This is the U.S. Army mail depot at Regents Park, London, braced for and under siege by Christmastime mail in 1917. It strikes me that there are not a million items in this photo--at this time in the war there were something like 35 million people in the services for all countries dedicated to the war effort, which is approximately half the number that served in total. If these letters in this picture were bodies, I reckon that there would be five more rooms like this necessary to tell the visual picture of the war dead and wounded. This aside, I initially focused on the guy in the rear with the white shirt and tie, standing there pretty much overwhelmed by the task of moving all of that stuff...and perhaps with the idea that much of the mound would wind up being undeliverable because the recipient was killed. I wonder if that mail was returned, or not?
On the other end of the spectrum is this bizarrely-titled photo of a
British soldier "guiding" a traffic signal device...the description
says that this is the busiest intersection in all of British-occupied
France. Maybe so, but not at this particular time. Perhaps the
photographer should've waited a bit to get a different sort of picture
to make his point, rather than settle for this lonely (if not
beautifully arranged) situation.
Here's the image without the accompanying text, which was supplied for the end-user of the photo by the news service photography supplier.
Earlier today I made a post on some of the images in my collection of WWI News Service Photographs. (These were photos that were sold by an image agency to newspapers and journals which looked for stock photos of, well, whatever, and after paying a use fee would include the photo in the story they were reporting.) This photo is one of three in a series that show German POWs being marched around a town in France and stopped here and there for a photo. The picture was taken deep into 1918, within a month or two of the end of the war,.when the Germans were already defeated. From the look of things, these soldiers were done: tired, mostly beaten, dirty. They at least had most of their buttons on their coats (which is actually a very big deal, keeping your overcoat closed in cold weather to keep warm and alive), their boots looked warn but intact, and they looked not terrible undernourished (though I doubt anyone in the group weighed more than 150 pounds).
The group is bookended by two remarkable figures: the soldier on the left looks not 16 or so, but with a not-new ground in toughness. He's all smooth face and baby fat, though he has at least survived the grueling fighting. The soldier on the right could be the prototype for any number of propaganda posters that popped up in Berlin in the early 1930's advocating the sold-out but not defeated German soldier of the Great War whose fate must be avenged.
Almost everyone was cupping a ciggy.
Lastly, the guy third from the left seems to be a Canadian guard, not that this group was going to try to escape.
my collection of WWI News Photo Service Agency photographs I would say
that half or so of them show scenes like this--semi-informal group
portraits of military support groups. 500 portraits like this seem to
be a lot, and I'm not sure why these images are so well represented.
Except of course that there weren't that many images (overall) of
These bakers, working at a front-line
support station, from my read were probably taking a break, and the
photographer took the opportunity to draw them together for the
portrait. I don't know why they're separated so, but they do look as
though they have a real camaraderie--it is just a wonderful picture,
full of friendship and loyalty, and I'm sure it has never been
I came across another fantastic part of the Library of Congress site: The Life of the City, Early Films of NewYork, 1896-1906. I've quoted liberally from the descriptions of the films, and also provided a chronological listig of many of the films that are found at the site. They are spectacular things, like pieces of eidetic memories, offering wide swaths of minuate detail in corners of pockets of life from a hundred years ago.
NOTE: To view the films just follow the link and click on the MPEG format for best viewing.
Yes, this is what people did when they worked, not so long ago, when thousands and thousands of people worked at making The City go--in the streets picking pulling pushing prying pumping preening polishing purging. What grabs me are the three workers working beneath the horse-drawn carriages, working on the barges, spreading around the waste. The topsiders dump their cargo, letting it fall twenty feet or so, landing very closely to the men below. It seems like an unending process
From the LC site:
"The film shows a wharf where a barge is being loaded with trash from
two-wheeled, horse-drawn wagons. The trash is dumped off the edge of the pier
onto the barge, where men with shovels are spreading the piles of debris. The
camera pans left to the next barge, where four-wheeled carts are shown dumping
excavation rubble. Probably filmed on the East River,
this is one of several New York City Sanitation Department dumping wharves in
operation at the time."
