera. The brownstones in the background provide both vertical and horizontal lines to frame the car and also provide depth. Those who have studied the photograph note that by 1932, when it was taken, the U.S. was in the depths of the Great Depression. Were the car and coats left over from the prosperous ’20s? Was this couple showing that they had escaped the Crash, or was this some kind of fakery designed to fool the folks back home? Gelatin Silver Print. © Donna Mussenden Van Der Zee.
Funnel (c. 1932) – Willard Van Dyke (on 2 lists)
In 1928, 22-year-old American Willard Van Dyke (1906-1986) attended a photography exhibit in San Francisco where he not only saw the work of Edward Weston for the first time, but met Edward Weston himself, an experience that changed his life. Soon afterwards, Van Dyke signed on as Weston’s apprentice. In 1932, he, Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ansel Adams formed the f/64 group, whose philosophy was to promote the sharp and deep focus approach known as straight photography. It wasn’t long afterwards that Van Dyke, unwilling to compete with Weston, his mentor, left the field of photography to become a filmmaker. Funnels recalls the work of Charles Sheeler in its appreciation of the smooth surfaces and bold lines of mechanical objects. (c) Willard Van Dyke.
Madame ‘Bijou’ in the Bar de la Lune, Montmartre (1932) – Brassaï (on 2 lists)
Brassaï was the professional name of Gyula Halász, who was born in Transylvania (then in Hungary, now in Romania). He came to Paris in the 1920s and became a denizen of the night – observing and eventually befriending many of those nightclub goers, prostitutes, and outcasts who shared the city’s night’s streets with him. Trained as a painter, Brassaï learned photography from fellow expatriate André Kertész, but unlike Kertész and Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose street photography usually caught its subjects unawares, Brassaï’s choice to photograph night life meant that he needed a tripod for his folding 6 X 9 cm. Voigtländer Bergheil plate camera and, for pictures of humans, a flash (sometimes a bulb, sometimes flash powder with a reflecting shield), so his pictures were often posed and the subjects, instead of unknowing passers-by, became co-conspirators in the making of the photograph. Madame Bijou was a woman who once led a rich life but by 1932 was living on charity, reading palms and telling stories in exchange for food and money. The half-length portrait shown above gives us Madame Bijou performing for the camera, gazing into the eyes of the viewer as if she is about to read our fortune. A full-length photograph of a seated Madame Bijou looking to her left (shown below) was included in Brassaï’s 1933 book Paris de Nuit. © Mme G. Brassai. Random Trivia: In the movie Titanic, Jack Dawson (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) draws a sketch of a woman he used to see at a bar named Madame Bijoux, who bears a striking resemblance to the woman in Brassaï’s photos.
Lovers in a Bistro (1932-1933) – Brassaï (on 2 lists)
Even a casual viewer of Brassaï’s Paris photographs of the 1930s will notice several common themes: night life, diagonal lines, and mirrors. Lovers in a Bistro contains all three elements, with the mirrors multiplying the diagonals. A corner booth of a restaurant with mirrored walls was a fertile setting for Brassaï to capture intimate moments, as shown by the 1932 photo below (called Lovers in a Café), taken in the same bistro, possibly with the same couple, which cleverly captures the couple’s faces in separate mirrors. The night photographer’s need for a large camera mounted on a tripod and a blinding flash to create each image leads most commentators to conclude that Brassaï posed his shots using one or more willing subjects, more than likely members of Brassaï’s wide circle of fellow denizens of the night. © Mme G. Brassai.
Madrid (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 4 lists)
Henri Cartier-Bresson bought his first Leica camera in Marseilles in 1932 and it is from that point that he dates the beginning of his career as a photographer. He liked the Leica because it was small and because he could bring it out quickly to get a shot. To draw even less attention to himself, Cartier-Bresson wrapped the shiny silver body of the camera with disguising black tape. He never used a flash, which he felt was impolite, and composed within the camera so that he almost never had to crop. Although he is known for being the photographer of “the decisive moment’, that phrase was borrowed from a 17th century cleric. Cartier-Bresson perhaps best expressed his philosophy when he said, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event.” Madrid brings together an unusual backdrop – a massive white wall with tiny windows – and a world of children, one of whom is moving forward (from left to right), while a lone adult seems out of place. We don’t know exactly what is going on with the children in the foreground – are they playing a game? – but the picture conveys a sense that an event of significance (at least to the children) is occurring. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo.
For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Children Playing in the Ruins, Seville (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 2 lists)
Originally titled simply Seville, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s frame-within-a-frame captures children scattered about the rubble of ruined buildings, although despite the title that was added later (Children Playing the Ruins), they do not appear to be playing. The image contains a surreal element in that the children in the foreground are breaking through the fourth wall – the faux frame created by the hole in the wall – to emerge into the world of the viewer. Although Cartier-Bresson created this photograph in 1933, several years before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, its image of children among the ruins has often been mistaken for a war photo. This mistake, in turn, has led some to wonder whether the photographer was instinctively sensing the tension in the air that would lead to conflict three years later. In fact, Seville was the place where the first shots were fired in the civil war. Another image taken either just before or just after is shown below. The second, more upbeat photo shows all the children, including a boy on crutches, contained with the internal frame, and in this one they do actually seem to be playing. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo.
For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Open Gutter (from Paris by Night) (1933) – Brassaï (on 2 lists)
Paris de Nuit (translated variously into English as Paris at Night, Paris by Night or Paris After Dark) is the 1933 book with 60 photographs by Brassaï and text by French writer Paul Morand that made Brassaï’s name as a photographer. Containing a mix of interior and exterior shots, including this image of an open gutter on a rainy night, the book represented both an aesthetic and technical achievement. When no human subjects were involved, as in the case with Open Gutter, Brassaï eschewed flashbulbs and relied instead on long time exposures to gather the light from street lamps and signs as it reflected off various surfaces. The resulting images were full of detail as well as mystery. © Mme G. Brassai.
