Tag Archives: Iconic Photos

Vava. 1962. Keystone/Getty Images.

World Cup

Diego Maradona. 1982. Steve Powell/Getty Images.
Diego Maradona. 1982. Steve Powell/Getty Images.
Vava. 1962. Keystone/Getty Images.
Vava. 1962. Keystone/Getty Images.

In celebration of the World Cup, Sports Ilustrated posted a gallery of the 100 best photos in World Cup history. I couldn’t help but click and look at all of them since I’m always interested in looking at sports photography from an art point of view.* I was a bit disappointed with what I found. The gallery is a list of great moments and great players, but most of the photographs are more about documenting the moment rather than anything else.

*I’ve been keeping notes in the comments on that post of examples of sports photography which I also consider art photography.

For me, there were only two which I really liked as photos themselves. Both the Vava photo and the Maradona photos are deserved classics. The Maradona photo gets copied/referenced a lot now in soccer photography anytime a player appears to be taking on a whole group of defenders. The original is a great photo in both its composition and how it allows us to empathize with both Maradona and the outmatched defenders.

The Vava photo is just strikingly lit with not only a great gesture but the rim light and almost-silhouette and shadow anchoring the height of the celebratory jump. Both photos also show how great photos can be when they show the back of the subject.

Zinedine Zidane. 2006. John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images.
Zinedine Zidane. 2006. John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images.
Diego Maradona. 1986. Bongarts/Getty Images.
Diego Maradona. 1986. Bongarts/Getty Images.

The Maradona photo is also one of the few action photos which isn’t of a specific moment in the game. Most of the photos are of greta moments—including some truly iconic photos which are recognizable to non-soccer fans. The Hand of God is infamous and the Zidane headbutt occurred in the age of memes. These photos capture the moments at the exact right times and while I can’t call them art, they do count as great photos.

Alcides Ghiggia. 1950. AP.
Alcides Ghiggia. 1950. AP.

The Maracanaço photo isn’t the iconic image* but it’s a great moment and a great example of a photo which shows two players responding in the exact opposite ways.

*That would be the photo of Moacir Barbosa Nascimento from behind as he fails to save the goal. Which is totally fitting in how he took the blame for the event.

Bobby Moore. 1966. Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images.
Bobby Moore. 1966. Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images.
Uli Steilike. 1982. Picture-alliance/dpa/AP.
Uli Steilike. 1982. Picture-alliance/dpa/AP.
Roberto Baggio. 1994. Luca Bruno/AP.
Roberto Baggio. 1994. Luca Bruno/AP.
Iker Casillas. 2010. Simon Bruty/SI.
Iker Casillas. 2010. Simon Bruty/SI.

A lot of the other photos are reaction photos of either happy winners or distraught losers. Nothing new here and a lot of them are obvious photo opportunities. Many of these require us to know the context of the game to really understand anything more than just the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s nice to see people celebrating and happy but those are also the obvious photos.

I was especially disappointed that the photo of Daniel Passarella wasn’t included here as I think I would include it with the Maradona and Vava photos at the top of this post. His expression is more than just happiness and speaks to how sports matters so much to so many of us.

What interests me most though in looking through these is that it forces me to think about how so many of the iconic photojournalism images are also purely documentary yet we have a tendency to treat them as something higher brow as well.

A lot of this I think is due to the fact that sports is somewhat predictable. You know where the key action will occur and you even know what kind of action to expect.* This isn’t even “ƒ/8 and be there” since the photographers are also all stuck in photographer zones. Unlike news photographs where the photojournalist has to get to the right place at the right time, sports photography just feels (incorrectly I should add) like something you need good gear and access in order to do.

*Although the Zidane photo occurred off the ball and is something which I wouldn’t expect to be photographed even though the photographer was probably following Zidane instead of the ball.

The other thing is that even in an event which occurs once every four years, a lot of these photos are of the same thing. After a while, goal celebrations and even goals look very similar and it’s tough to say that any of them are that much better than the others let alone being the kind of thing that stands out to a non-soccer audience.