I love what the kids do when they see this camera--they pretty much uniformly stand still, their fingertips pressed together in wonder and worry, and stare at the strange goings-on fifteen feet above the crowd. At one point three officials stroll through the crowds, coming in at top right; they are very sharp eyed, and the one guy at the end of these three looks like every other guy who has played a corrupt NYC official in every other movie made before WWII. "The view, photographed from an elevated camera position, looks down on
a very crowded New York City street market. Rows of pushcarts and
street vendors' vehicles can be seen. The precise location is difficult
to ascertain, but it is certainly on the Lower East Side, probably on
or near Hester Street, which at the turn of the century was the center
of commerce for New York's Jewish ghetto. Located south of Houston
Street and east of the Bowery, the ghetto population was predominantly
Russian, but included immigrants from Austria, Germany, Rumania and
Turkey. According to a description in a 1901 newspaper, an estimated
1,500 pushcart peddlers were licensed to sell wares (primarily fish) in
the vicinity of Hester Street. At one point the film seems to follow
three official looking men (one in a uniform) as they walk among the
crowd. They may be New York City health inspectors, who apparently
monitored the fish vendors closely."
From the LOC site: "Filmed from a moving boat, the film depicts the
Hudson River (i.e., North River) shoreline and the piers of lower
Manhattan beginning around Fulton Street and extending to Castle Garden
and Battery Park. It begins at one of the American Line piers (Pier 14
or 15, opposite Fulton Street) where an American Line steamer, either
the "New York" or "Paris," is seen docked [Frame: 0120]. The camera
passes one of the Manhattan-to-New Jersey commuter ferries to Jersey
City or Communipaw . Proceeding south, the distinct double towers
of the Park Row, or Syndicate Building, erected in 1897-98, can be seen
in the background . A coastal freighter is next , then
Trinity Church appears, to the left of which can be seen the Surety
Building, as a tug with a "C" on the stack passes in foreground .
Several small steamboats come into view , and the B.T. Babbitt
Soap factory at Pier 6 is seen , followed by the Pennsylvania
Railroad piers (#5 & #4), with a group of docked railroad car
floats , and the Lehigh Valley Railroad piers (#3 & #2), also
with car floats . Next are the Bowling Green Building
(rectangular, with facade to camera) , the Whitehall Building
(vertical, thin side to camera) , followed by Pennsylvania
Railroad Pier #1 . Pier A (with a clock tower) is seen with the
New York Harbor Police steam boat "Patrol" at its end . The
Bowling Green Offices and the Produce Exchange at Bowling Green are
visible in the background. The breakwater (sheltered landing) and the
New York City Fireboat House appears  and the distinctive round
structure, Castle Garden, once a fort and immigrant station, but at the
time of filming the City Aquarium, comes into view . The camera
then pans east along the Battery Park promenade: the Barge Office (with
tower) is visible in the distance , and further out the Brooklyn
shoreline with the grain elevators at Atlantic Avenue can be seen
. This view is continued, with only a minor break in continuity,
in the film Panorama of Sky Scrapers and Brooklyn Bridge From the East
River. Together they comprise a sweep around the southern tip of
Manhattan, from Fulton Street on the Hudson to the Brooklyn Bridge."
Another beautiful water-side continuous panorama, from just above the Brooklyn Bridge to the battery.