Loch Ness Monster (1934) – Ian Wetherell (on 4 lists)
The belief that a sea serpent or surviving plesiosaur swims the murky depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness is a fish tale that goes back possibly as far as the 6th Century CE, but at least to 1933 when a series of sightings occurred, followed by a blurry photograph that some interpreted as a dog with a stick running in the shallows. Then, in 1934, a much clearer picture of a plesiosaur-type creature was provided to the newspapers by Dr. Robert Wilson, who asked that his name not be used, so that the photo acquired the name, The Surgeon’s Photo. Debate raged about the authenticity of the photo until a 1975 analysis revealed that the object appeared to be only two to three feet long, and there was some evidence that it was being towed through the water. Subsequently, Christian Spurling confessed that the photo was a hoax that he and several others had perpetrated and that the photo merely showed a toy submarine with a clay head and neck attached. While the exposure of the hoax merely confirmed to some that the monster is a myth, true believers fell into two camps: those who claim that the ‘hoax’ is itself a hoax, and those who accept that the photo is not real but still believe that Nessie’s existence will someday be proven.
Evening in Kenwood (c. 1934) – Bill Brandt (on 2 lists)
William “Bill” Brandt was born in Germany, spent time in Paris working for Man Ray and had his own studio in Vienna but moved to England in the early 1930s. It was in England that he developed his unique style of photographing ordinary aspects of British life – such as couples necking in a park – in ways that made them seem extraordinary. © 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. For reproductions, go to http://www.billbrandt.com/.
Avenue de l’Observatoire (1934) – Brassaï (on 2 lists)
A parked car with its lights sending a diagonal beam of light through the dense fog of a Paris night, captured with a long exposure on a camera set on a tripod were the elements that created this haunting and atmospheric image by Brassaï. © Mme G. Brassai.
Martha Graham: Satyric Festival Song (1935) – Barbara Morgan (on 2 lists)
After American photographer Barbara Morgan watched a performance of dance pioneer and innovator Martha Graham and her company in New York, Morgan went backstage to introduce herself. What followed was a multi-year collaboration between photographer and dancers, culminating in a 1941 book, Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photos. In the process of her collaboration with Graham, Morgan transformed the role of dance photography from merely documenting the dance performance to creating photographic art from the dance and the dancers. Instead of bringing her camera to Graham’s dance performances, Morgan brought the dancers to the controlled environment of her own studio, where she manipulated the settings, the lighting and perspectives to create images of dance that stand alone as photographs, apart from the performances. Satyric Festival Song was a solo dance that Martha Graham debuted in 1932; although the dance was not filmed, experts reconstructed it for a 1994 revival based in part on this and other photographs by Morgan. (c) Barbara Morgan. Random Trivia: In 1986, to commemorate the 16th anniversary of the Martha Graham Dance Center of Contemporary Dance, Andy Warhol created Satyric Festival Song, a series of screenprints of Barbara Morgan’s photograph (Satyric Festival Song 387 is shown below).
Blossom Restaurant, 103 Bowery, New York City (Oct. 24, 1935) – Berenice Abbott (on 2 lists)
American photographer Berenice Abbott left her prospering Paris photography studio to return to New York City in the late 1920s in an effort to obtain more recognition for the work of French documentary photographer Eugène Atget. She decided to stay in New York – much changed since she left to work for Man Ray in Paris – to document the new metropolis. Abbott’s straight photography style and her vocal critiques of pictorialism and the boys’ club of Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand, Adams and Weston made it impossible for her to make a living at photography, despite her obvious qualifications. Salvation came in the form of the Federal Arts Project, which subsidized Abbott’s New York City project starting in 1935. The profusion of handmade and printed signage, the men on the stairs, the patterns on the sidewalk and the prominent barber pole (with its counter-swirling stripes) all make for a quintessential New York moment. Gelatin silver prints of the image may be found in the Museum of the City of New York and the American Museum of Natural History. © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.
Interior Detail, West Virginia Coal Miner’s House (1935) – Walker Evans (on 3 lists)
American photographer Walker Evans obtained a position with the US Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration) in 1935. His first assignment was to photograph a government-built resettlement community of unemployed coal miners in West Virginia. Here, Walker contrasts the overly exuberant advertisements (and the promise of prosperity they seem to hold out, if mockingly) used by the family as decoration with the empty rocking chair and the unused broom. A deep loneliness creeps over the photo. The unemployed coal miner is not enjoying the meager delights of his government-built ‘castle’ – maybe he is out looking for a job. Even the sunshine is ambivalent – it enters the house, but fails to reach the chair, leaving the rest of the room in shadow. © 2013 Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Alabama Tenant Farmer Wife (Allie Mae Burroughs) (1936) – Walker Evans (on 2 lists)
For several weeks in 1936, photographer Walker Evans lived with Alabama sharecroppers Floyd and Allie Mae Burroughs in their four-room cabin. During that period, Evans photographed Hale County, Alabama, but kept returning to subject of the the Burroughs home, where he created his most powerful images of the trip. He posed Allie Mae Burroughs behind the house for a portrait session – each image capturing a different mood. When Evans published his book American Photographs in 1938, he chose to print the portrait that captured the subject at her most cheerful (see below). But when Evans and James Agee published Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1941, Evans print instead the darker, less sanguine portrait shown above. Critics praised the image as the best of the photographs in the book. © 2013 Walker Evans Archive.
Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936) – Dorothea Lange (on 22 lists)
Dorothea Lange was working as a photographer for the U.S. Resettlement Administration in early 1936 when she visited California to photograph migrant farm laborers. Lange met Florence Owens Thompson and her children in a migrant camp in Nipomo, California and took a series of photographs, including this iconic image of the Great Depression. Thompson told Lange she was 32 years old and that she, her husband and seven children had been living on what vegetables they could find in the surrounding fields and some birds that the children had killed. Lange used a 4 X 5 Graflex camera for this enduring shot.
Death of a Loyalist Soldier, Spain (1936) – Robert Capa (on 13 lists)
Hungarian photographer Robert Capa was only 22 years old in September 1936 when he received an assignment to photograph the Loyalist militia in the Spanish Civil War. When the above photo (also known as Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death), was published in the French magazine VU and later in Life, it was identified as taking place during a battle at Cerro Murino. The soldier was later identified as Federico Borrell Garcia, who was killed at Cerro Murino. But in the 1970s, expert analysis of the background landscape proved that the location of the photo is not Cerro Murino but Espejo, 30 miles away and far from any fighting. Many now believe that Capa staged the famous photograph with models, not real soldiers. Others agree that the location of the photo is Espejo and the man is not Federico Borrell Garcia, but the photo may still show a soldier “at the moment of death.” © Cornell Capa.
For reproduction, go to http://www.magnumphotos.com/.
Taxi Dancers, Fort Peck, Montana (1936) – Margaret Bourke-White (on 2 lists)
American photographer Margaret Bourke-White broke new ground for female photographers throughout her career. The first woman photographer on the staff of Life magazine, Bourke-White was sent to Fort Peck, Montana to find images for a story about the building of the Fort Peck Dam. Her photograph of the immense towers of the dam made the cover of Life‘s very first issue in November, 1936 (see below), but it was her much less grand image of construction workers and taxi dancers that had more lasting significance. At a dime a dance, these girls and women would dance with the men who had traveled to the pioneer town of Fort Peck to build the dam. The use of multiple synchronized flashbulbs (a recent advance in flash technology) allowed Bourke-White to capture a broad array of activity in the plane of the dancers, while leaving any distracting background detail in the dark. The result is a memorable image of lonely men on the frontier and the enterprising women who supplied them with an evening’s entertainment. (c) Time Inc.
Jesse Owens Wins Gold at Berlin Olympics (1936) – Heinrich Hoffmann (on 2 lists)
Adolf Hitler hoped that the 1936 Berlin Olympics would showcase for the world the power, might and majesty of Germany under the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. In particular, Hitler was convinced that the games would prove his theory that so-called Aryan races were superior to others in tests of physical strength and agility. Hitler had not bargained on African-American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals in track and field events. Frustrated by the success of this non-Aryan, Hitler reportedly refused to shake his hand at the medal ceremony, but merely waved. The photograph above, by Hitler’s personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, shows the medal ceremony for Owens’ gold medal in the long jump. Here, silver medalist Lutz Long of German and various officials give the Nazi salute, while Owens gives an American military salute. Bronze medalist Naoto Tajima of Japan merely stands at attention. German Federal Archive. Random Trivia: Despite the apparent snub from Hitler, the German crowds cheered Owens. Owens became lifelong friends with German long jumper Lutz Long, who gave Owens a tip (start your run sooner) that probably helped him win the gold medal.
Nude on sand, Oceano (1936) – Edward Weston (on 2 lists)
In 1936, Charis Wilson was Edward Weston’s assistant and his favorite model. Weston brought Wilson to Oceano, California, where he planned to photograph the dunes there. According to the Center for Creative Photography, Wilson became enchanted by the dunes, shed her clothes and began to roll down the hills of sand. Weston changed his focus to the nude model and took a series of 10 remarkable photographs that display the model’s body as a nearly translucent sculptural object against an almost completely blank, shadowless canvas of sand (see images above and below). The images are sensual without being overtly sexual due to the highly unselfconscious and self-contained nature of Weston’s model, Charis Wilson. (c) Cole Weston. For prints, go to www.edward-weston.com.
Explosion of the Hindenburg (May 6, 1937) – Sam Shere (on 5 lists)
The German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg had crossed the Atlantic and was attempting to dock at a mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Station in New Jersey at about 7:25 p.m. on May 6, 1937 when it caught fire and burned to the ground, killing 35 of the 97 people on board, and one person on the ground. Numerous journalists were present, including radio announcer Herbert “Oh, the humanity!” Morrison, newsreel cameramen and several photojournalists. The iconic photograph of the initial burst of flaming hydrogen was taken by Sam Shere, using a Speed Graphic camera. According to Shere, the event happened so fast, he had to ‘shoot from the hip’, squeezing the shutter even before he got the camera to his eye. As a result of the Hindenburg disaster and the publicity surrounding it, the public lost its faith in rigid airships and the entire passenger airship industry, leaving only the Goodyear blimp and its kin as reminders of a bygone era. (c) Estate of Sam Shere. Random Trivia: Rock fans will recognize this photo from the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 self-titled first album.
The Hindenburg Crashes (May 6, 1937) – Murray Becker (on 2 lists)
Associated Press photojournalist Murray Becker was one of 22 still and newsreel photographers present at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey for the arrival of the Hindenburg, an 803-ft. long rigid airship filled with highly flammable hydrogen gas. When the Hindenburg caught fire and began to burn, Becker managed to take 15 shots, in sequence, of the disaster and subsequent rescue of survivors, including this iconic shot of the burning airship as its tail hit the ground, causing flames to shoot through the ship’s nose. According to the New York Times, after Becker got the shots he needed and sent the film to Newark for processing, he sat down and cried. (c) Estate of Murray Becker.
