A Snapshot Of Photo-History

Recently my uncle Alfie informed me that he would soon be delivering some photo history lectures in the near future. He kindly asked me if I would do a short piece for Japanorama that would take a brief look at some of the photographers of the past and their work. Here it is…

The photographer I have chosen first is British photojournalist Ian Berry.

Berry was born in Preston, England in 1934 and is a self taught photographer. Throughout his career as a freelance photographer he has travelled the world documenting social and political strife in many countries such as China, Ethiopia, Ireland and the former Soviet Union. His photos have been featured in publications such as National Geographic and he has received numerous awards for his work.

His full biography and list of achievements can be found here.

This photo of his was taken in 1961 in Elizabethville, Katanga, Congo and shows a Katangese soldier rifle butting a man fleeing a riot. I find this scene really interesting not only because of the obvious violent act being committed in the foreground of the shot but also because of other things going on in the scene. The abandoned bicycles on the road suggest people had been so desperate to get away from the police that they left their bikes and ran in fear. There is a seemingly carefree man in the background to the left of the shot and the two other police officers in my opinion may not completely agree with what their fellow officer is doing. Also if you look carefully at the store window you can see a reflection of Berry taking the shot from across the road which has given him a perfect view point to frame the photo. The light works really well here too falling on the officers and the rioter slightly but leaving the rest of the shot shaded which emphasises the subjects.

The next photographer I have selected is Philippe Halsman, a Latvian-born American potrait photographer.

Born in Riga in 1902, he spent most of his career in the United States and died in 1979 in New York City. Halsman became renowned for his sharp, and closely cropped images that shunned the old soft focus look of portrait photography. He photographed many very famous people such as JFK, Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe.

More information on the life and work of Philippe Halsman can be found here.

Halsman shot many photographs of long-time collaborator and friend Salvador Dali. This particular photo was taken in 1941 and is entitled “Dali Atomicus”. It actually took Halsman and his crew quite a few attempts to get this shot the way he visualised it in his head which you can see for yourself here. I was instantly drawn do this photo because of my interest in the work of Dali and i think Halsman really captures the essence of Dali’s personality in this picture. The water leads the viewer nicely through the shot passing by strange works of art, flying cats, Dali leaping in the air with a crazed expression on his face and a chair that seems to be floating in mid air. I really like the contrasting tones Halsman has used here and the wonderful feeling of objects and living things being frozen in a wild moment in time.

The final photographer I have picked is German photographer Karl Hugo Schmolz. Predominantly known for his work photographing architecture he also spent time shooting fashion and portrait photography.

Schmolz was born in Weissenhorn, Germany in 1917 and died in Lahnstein in 1986. During his early career he took pictures for many of the leading German architects of the time. His portfolio spans 30 years of life in Germany and documents the rebuilding of the country after WWII.

His biography can be found here.

Here is a photo Schmolz took in 1947 in Cologne and features the cathedral and depicts the rebuilding of the city after the war. I find the difference between the perfectly preserved cathedral and the demolished city down below to be quite astonishing and the difference in light falling on the two subjects conveys this well. The downwards looking viewpoint of the photographer frames this scene really well and leads the viewer’s eye from the spikes in the foreground to the rubble down below and then along the winding road to the background of the shot. There is a gloomy aura to this picture that really tells a lot about the state of Germany at this point in time after the war.

These three photographers and their photos I found in a  book entitled “20th Century Photography” which can be purchased from Amazon for around £12. A fantastic read and a great collection of photos from the last 100 years.  I would definitely recommend it.


About Japanorama

Japanorama is run by British professional photographer, Alfie Goodrich, and provides practical photography teaching in Tokyo. Weekly workshops, group and one-to-one lessons bring together photographers of all ages and abilities.

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