From the LOC site: "This film depicts the East River shoreline and the piers of lower
Manhattan starting at about Pier 5 (the New York Central Pier) opposite
Broad Street, and extending to the Mallory Line steamship piers just
south of Fulton Street and the Brooklyn Bridge. The film begins with
shots of canal boats or barges (from the Erie Canal via the Hudson
River) docked at and around Coenties Slip [Frame: 0106]. As the film
progresses, the New York Produce Exchange located at Bowling Green,
Manhattan, with its distinct tower, comes into view in the background
. Between here and the Wall Street ferry, there follows in order
of appearance: steam tugs [0308 and 0422], a wooden hull barkentine
 with box barges alongside, a docked iron hull sailing ship,
probably British , an ocean steamer with yards on the foremast
, a derrick lighter laden with barrels docked at the end of a
pier , and a fruit steamer . In the Wall Street Ferry slip
(between Piers 15 and 16) there is a Wall St., Manhattan-to-Montague
St., Brooklyn, double-ended steam commuter boat . The ferry is
visible immediately before a shot of the large advertising billboards
on Pier 16. The film next shows the Ward Line piers (J.E. Ward &
Co., New York and Cuba Steamship Co.) , a Pennsylvania Railroad
tug , a derrick lighter , and the Mallory Line piers
. A Mallory Line steamer can be seen on the south side of one of
the Mallory Piers . The camera begins panning out into the East
River after passing pier 20, catching the fog bell at the end of pier
21 . A car float is visible passing under the Brooklyn Bridge
. The pan follows the line of the Brooklyn Bridge eastward to
Brooklyn Heights, where the Hotel Margaret (tall building in
background) is visible just before the end of the film . This
film continues the view begun in the film Sky Scrapers of New York City
From the North River. Together they comprise a sweep around the
southern tip of Manhattan, from Fulton Street on the Hudson to the
Here comes everyone, from everywhere, emerging from a ferry, delivering immigrants from Manhattan to Ellis Island, where the process of the beginning of the rest of the lives of all these people began. Between 1892 and 1954 some 12.5 million people were processed into the U.S. through Ellis, and in the early days, say 1892-1920, most of them looked just like these folks--the grandparents and great-grandparents of a quarter of the country.
From the LOC site: "The film opens with a view of the steam ferryboat "William Myers,"
laden with passengers, approaching a dock at the Ellis Island
Immigration Station. The vessel is docked, the gangway is placed, and
the immigrant passengers are seen coming up the gangway and onto the
dock, where they cross in front of the camera."
The Klondike Gold Rush, or the great Alaskan Gold Rush, took place at the very tail end of the 19th century (starting 1896/7) along the Klondike River near Dawson, Alaska. It was a wild, woolly (literally) time, with communities of thousands springing up in just a few days--Klondike itself grew almost immediately to 40,000, stretching all human services, food being the scarcest commodity.
One service to humans that was ably met was sexual, filled by legions of prostitutes, some of whom arrived in the Klondike of their own free will, and others, not. This photo, made near Dawson, shows "Paradise Alley" (behind front street) an almost-overnight series of rough-hewn log bungalows sweatily constructed for lonely needs. There were evidently 70 of these little huts, all in a row, each with the woman's name above the door, presumably rendered in chalk. (It seems that the photos I've seen of women in the Klondike show many smiles, but no toothy ones.)
This is a detail from a photo seen in Pierre Berton's The Klondike Quest (a big, beautiful book of high rank for a popular history, interestingly published with a more shouty title in America as Klondike Fever) showing the working women of Dawson working at other trades. I particularly like the picture of the high-collared white-dressed angel-woman witht he axe on her shoulder...and the woman behind her, under the make-shift cloth awning, her hat tiled forward and her hand jauntily on her relaxed hip.
Prostitution wasn't legal, nor was gambling or the encyclopedia of con games that evolved here--but all certainly flourished, with many fortunes made outside the gold fields. Mr. Pantanges started his movie house empire here, and Donald Duck's Uncle Scrooge started his pile of money bags, as did many other people. But the 12.5 million ounces of gold wasn't exxactly distributed with equality to the dozens of thousnds, and probably hundreds of thousnads of people who came to the Klondike looking for their fortunes. I'm certain that in this vast game of winners and losers, there was moreof the later and less of the former.
This image of miners waiting to register their claims gives us a pretty decent idea of the clientelle available to these women. Oy. Seems to me an impossible way to live--for the women, that is.
The following two images were found in the Illustrated London News for 30 April 1906, and shows the "shanty town" built near the site of the major destruction in San Francisco following the earthquake of 18 April 1906. Actually the tragedy is more appropriately called the "San Francisco Fire" of 1906, as the major destruction was caused by the raging fires set off by the earthquake. The end result was 485 or so blocks of the city were destroyed leaving a quarter-million people homeless. That this orderly development was referred to as a "shanty town" by a sniffy Brit reporter is appalling--unless of course the offending word meant something different 103 years ago. It looks orderly and well-developed to me. I also happened to notice two small girls in the detail--just about the only people in the picture. They could still be alive....