On the Move: Car on siding, Calipatria (1937) – Dorothea Lange (on 2 lists)
Dorothea Lange worked as a photographer for the federal Resettlement Administration (later called the Farm Security Administration) from 1935 to 1939. She traveled around the western US, capturing the difficult lives of agricultural workers. The photograph above was taken in Calipatria, a city in Imperial County, California. The 25-year-old intinerant worker, originally from Oregon, sits in a boxcar across from a pea packing plant. According to Lange’s caption: “On the road eight years, all over the country, every state in the union, back and forth, pick up a job here and there, travelling all the time.”
(c) Estate of Dorothea Lange. http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/lange/
At the Time of the Louisville Flood (1937) – Margaret Bourke-White (on 5 lists)
In January 1937, the Ohio River flooded, killing nearly 400 people and leave almost a million people homeless. Life magazine sent Margaret Bourke-White to Louisville, Kentucky to document the tragedy. Her image of African-American families lined up for food in front of a painfully ironic billboard was published in the February 15, 1937 issue of Life. The billboard was part of an anti-New Deal campaign by the National Association of Manufacturers. Over the years, the photograph has become a symbol not just of the Louisville flood, but of the Great Depression generally. (c) Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.
Northumbrian Miner at his Evening Meal (1937) – Bill Brandt (on 2 lists)
Unlike Lewis Hine, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, among others, Bill Brandt’s photographs of the working poor do not treat their subjects as victims of a vicious capitalist system who need our help but as fellow humans with their quirks and eccentricities. Some criticize Brandt’s photograph of a Northumbrian Miner at his Evening Meal for treating its hardworking breadwinner as a subject of ridicule, an ignorant slob who doesn’t know enough to wash up before dinner. Others point out that, after a long, grueling day in the mine, workers ate as soon as they could, even before washing off the coal dust. From a formal perspective, the photograph has considerable interest, from the arrangements of the items on the table and wall, the washing obscuring the framed picture (with a face just peeking out), the off-kilter hanging bag. Adding to the ironic nature of the scene are the formal, almost grim expressions on the man and his wife, despite what appears to the viewer as a comical situation. Brandt takes a less light-hearted approach to the difficulties of surviving in a Depression economy in Coal-Searcher Going Home to Jarrow (see below). A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. © 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.
Sunday on the Banks of the River Marne (1938) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 5 lists)
In 1936, the progressive French government passed a law giving French workers two weeks of paid vacation every year, a fact that gives Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photo of two couples picnicking at the riverside a political subtext. Even though we see only part of one of the faces, there is an intimacy to the photograph, a sense that may be enhanced by Cartier-Bresson’s decision to eliminate the horizon line and the opposite bank of the river from the frame. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo. For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Portrait of René Ray (1938) – Angus McBean (on 2 lists)
Best known for his 1963 photograph for the cover of The Beatles’ first album, Please Please Me, showing the mop tops leaning over a railing (see image below), Angus McBean was a Welsh portrait photographer whose most interesting photographs explore his interest in Surrealism. René Ray was a popular British actress of the 1930s whose fame never made it across the Pond to the US. Born Irene Lilian Creese, she later became Countess of Midleton. McBean treats her as a sculpture or mask in the making, using modeling clay for her hair, isolating her porcelain skin, and bright, clear features, especially her eyes. McBean later explained his intentions: “Her head poked through a drawing board, and partially covered, signifies the film star in the process of being born.” National Portrait Gallery, London / © Harvard Theatre Collection.
Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey (1938) – Bill Brandt (on 2 lists)
Inspired by Brassai’s 1933 book Paris de Nuit, British photographer Bill Brandt published A Night in London in 1938. Using portable tungsten lamps, he created many images of night activities. In some cases, as in Policeman in a Dockland Alley, Bermondsey, Brandt shot the photograph during the day and then created a “day for night” effect in the darkroom. According to Bill Brandt’s website, the bobby is waiting to apprehend a thief. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd.
Broadway to the Battery, New York City (May 4, 1938) – Berenice Abbott (on 2 lists)
After returning to New York from France in 1929, Berenice Abbott conceived of a vast photographic portrait of New York City, inspired by Eugène Atget’s exploration of Paris. She began the project on her own in 1932, but from 1935 to 1939, she was hired by the Federal Art Project (part of the Works Progress Administration) to complete the work, now called Changing New York. Unlike Atget, whose stated purpose was to document old Paris before it was destroyed by modernity, Abbott’s images do not usually take sides between past and future, but instead explore the juxtapositions of old and new, and the role of the individual humans in the big city, alongside her basic impulse to document present-day reality for posterity. If anything, her commentary is less about the vanishing beauty of old New York and more about how the vastness of the city make individual human lives seem small and vulnerable. To capture such a large city, Abbott used a large format camera, a Century Universal 8 X 10. One of the most highly regarded of the Changing New York shots, shown above, is Abbott’s high altitude view of traffic on Broadway, with the vertiginous caverns of downtown opening into Battery Park, then the harbor, with its ocean liners and Miss Liberty. To obtain the image, Abbott set up her tripod on the roof of the 50-story Irving Trust Company building at 1 Wall Street (now the BNY Mellon Building). When complete, Changing New York consisted of over 300 photographs, which now belong to the Museum of the City of New York. Abbott exhibited the work in progress at the museum in 1934 and again in 1937. In January 1938, Life magazine published a six-page spread titled A Woman Photographs the Face of a Changing City (see image below). In 1939, publisher E.P. Dutton selected 100 of the photographs and published them in a book with captions written by art critic Elizabeth McCausland, who was also Abbott’s longtime partner and companion. A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the Museum of the City of New York. © Berenice Abbott/Commerce Graphics Ltd, Inc.