Whereas with photojournalism, I think a lot of what we value in the photo is both the uniqueness of the image and the ability of the photographer to both get there and be able to take it. Everything we’re looking at here is technically good, it’s the everything else which makes the difference.


Bence Hadju

Erasing and remixing

Note: This post was originally posted on NJWV.

I’ve been seeing a lot of photography projects which involve erasing the subjects of other photos. Michael Somoroff’s take on August Sander is the latest entry to generate discussion here. As with the colorization thing, an awful lot of the reactions are the same sort of outrage about “respecting the original photographer” or “desecrating works of art.” Both of which tend to amuse me, especially when people get especially worked up about it.

I’m not a fan of Somoroff’s project—only the photo of the cook really works for me—but I’m not against this sort of erasure in general. Tweaking art and changing its context is something I love and wish more museums would show—for example, Princeton’s Itinerant Languages of Photography and Re-Framing History at Galerie Lelong. These shows treated photos and images as functional items which live and change as society changes rather than confining them as specimens to be collected and kept in mint condition.

Do most people notice the river, castle, and bridge on the background? Or that there’s an empty room behind Mary? Probably not. But those are all there on purpose. The details have been chose for a reason and it’s a lot of fun to think about. When the background include city details, you can also start to see depictions and documentation of architecture and technology which most people just miss.

Looking at Backgrounds

The first thing I thought of when seeing the Sander discussion was Bence Hajdu’s Abandoned Old Master Paintings. I really like these and I mentioned them in a few discussions. A number of people agreed with me and found them a lot more interesting too. Where erasing the Sander subjects was troublesome, erasing the old master subjects not only didn’t bother them at all. I’d expect the anti-desecration people to be similarly upset but now I’m wondering if that argument is just an easy choice for a generic “I don’t like this” reaction.

For my part, I don’t like Somoroff’s project because I don’t think Sander’s work in particular lends itself to the erasure game. It’s not a portraiture thing but rather the few-props, simple backgrounds, and somewhat shallow depth of field means that there’s not much to look at besides the subject. Sander’s done his job well and left only the relevant details in the frame. The photo of the cook works for me because there’s enough extra detail for it to work here. In general though, the details are a bit too minimal.

I’d be curious to see the same approach taken to portraiture where the entire frame is full of background detail. Unfortunately, most iconic photo portraits don’t have the kind of detail I’m picturing. There are plenty of old master portraits are like this—for example, the Arnolfini Portrait is exactly what I’m thinking of. It’s very clearly about the people in the room but there is also lots of other detail to look at and take in if you bother to look. It’s also not the way you’d take a formal photo now with random shoes in the foreground and everything in deep focus.

The language of photo portraiture, even environmental portraiture, is different and it took me a while to think of iconic photo portraits which have the right mix of subject with background information. Arnold Newman is too formal with his backgrounds being too-closely tied to the subjects. Rania Matar (not iconic but internet famous) emphasizes the backgrounds too much. I finally remembered Larry Sultan. Envisioning either Pictures From Home or The Valley (NSFW) with the subjects erased feels more interesting to me and suggests a way this kind of erasure could work with photo portraiture.

The other interesting tactic on the erasure front involves modifying iconic photojournalism and news media images. Two examples here are Josh Azzarella’s and Pavel Maria Smejkal’s work, which, while not exactly the same, happens to overlap a lot. When I look through their projects, I’m struck by how recognizable some images are once I’ve put on the “do I recognize this landscape” hat. It amazes me that Mount Suribachi or wherever Capa got that soldier killed are so recognizable despite being such a small portion of the image.

These iconic photos do suggest that we’ve absorbed enough of the other details, even without there being anything specific, just through repeated exposure and references to the original images. Whether it’s the Olympic Village in Munich, a road near Trang Bang, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, or Kent State, they’re the very definition or photos which we know culturally and are continuously reminded of as they get remixed and referenced over the years.

This is another way that the old master paintings work with the erasures. They’re part of our visual canon so we just recognize them better. It may just be that, for me, August Sander isn’t part of the same shared visual culture. Or perhaps only a few of his photos, such as the cook, are.