The bottom two pictures were taken during the conflagration: the first was the fire still raged, and the second was made days after the fire from a tethered balloon observation point.
I made myself 6-foot-long prints of these images; nearly every 2x2 inch area of the enlargement is a picture in itself. These images are clickable and will expand if you click in the expanded version.
"Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was
as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came the
sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces. We
struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet. Then it seemed
as though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears.
Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one's
hand. Ahead of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot
- a laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works with a
dinner pail on his arm." (P. Barrett).
"When the fire caught the Windsor Hotel at Fifth and Market
Streets there were three men on the roof, and it was impossible to get
them down. Rather than see the crazed men fall in with the roof and be
roasted alive the military officer directed his men to shoot them,
which they did in the presence of 5,000 people." (Max Fast).
"The most terrible thing I saw was the futile struggle of a
policeman and others to rescue a man who was pinned down in burning
wreckage. The helpless man watched it in silence till the fire began
burning his feet. Then he screamed and begged to be killed. The
policeman took his name and address and shot him through the head."
There are many histories of photography in wartime:early images show cavalry standing at the
ready, troops marching, piles of munitions, heaps of food; later on (as late as
WWI) come actual scenes during the course of battle.War photography changes forever beginning in
the Spanish Civil War, and then of course WWII. Korea, Vietnam,
and then into the more recent past elevates the camera to being a third-person
and fifth column.
Looking through the WWI years in the Illustrated
London News I experienced a creeping realization of a different sort of
perspective in war photography:turning
the camera to look behind the battle.
Turning the camera exactly around, away from the action, hasn’t a good
history in itself.There are some great
examples:when the Golden Spike was
driven at Promontory Point in 1869 someone had the foresight to look the other
way and make a photo—it shows a vast plain, a long double ribbon of rail, a
long series of telephone poles receding into the horizon, and one man. It is
also a scene that looks pretty much the same today, if you took away the small
dedication center that is there.That
was the reality of the day, not all of those RR workers gathered around the two
hot locomotives, the cleanest of them toasting each other and the camera. (If
you look closely you can find some Chinese laborers in among the crowd and also
occasional bits of Confederate uniforms.)Elsewhere in this blog I told the story of Ed Clark, the LIFE
magazine photographer who wheeled his camera away from where the hundreds of
other cameras were recording the removal of Franklin Roosevelt’s casket from Hot Springs and made
perhaps the greatest photograph of the FDR years.
But it is a different sort of turn-around that struck me for WWI.These are the photographs of the liminal
spaces after the fight, the clean up, the gathering of spent ammo, the cleaning
of the clothing, the care of the soldiers, the rehabilitation. And I’m not talking
about the Matthew Brady after-battle battlefield photograph style.What I’m referring to is all of the “little”
things that happen when the battles aren’t being fought and the troops weren’t
on the move. There some images for thing that appeared in Harper’s Weekly and
Frank Leslie and so on during the U.S. Civil War, but so far as I can tell the
vast majority of them are drawings.Having looked through popular illustrated magazines that covered the
Franco-Prussian War, the Spanish American War and all of the conflicts
in-between, I just don’t have much of a sense at all that this life was
recorded very well photographically.
I can understand this—there’s not that much glory in sandbagging Red Cross
stations, or hauling away dead horses by the thousands, or cooking thousands of
loaves of bread in primitive conditions; they certainly aren’t a good case for
a hearts-and-minds campaign.The camera
has enough power to go ‘round, giving and taking, usually at the same
But to my brain these photographs really come into being in the second half
of WWI., and they tell an other, integral, more human story of that same war.The first image (above) shows two soldiers
cleaning up cartridge cases after a fight—when you look closely at the photo
you see that the place is littered with those cases.I suspect that there were hundreds of
millions of these cases ejected from rifles.Billions, probably.I wonder how
long it would take a thousand soldiers to shovel a billion shells into canvas
bags?The picture reveals a very deep
image of the ways of war at the most basic level.