East End girl, doing the Lambeth Walk (c. 1939) – Bill Brandt (on 2 lists)
In December 1937, Me and My Girl, a musical about a poor Cockney who turns out to be an aristocrat, opened in the West End of London. The high point of the show was a song and dance called The Lambeth Walk, named after a South London street, as performed by star Lupino Lane. The Lambeth Walk became a dance craze that spread to the US in 1938 and was showcased in The Lambeth Walk, the 1939 film version of the play. Bill Brandt’s photograph shows a cheeky girl showing off for the photographer by demonstrating the jaunty step (which, according to Lupino Lane, was an exaggerated version of the typical Cockney walk) while her friends laugh both with and at her. The somber background, with its hints of economic depression, adds a note of poignancy to the otherwise festive scene. © 2012 Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Note: Although some sources date this photograph to 1936, the dates of the opening of the play and the movie make a 1939 date more likely.
The Mainbocher Corset, Vogue Paris (1939) – Horst P. Horst (on 3 lists)
The Mainbocher Corset, the most famous photo by German-born photographer Horst P. Horst, was taken at the studios of Paris Vogue in August 1939, just days before Horst fled Paris as World War II began. The photo highlights his uncanny skill at controlling light and shadow, subject and background to create a mixture of moods. Here, mystery and eroticism blend with a feeling of classical elegance, and over it all there is a touch of the surreal. So much more than a lingerie advertisement, The Mainbocher Corset is a work of art. (c) Estate of Horst P. Horst.
Lou Gehrig After Ovation for Farewell Speech, Yankee Stadium, New York (July 4, 1939) – Unknown Photographer (on 2 lists)
On April 30, 1939, after months of deteriorating health, on April 30, 1939, New York Yankees 17-year veteran first baseman Lou Gehrig played his 2,130th consecutive game, which would be his last. Shortly thereafter, the team announced that Gehrig had a debilitating illness that prevented him from playing. More than three-quarters of a century later, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is still known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” Gehrig officially retired on June 21, 1939, and the Yankees celebrated his career on July 4 in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. The Iron Horse spoke to the crowd about his “bad break” but told them “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” The standing ovation after Gehrig’s short speech lasted two full minutes, and led to the photographs shown above and below, in which he wipes away tears. The photo below was taken by AP photographer Murray Becker, who captured the Hindenburg disaster two years earlier.
June Clyde (1940) – Angus McBean (on 2 lists)
June Clyde was a popular actress in Hollywood between 1929 and 1934, when she married British director Thornton Freeland and moved to the UK, where she continued her acting career. Surrealist photographer Angus McBean showed Clyde as a tiny queen perched on a seashell in someone’s hand in this unusual portrait. National Portrait Gallery, London / © Harvard Theatre Collection.
The Weeping Frenchman (1940) – Unknown Photographer (on 2 lists)
Although many sources identify this photograph as a man weeping as the Nazis arrive in Paris, research makes another explanation more likely. The photograph was taken not in Paris but in Marseilles, in September 1940, as the defeated French army, led by Charles DeGaulle, paraded the French regimental flags through the southern port city and onto ships that would take them out of the country before the Nazis arrived. The photograph appeared in the March 3, 1941 issue of Life magazine and the man has been identified as Jerôme Barzetti. (A contemporaneous newsreel of the Marseilles event, which shows the weeping man, can be seen here.) Although some have attributed the photograph to W. Eugene Smith, that story is also not supported by the evidence.
Hitler in Paris (June 23, 1940) – Heinrich Hoffmann (on 3 lists)
Following France’s surrender to Germany in World War II, Adolf Hitler decided to take a tour of Paris. On June 23, 1940, he drove through the conquered city in a car with his architect, Albert Speer, and his favorite sculptor, Arno Breker. Near the Eiffel Tower, Hitler stopped so his personal photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann, could take a touristy snapshot of the three men (Speer is on the left) with the highly-recognizable landmark behind them. The photograph soon made its way around the world, where it provided shocking evidence of the power of the Wehrmacht. With Hitler in control of the cultural capital of Europe, it seemed that no one was safe from the Nazi menace.
Pure Energy and Neurotic Man (1940) – Barbara Morgan (on 3 lists)
Best known for her photographs of Martha Graham and other dancers, American Barbara Morgan displayed a more experimental side with a series of light drawings. In Pure Energy and the Neurotic Man, Morgan turned off all the lights in her studio, opened the shutter and drew figures in the air with a flashlight. ‘Pure Energy’ is a whirling frenzied bustle – a dance without a dancer. The human hand, presumably the ‘Neurotic Man’, balances and complicates the composition, grounding these hot flashes with something we can grasp. (c) Barbara Morgan.
Martha Graham, Letters to the World: Kick (1940) – Barbara Morgan (on 4 lists)
During her long collaboration with the Martha Graham dance company, Barbara Morgan captured Graham and her dancers in the controlled environment of her own studio, and that was where she photographed Graham performing Kick from her ballet Letter to the World, which was based on the romantic life of Emily Dickinson. To capture the movement of the dancer, Morgan linked four lamps together on a single circuit and gave them to four assistants, who stood around Graham, training the bulbs on her. Morgan then synchronized the bulbs with her camera, a 4 X 5 Speed Graphic. Each time she took a photograph, the bulbs flashed for about 1/600 sec., freezing in time an ephemeral moment in Graham’s introspective ballet. (c) Barbara Morgan.