Which brings us to Mishka Henner. His approach to Robert Frank takes one of the most-famous photo projects and remixes it through erasure. But it’s about more than just erasing the subjects to reveal the backgrounds. Henner is getting into the remix thing and reveals new compositions within Frank’s originals. Henner’s work feels a bit gimmicky to me but that’s more of a taste-based reaction. I’m good with the remix concept. I’m also good with riffing on a classic of the medium. I’m just not liking these specific results. It’s okay, liking isn’t the only thing.

Thinking about erasure as only part of the remix culture though opens up a lot of other projects which are worth considering for comparison—in particular, all the rephotography projects.

That Gardner’s* Confederate “Sharpshooter” photo has been subjected to both the erasure treatment as well as rephotography makes this connection easy. We recognize the image without the subject. And we recognize the place over 150 years later. Of all the photos in Annie Leibovitz’s Pilgrimage, her photo of Devil’s Den** is probably her best example of explicitly revisiting both national myth and photographic myth. The location still resonates and seeing what it’s like now changes my understanding of the original. It’s no longer just something from my history books. It still exists and I can see the history in it.

*Or O’Sullivan, according to the Library of Congress.

**Which I’m unable to find a good version of anywhere.

Rephotography is something else that could seem like a gimmick but, in the right hands, ends up being something much more powerful. This works especially well when the subjects being rephotographed have such a strong sense of place already. Christopher Rauschenberg’s Paris Changing where he rephotographs Atget is a great example here. It takes the past into the present, showing how much has changed, and how much hasn’t.

The pairs are really interesting to look at because they also give you an additional appreciation for what Atget was doing. Atget isn’t a photographer who most new photographers get into. It usually takes a while to start to get him but once you do you’re seeing everything much much differently—at almost a different time scale. It’s no surprise that Rauschenberg found himself shooting Atget-like photos at the same time he was rephotographing Atget.

This same impulse is what makes looking up Stephen Shore’s locations in Google Street View to be so interesting. In this case it’s not the exact replication but being able to explore the area and see what made the frame’s Shore chose to be so uncommon. Really seeing why Shore chose certain views and thinking exactly about what makes them work can only happen if you play around in the area.

If Google Street View isn’t available, the rephotographing which includes the original as part of a wider view of the scene does a similar job at showing context. Unlike the tightly-composed Atget or Shore photos, this approach often seems to be used to take vernacular photos and place them in a larger setting as a way of telling stories about the past and giving them something to anchor to in the present. Our stories and memories need these anchors so we can remember them and pass them on.

Rephotographing can also be used to remix content in order to reveal previously-unseen connections. Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe in particular are the experts in this area. Rather than just going wide, their work incorporates original photos into new panoramic images which, in addition to just showing the wider view of the area, either show how one photographer worked a scene or how two photographers happened to take photos from about the same spot.

I particularly like the panorama joining Edward Weston to Carleton Watkins since the two photographs by themselves don’t appear to be related at all. It’s always interesting when two masters photograph from the same place. It’s especially interesting when it’s not apparent that this is the case. Making that connection is something you almost have to be onsite for.

Similarly, Klett writes in the Timothy H. O’Sullivan book about discovering how some of O’Sullivan’s photos were taken from the same mountain top, only looking in opposite directions, and how this discovery could only be noticed from the mountain top and wasn’t apparent in the images themselves. He also writes about discovering how O’Sullivan would cant his camera for certain scenes and how the act of being in the field helps him learn about what O’Sullivan was doing.

Klett and Wolfe proceed to remix the old photos to show the combined results of a photo session as an unintentional panorama. The resulting new compositions are fascinating to look at since they both help me see how O’Sullivan or Ansel Adams or whoever worked and suggest David Hockney “Joiners”* in that they pick out how the eye wanders and gets interested in specific details while surveying a scene.

*Only these joiners are using 8×10 negatives.

In all these cases, Klett and Wolfe take the old photos and show us something new through their remixing. None of it is a gimmick, we see and notice new things as the context changes around the images. At its best, this is what remixing does, it adds, transforms, and makes us think about everything in a new light. This isn’t desecration of art, it’s allowing it to live.