The next photo is a “simple” image of clothing out for a dry—except of
course that the clothing lines go on and on, railroad tracks into the sun,
tended by hundreds of women, getting the shirts ready for the “men in the trenches”,many of whom won’t need those shirts by the
end of the month.
Many of these men and women wound up being consumed--this photo at right shows one of the ways how that happened. It is an extraordinary crater some 75 yards in circumference created by a massive shell. It is a massive image--brutal, lonely, and speaking the quiet of the end. And it was a different sort of image that people were used to seeing in war reporting.
These three photos appeared on only three successive pages of the 15 October 1917 issue of the Illustrated London News.
The history of illustration has some distinct phases: from woodcut to wood engraving to engravings on metal to lithography to printing in colors to chromolithography...and then on to a process that would begin to do away with all of those processes, the half-tone. This was a process whose foundation was laid in the 1850's by William Fox Talbot and brought to life in 1873 by Stephen Henry Horgan, though it really wasn't commercially viable until Frederick Ives further deepened the process in 1881, finally becoming a staple in the printing industry in the mid 1890's. The half-tone process would basically due away with the line-centric engraving process, as it was much quicker and easier to use, making images much more readily available to daily-printed media like newspapers. Images that were drawn could be rendered without being engraved; also, one of its greatest advantages was being able to reproduce photographs, which was an enormous breakthrough, as a photograph automatically increased the veracity of the image. (During the U.S. Civil War, reader's of the illustrated
weekly journal Harper's Weekly trusted battlefield images more if the wood engraving appearing in the magazine was copied from a photograph rather than being from the sketchbook of the
correspondent on the scene. The photograph would capture a particular point in time (nearly) instantaneously, whereas the war correspondent artist captured bits and pieces of an instant flavored with memory and subsequent action. The phrase in the credit line. "Drawn from a photograph", had real value.)
And so it came to pass that the happy lives of dots and lines--so important and intertwined in such things as the Morse Code--made a particular and dramatic break with the triumph of the half-tone over the engraving in illustrating popular publications (from the 1890's to the 1980's).
The image above at left is a magnification of an engraving from 1760;above right is a half-tone image of a 1905 Alfred Stieglitz photo; below left is a magnified sample of what the Stieglitz was composed of; and bottom right finds an illustration of the different combinations in size and color that would effect the composed final image in the final column.
In my collection of WWI News Photo Service Agency photographs I would say that half or so of them show scenes like this--semi-informal group portraits of military support groups. 500 portraits like this seem to be a lot, and I'm not sure why these images are so well represented. Except of course that there weren't that many images (overall) of active-battle scenes.
These bakers, working at a front-line support station, from my read were probably taking a break, and the photographer took the opportunity to draw them together for the portrait. I don't know why they're separated so, but they do look as though they have a real camaraderie--it is just a wonderful picture, full of friendship and loyalty, and I'm sure it has never been published before.
This is another magnificent group portrait from my collection of News Service Photographs from World War I. This is image is from mid-1918 and depicts nurses, wounded and recovering soldiers and an assortment of volunteers preparing relief packages for other wounded soldiers in filed hospitals. My experience with these images is that are many levels of portraits within the larger group portrait--looking at them under magnification is an addictive process, and quite often there are some lovely surprises.