New York (c. 1940) – Helen Levitt (on 2 lists)
American street photographer Helen Levitt spent a lifetime capturing the daily life of New York City. Her black and white work in the 1930s and 1940s often centered on the life of the city’s poor children, who she caught unawares with her small Leica camera, in the style of Cartier-Bresson. Here, a boy on a bicycle is framed by a large mirror that appears to have broken just moments before, perhaps by the two boys holding it up. Levitt rarely titled her photographs, which are often just labeled, “New York” with the date. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Levitt worked in film, but she returned to photography in the 1960s, adopting color for the first time. A gelatin silver print of this image is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. (c) Helen Levitt.
“The Last Jew in Vinnitsa”, Ukraine (1941) – Unknown Photographer (on 3 lists)
As part of the preparations for the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered the creation of death squads called the Einsatzgruppen, whose task was to murder the Jews, Gypsies and Communists in the newly-captured territories. The Einsatzgruppen shot 28,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Vinnitsa in two separate massacres in September 1941 and buried them in mass graves. The photo above was discovered after the war in the photo album of an Einsatzgruppen soldier. Written on the back were the words, “The last Jew in Vinnitsa.”
Heat Spell (May 23, 1941) – Weegee (on 2 lists)
Weegee was the pseudonym of Ukrainian-born American photographer Arthur Fellig. A photographer of murders, fires, accidents, high society and low life, Weegee raised tabloid photography to an art. He spotted this scene on a warm night in Manhattan, showing the squalor of tenement life spilling out onto the fire escape, yet with a dreamy peacefulness abiding. The photo was published in the PM Daily. Also known as Heat Spell, Children Sleeping on the Fire Escape, Lower East Side and Tenement Sleeping During Heat Spell, the image is available online in a number of versions, some of them cropped significantly (see below). According to original caption, the photographer gave the children $2 for ice cream, “but their father took charge of the dough.” A gelatin silver print is in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. (c) Estate of Arthur Fellig; (c) International Center of Photography.
Portrait of Winston Churchill “The Roaring Lion” (1941) – Yousuf Karsh (on 7 lists)
The Canadian government hired Turkish-born Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002) to photograph British Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he came to Ottawa to speak to the Canadian House of Commons on December 30, 1941, in the depths of World War II. When Churchill arrived, cigar in mouth, he brusquely told Karsh that he had only two minutes to take the picture. Karsh asked Churchill to take the cigar out for the photo, but Churchill refused. In a demonstration of raw courage, Karsh then walked up to Churchill, said, “Forgive me, sir” and pulled the cigar out of his mouth. Karsh went back to the camera to face a belligerent cigar-less Churchill, and snapped the famous portrait that symbolized British defiance of the Nazis and made the cover of Life magazine. Churchill later shook Karsh’s hand and told him, “You can even make a roaring lion stand still to be photographed”, after which Karsh titled the portrait, The Roaring Lion. (c) Estate of Yousuf Karsh.
Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico (Nov. 1, 1941) – Ansel Adams (on 4 lists)
While driving through New Mexico at some point after 4 p.m. on November 1, 1941, Ansel Adams watched the moon rise over the Sangre de Christo mountains. When he reached the town of Hernandez, with its cemetery markers gleaming in the fading rays of sunshine, he knew he had an excellent opportunity for a photograph. He pulled to the side of the road and his son and assistant helped him collect all the equipment he needed: 8 X 10 camera, Cooke triple convertible lens, Wratten No. 15 (G) filter – but no one could find his Weston light meter. Adams remembered that the moon’s luminance was 250 footcandles and made an exposure of 1 second at f/32. By the time he set up for a second shot, the white crosses of the cemetery were in shadow and the opportunity had passed. Moonrise became one of Adam’s most popular photos – he personally made over 1300 prints from the one negative, each one unique as Adams played with adjusting the exposure of specific portions of the image during development and printing, and updated his darkroom technology over the years. (c) Ansel Adams. For reproductions, go to http://anseladams.org.
The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) – Ansel Adams (on 5 lists)
In 1941, the National Park Service hired American landscape and nature photographer Ansel Adams to photograph America’s national parks, Indian reservations and other federal lands to decorate the Interior Department’s new headquarters with large prints. Using large format cameras and paying close attention to darkroom techniques, Adams captured the drama of the natural landscapes in the American West. His photo of the Snake River winding through a valley with the Tetons towering in the background was taken in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The Tetons and the Snake River is one of the photographs included in the Voyager spacecraft for viewing by any extraterrestrials it may encounter. (c) Ansel Adams. For reproductions, go to http://anseladams.org.
Grief (Kerch, Crimea) (1942) – Dmitri Baltermants (on 2 lists) X
In 1942, Nazi soldiers massacred nearly the entire Crimean village of Kerch in the Soviet Union. Soviet photographer Dmitri Baltermants, just released from the hospital after being wounded in Stalingrad, captured this image of village women discovering their dead loved ones. The photograph, also known as Searching for the Loved Ones in Kerch was not published during the war, as Stalin only wanted images that would boost morale. It was only in the 1960s, when the photo resurfaced, that its emotional power was revealed. Gelatin Silver Print.
Marines Under Fire, Saipan (1943) – W. Eugene Smith (on 3 lists)
Life photographer W. Eugene Smith accompanied the U.S. Marines as they island-hopped through the Pacific fighting the Japanese in 1944. During the fierce Battle of Saipan, during June and July 1944, Smith spied battle-weary PFC T.E. Underwood, still under fire, taking a swig of water from his canteen. Marines Under Fire, Saipan became an iconic image of the war in the Pacific. (c) Estate of W. Eugene Smith.