women were welcomed to the (paid) workforce during the years of the First World
War (1914-1918)—their employment in traditionally male positions enabled those
they replaced to go out to the front and die for their country.Thus the women seen here in the News Photo
Service Agency photograph (taken in 1918), working at spraying tar in the
streets of London,
were appreciated, and tolerated.For
women in England the War
blasted away the contrivances of formally scheduled employment:something like 12% of fall women in England were
working as servants and house cleaners.Come the War, women were offered jobs of revolutionary stature in a wide
range and variety of work.The Civil
Service employment for women went from 33,000 in 1911 to 102,000 in 1921, and trade
union membership rose 160% (357,000 in 1914 to 1,000,000 in 1918 (with men
showing a 44% increase at the same time); for the most part, though, employers
took advantage of the situation, and the women still generally earned less than
half of the salary as comparable male workers did (or the men they
When the end of the War came,
so did the appreciation for the women replacement workers—there was bitter feelings
in the post-war period because of the weak British economy and a scarcity of
jobs.So the women who took the jobs of men
to help the country’s war effort and free up hundreds of thousands of men for
war service became an atavistic action, “taking” the jobs of men who had gone
out to fight for their country. This of course cost many women their jobs, but
the damage had already been deeply done to the pre-1914 British world of the
sexual politics of business-being-done, though it would take World war Ii to
really ingrain the appearance of women in the workforce into the national
The Great Wheel appears in Views of London, New Series, "photographed, printed and published by the London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co., Ltd., of Regent Street, London, and printed in 1896. The "Great Wheel" was the Great Wheel at Earl's Court, built in 1895, and was a copy of the great wheel constructed for the International Exposition at Chicago in 1893. This enormous all-steel tension-supported wheel held 1600 people who enjoyed a twenty-minute ride once-around the 300-foot-tall structure. It was a fantastic piece of architect.
The photographic reproduction process for the London Views book was by Woodburytype, which is quite fine, and which also allowed for a 3200 dpi scan which allowed for some nice detail to be pulled up in enlargement.
This photograph--a picture of hope soon dissipated--shows the Russian Revolution at just about the
time of its, well, “completion”. (It is also part of a News Photo Service
archive I purchased some years ago in,
and was originally released by the Western Newspaper Union.) Alexander
Kerensky, who according to the stamped caption of this photograph, was leading
an army of “200,000 marching on Petrograd” in
order to overthrow “Lenine [sic] and Trotsky” and the “Bolsheiki
Revolution”.Kerensky (1881-1970) was
elected second Prime Minister of the Russian Provisional Government under Lenin
following the February (1917) Revolution.A complex of war (WWI) and domestic/social/political directed chaos led
Kerensky and Lenin to opposing paths, and, following the October 1917
revolution, the winner was clear.Kerensky, according to the data on the photo, was a “David” leading an
army in opposition deposed to topplingthe Bolsheviks “next week”.Things did not go as planned, or almost nothing did, and Kerensky’s army
drifted, walked and ran, via indifference, fear and belief to the side of the
Bolsheviks.About the only soldiers who
stayed loyal to Kerensky was the 1st Petrograd Women’s Battalion, a
unit of the 1st Russian Women’s Battalion of Death. (This was the
first all-female combat unit in Russia,
and although starting out with about a force of 2,000, quickly wasted away
under the rigorous and harsh command of its commander, Maria Bochkareva*, down
to about a fighting group of 300.)Kerensky
fled the country and began a long series of travels, though ultimately settling
in the United States,
dying in NYC in 1970 (making him one of the longest surviving principal
participants of the Revolutions).
St. Petersburg/Petrograd has a long and important history in
the formation of the Russian nation—established in 1703 as the capital of the
Russian Empire and remaining so for more than 200 years, it was also the seat
of the 1905 Revolution as well as the February and October revolutions of
1917.Another bit of full-circle was
that Kerensky and Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) were both born in the
not-large town of Simbirsk (now called Ulyanovsk).Kerensky’s father, as it turned out, taught
Lenin at the Kazan State University, a great institution of higher learning
featuring non-other than the principal founder of non-Euclidean geometry,
Nikolai Lobachevsky, as its rector for almost twenty years (1827-1846).
*This interesting, severe, passionate woman
through intrigue and loss wound up fleeing the Soviet Union in 1918, winding up
in NYC and ultimately meeting with Woodrow Wilson, appealing for American
support and intervention to halt the Bolsheviks. She made the same appeal directly to George
V, before winding up back in the Soviet Union,
where, in 1918, she was captured. She was
ultimately tried and convicted of being an enemy of the people, sentence to
death, and then killed by the precursor to the KGB, the Chaka.
There's definitely an angelic figure in this photograph, an image made showing American Doughboys lining up in front of a bakery/candy store (high-sugar delivery transport systems enhancer) in Paris in 1918. This photograph is a News Photo Service item, produced by the Western Newspaper Union, which would send photographs (and their captions) on demand to newspapers and magazines requesting a scene, say, of American soldiers waiting patiently in line for apple pie at a Parisian bakery. The caption says that "America's sons (were) grouped about the store waiting for doors to open" so that they could have at the apple pie. They are waiting for something, to be sure; it doesn't seem quite right that a bakery would not be open during daylight hours (though the shutters on the upper floors are closed still) in the winter (I see snow), but then again I'm not an expert on the hours kept by small business in Paris during WWI.
I am taken with the figure of the small girl in the windowed-door of the bakery, standing there with her hands clasped, framed by the window pane, dressed in flowing white. Is the place really closed, or did the soldiers simply have no money for these treats, the little girl standing there in the unlocked doorway wondering why all of these soldiers just don't come inside? Were the men paid in scrip with no value in the streets of the city? The good news is that these men were alive, and it may have been
November or December of 1918, which means that the killing of millions
and millions of soldiers and civilians had just about come to an end,
so they could probably stay living, safely making their idle if not
penniless way around the snowy streets of Paris, wanting and waiting to
Many years ago I went to the house of a man with books to sell. The
house was terrific, with a view of the Potomac and just outside the
district line--a hard thing to accomplish in housing in Washington.
The elderly gent's house was open, airy and basically wallpapered with
large format, very big photographs. Many of the photographs I
recognized--and of those, many were iconic images. I said something
simpy like, "so I see that yo collect historic photographs." "No, I
don't" he said. In that moment I thought he was just being a wiseacre
with me, He quickly said, "I took them".
Ho-ly Crap, I thought.
I honestly didn't know what to say--I had seen so many of them in my life, and so often, that like a lot of things, these images were just there, part of the cultural landscape. And here was the man who took them. After I got over my shock and came to a sense or two, I interview hi a little. The man behind the camera's name was Ed Clark.
Ed (1912-2000) was about 80 when I met him, and he was selling some books because he was getting ready to leave DC and head back home to Nashville. He was very quick with strong recall. I asked him about his ultra-famous photo of CPO Graham Jackson, preserved forever, who on 23 April 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, was playing Dvorak's Going Home as Franklin Roosevelt's casket was being taken to the train for a last ride to D.C. Jackson was at Warm Springs to perform for Roosevelt when the President died on the 23rd. I wondered about where the rest of the crowd was, and particularly, where the rest of the photographers were, at that moment After all, FDR was about the most famous man in the world, and perhaps the most important, when he died in the last stretch of WWII. Surely there must've been tons more photojournalist there to record the scene of FDR's body being removed. "There were" Ed said. I asked him where they were. He explained that they behind him, which would've been in front of him, actually--he was at the rear of the crowd, with every other photographer pointing their cameras forwards, recording the movement of FDR's body. Ed said that he turned around ("because that picture was already being made")and found the rest of the crowd, the people who were already there at Warm Springs, watching from a respectful distance. And it was at that point that CPO Jackson started to play his accordion, the music being one of FDR's favorite pieces. "They weren't looking the wrong way", Ed Clark said, "just not the right way". And Ed made the photo that everyone else missed, because they're faced the obvious.
This second picture captures both the moment and the photographers whop were missing it. The scene is of course General De Gaulle making his triumphant return to the liberated city of Paris, walking back into the city through the Arc de Triomphe on 25 August 1944. I am also completely certain that the picture was taken by another LIFE photographer (Ed Clark having worked their for years contributing many photo-stories and covers), Ralph Morse (my original doesn't have any identification on the back, though it certainly looks like the others Morse made at that moment). Morse caught De Gaulle in mid stride at the half-way point through the Arc. And you can see the look of pain in the faces of the other scrambling photographers who must've been just coming to the realization that they were in the shot they had been desperately wanting to make since 1940. Their sinking feeling is pretty visceral.
Perhaps being in the "wrong" place is just someone else's perception until you prove them wrong. After all, there must be some right place right time, wrong place right time, right place wrong time, wrong place wrong time hierarchy, no?--that is, until you're smart enough to realize that there's no such thing as "wrong".