The Critic (Opening Night at the Opera) (1943) – Weegee (on 4 lists)
Weegee (born Arthur Fellig) was a documenter of the seedier side of life in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s and a champion of the poor. In his most famous image, two well-dressed matrons, Mrs. George Washington Kavanaugh and Lady Decies, arrive for opening night of the Metropolitan Opera in November 1943, only to be greeted by a disheveled, possibly drunk woman who appears to be muttering something obscene. The attempts of the grand dames to maintain composure distort their features so that, under the harsh, all-seeing flash of Weegee’s camera, they barely seem human. Years later, Weegee’s assistant confessed that her boss had instructed her to go to a Bowery bar, find a drunk woman (or, in another version, find a woman and get her drunk) and bring her to the opera. Life magazine first published the image in December 1943 with the title The Fashionable People, after having cropped out a line of ‘ordinary’ people waiting to get into the Opera House on the left side of the print. In 1945, Weegee published the uncropped version (see below) and renamed it The Critic for his book The Naked City. (c) Estate of Arthur Fellig.
Into the Jaws of Death (June 6, 1944) – Robert F. Sargent (on 3 lists)
American soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry, Company E leave their Coast Guard landing craft and march onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on the morning of June 6, 1944 (D-Day). Two-thirds of Company E was killed or injured during the initial landing as they faced heavy German machine gunfire. The photo was taken by Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent and the original title was Into the Jaws of Death – U.S. Troops wading through water and Nazi gunfire.
Omaha Beach, Normandy, France (June 6, 1944) – Robert Capa (on 6 lists)
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Life magazine photographer Robert Capa arrived at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France along with the invading American troops. As German machine gun fire hit the water around him, Capa exposed three rolls of film as he photographed the men fighting and dying, then escaped to London on a returning ship. There, an overeager lab technician destroyed most of the precious film. Capa was able to salvage 11 negatives, all of which were significantly blurred. The best of the surviving photos shows an American GI lying on his belly in the surf, grim determination on his face, with the wreckage of war strewn about him. The accidental blurring of the image conveys a sense of agitated movement and the chaotic intensity of the D-Day landings, and it became an iconic portrait of the Normandy invasion. Gelatin silver print. © Cornell Capa. For reproduction, go to http://www.magnumphotos.com.
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta (1945) – Unknown Photographer (on 3 lists)
From February 4 to 11, 1945, the leaders of the U.S., UK and USSR met near the Crimean resort town of Yalta to decide the fate of postwar Europe. Each leader had an agenda: (1) Winston Churchill (UK) sought free elections and democracy for Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe; (2) Franklin Roosevelt (US) wanted the Soviets to assist in defeating Japan; and (3) Joseph Stalin (USSR) wanted a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. By the time of the Potsdam conference in July, FDR was dead, Churchill had been replaced by Clement Atlee and only Stalin would have achieved his Yalta goal. In the photo above, taken by an anonymous official photographer, Roosevelt listens while Churchill speaks. Also pictured are Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (far right); Field Marshal Alan Brooke; Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham; Marshal of the RAF Sir Charles Portal, (standing behind Churchill); Army Chief of Staff George Marshall; and Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, USN, (standing behind Roosevelt).
Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima (Feb. 23, 1945) – Joe Rosenthal (on 8 lists)
The United States invaded the Japanese Pacific island of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945. By February 23, US Armed Forces had captured Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the island, and raised a small American flag there. Soon afterward, the troops were instructed to replace the small flag with a larger one. This time, Associated Press photograph Joe Rosenthal captured the flag raising using a Speed Graphic camera set to a shutter speed of 1/400 sec. Rosenthal had set his camera down to pile some rocks to stand on when he saw the raising begin out of the corner of his eye and quickly took the photo without looking in the viewfinder. The photo shows five Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the flag. Three of the Marines died in fighting over the next few days. The other three flagraisers returned to the US as celebrities to participate in fundraising for the war effort, an experience related in the book and movie Flags of Our Fathers. The image won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize and formed the basis for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Washington, D.C., which was sculpted by Felix de Weldon in 1954 (see below). (c) Joe Rosenthal/Associated Press.
Soviet soldiers raise flag over the Reichstag, Berlin (May 2, 1945) – Yevgeny Khaldei (on 9 lists)
As the Second World War in Europe neared its end and Soviet troops entered Berlin, Josef Stalin instructed Tass photographer Yevgeni Khaldei to create an image to rival the American photo of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Legend has it that Khaldei flew back to Moscow but could not find any flags, so he ‘borrowed’ three red tablecloths from a government building and had an uncle sew on the hammer and sickle. Back in war-torn Berlin, Khaldei staged flag raisings at the Templehof Airport and the Brandenburg Gate, but neither produced a powerful image. He then turned to the Reichstag building, a symbol for many of Nazi power (even though Hitler saw it as a symbol of the weak republic he replaced and had shut it down in 1933). Soviet soldiers had raised a flag on the Reichstag on April 30, 1945, but it was too late in the day for pictures. In fighting the next day, German troops removed the flag. On May 2, the Soviets gained full control of the building and Khaldei climbed to the top with a flag and three soldiers, where he captured a timeless image of the Nazi defeat. Before the photo was published in a Soviet magazine, Khaldei was ordered to alter the photograph in two ways: he erased the multiple watches on a soldier’s arms (evidence of looting) and added more dramatic smoke in the background.
Liberated from Concentration Camp Train (April 13, 1945) – Clarence Benjamin (on 2 lists)
As the Soviets and Americans converged on Berlin from different directions, the Nazis scrambled to relocate their many Jewish prisoners to concentration camps in more secure areas. One of those trains, with 2,500 people crammed aboard, had stopped near Magdeburg when Major Clarence Benjamin in a jeep accompanied by two American tanks came upon them. Benjamin took this and other photos of the occupants of the train as they realize they have been liberated. American schoolteacher Matthew Rozell discovered the photograph in the collection of a World War II veteran and brought it to the attention of the public through his World War II Living History Project.
Prisoners at Buchenwald (1945) – Margaret Bourke-White (on 5 lists)
American photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White joined General Patton’s Third Army in April 1945 when it liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany. Many of Bourke-White’s photos were published in a Life magazine article, but the photo of haunted survivors in striped pants standing against a barbed-wire fence staring at their rescuers was not seen until 1960, when Life presented it as part of a retrospective issue. (c) Estate of Margaret Bourke-White.
Civilians Walk by a Pile of Corpses, Buchenwald, Germany (1945) – Margaret Bourke-White (on 2 lists)
After General Patton’s army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany, he forced the local German civilians to confront the carnage that was going on in their midst. Margaret Bourke-White captured a line of German civilians walking past a stack of dead bodies, but none of them is able to look. (c) Estate of Margaret Bourke-White.
Slave Laborers at Buchenwald Concentration Camp (April 16, 1945) – H. Miller (on 2 lists)
A U.S. Army Private known to history only as “H. Miller” took this photograph of emaciated Jewish prisoners with their food bowls when the Third Army liberated Buchenwald. Miller’s original caption re: “These are slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp near Jena; many had died from malnutrition when U.S. troops of the 80th Division entered the camp.” Public domain.
A Gestapo Informer is Identified at Dessau Camp, Germany (1945) – Henri Cartier-Bresson (on 2 lists)
When World War II ended in Europe, the US Office of War Information recruited French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson to make a film about the return of prisoners of war and refugees to France. Cartier-Bresson, himself a former German prisoner, had a cameraman with him, as well as his trusty Leica still camera in an American refugee camp in Dessau, Germany at the “decisive moment” when a Belgian woman (at left) was identified by another woman as a Nazi collaborator. The two women, one triumphant in her victorious sense of revenge, the other cowering in shame, stand before Dutchman Wilhelm Heinrich van der Velden, camp commandant and another former German prisoner. © Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photo.
For reproductions, go to www.magnumphotos.com.
Atomic Bomb over Hiroshima (Aug. 6, 1945) – George R. Caron (on 6 lists)
By August 6, 1945, the Manhattan Project had produced two atomic bombs: Fat Man, a plutonium bomb with an implosion-type detonation mechanism, and Little Boy, a uranium-235 bomb with a gun-type fission mechanism. Both bombs were transported to Tinian Island in the Pacific Ocean and Little Boy was loaded onto a bomber named Enola Gay, which then flew to its primary target, the Japanese city of Hiroshima. At about 8:15 a.m. Japanese time, the crew dropped the bomb from 31,000 feet. It fell for 44 seconds and detonated at 1900 feet, killing 70,000 people immediately and destroying 69% of the city’s buildings. Another 70,000 people died of burns or radiation poisoning in the next five years. The photo of the mushroom cloud was captured by tail gunner Staff Sgt. George Caron, who was situated in the rear of the Enola Gay. Copies of the photo were dropped over Japan in the next days as a warning and invitation to surrender, which would not come until after Fat Boy fell on Nagasaki.
Atomic Bomb over Nagasaki (Aug. 9, 1945) – Charles Levy (on 5 lists)
On August 9, 1945, a bomber named Bocks Car dropped Fat Man Fat Man, a plutonium bomb with an implosion-type detonation mechanism, over its secondary target – Nagasaki, Japan – causing significant destruction and deaths, although significantly fewer than in Hiroshima three days earlier. The lower death toll was the result of the bomber overflying the center of the city and dropping the bomb instead on a portion of Nagasaki that was separated from the major downtown area by a row of low-lying hills. These hills shielded the downtown area from the blast and protected much of the city from destruction. Japan surrendered six days after the dropping of the second nuclear weapon. Using a 5 X 4 camera, Lt. Charles Levy took 16 photographs of the Nagasaki mushroom cloud from the transparent nose of one of the other B-29 bombers that joined Bocks Car on the run.
V-J Day, Times Square (1945) – Alfred Eisenstaedt (on 11 lists)
Born to a Jewish family in Germany, Alfred Eisenstaedt began his photography career as a Berlin freelancer in 1928, going full-time a year later. Before he emigrated to the US in 1935, Eisenstaedt had photographed Hitler, Goebbels and Mussolini, among others. From his new home in New York City, he worked for Life magazine from 1936 to 1972, and saw 90 of his photographs featured on the cover of that highly-regarded publication. Eisenstaedt’s most famous Life photo was V-J Day in Times Square, also known as The Kiss, which shows an American sailor kissing a woman in a nurse’s white dress on August 14, 1945, the day Japan surrendered and World War II ended. Eisenstaedt used a Leica IIIa camera to capture the dark-and-light contrasting couple (if the sailor had worn white, Eisenstaedt said later, he wouldn’t have snapped the shutter). He was unable to obtain the names of the kisser and kissee; over the years, several people claimed to be the subjects. While most viewing the photo find that it expresses the joy and exuberance of the moment the war years ended, others have expressed concern that the sailor may be committing a socially-sanctioned sexual assault on the nurse, a view that may find unintentional support in the original Life photo caption: “In the middle of New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers.” (c) Alfred Eisenstadt/Life Magazine.
For Best Photography: Chronological, Part II – 1946-2011, go here.