Why the Soviets Doctored Their Most Iconic World War II Victory Photo, “Raising a Flag Over the Reichstag”

No photograph symbolizes American victory more recognizably than Joe Rosenthal's Pulitzer Prize-winning Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. Taken on February 23, 1945, it shows six U.S. Marines raising their country's flag during the battle — a bloody one even by the standards of the Second World War — for control of that Japanese island. The Soviet Union had an equivalent image: Yevgeny Khaldei's Raising a Flag over the Reichstag, which shows a Russian soldier raising the Soviet flag on the roof of the former German parliament on May 2, 1945, during the Battle of Berlin. The similarities are obvious, but the difference isn't: the Soviet photo was faked.

To be more specific, Khaldei's picture was "staged," and "parts of it were altered before it was published." So says Vox's Coleman Lowndes in the video above, which reveals all the pre-Photoshop image manipulation — a specialty of Soviet propagandists even then —  performed on Raising a Flag over the Reichstag.

"Khaldei superimposed some black smoke from another photo and manipulated the contrast to give the scene a little more drama," which in itself may be an understandable choice. But he also erased the wristwatch of one of the soldiers brought in to pose with the flag, a detail you might not notice even holding the original and the doctored version side by side. As Lowndes explains, "The soldier supporting the flag-bearer was wearing two watches, suggesting he had been looting, a stain that didn't fit the image of Soviet heroism that Stalin wanted."

A look at the preceding few years of the war goes some way to explaining this. Germany had brutally invaded Russia in 1941, instilling in Russia a thirst for revenge that began to seem satiable when the tables began to turn on Germany the following year. In and on their way to Germany, the Red Army, too, committed crimes against the civilians in their path, looting surely being among the least of them. Raising a Flag over the Reichstag does its job in capturing a moment of Soviet victory, but as Lowndes says, "it also captures, and then conceals, a story of vengeance and mutual brutality, of murder, organized destruction, and pillaging, all culminating in this iconic moment." And the more iconic the moment, the more potentially revelatory its details — even more so in the case of false ones.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The History of the Fisheye Photo Album Cover

Like gothic script in heavy metal, the fisheye album cover photo seems like a naturally occurring feature of certain psychedelic strains of music. But it has a history, as does the fisheye photograph itself. The Vox video above begins in 1906 with Johns Hopkins scientist and inventor Robert Wood, a somewhat eccentric professor of optical physics who wanted to duplicate the way fish see the world: “the circular picture,” he wrote, “would contain everything within an angle of 180 degrees in every direction, i.e. a complete hemisphere.”

Rather than putting them to underwater use, later scientists employed Wood’s ideas in astronomical observation. Their next stop was the professional photography market: the first mass-produced fisheye lens, made by Nikon, cost $27,000 in 1957. From academic journals to the pages of Life magazine: mass media brought fisheye photography into popular culture. An affordable, consumer-grade lens in 1962 brought it within the reach of the masses. For the way it compresses angles, the fisheye lens “was, and always has been, a handy tool to capture tight quarters, as well as huge spaces.”

The fisheye lens suited the Beatles phenomenon perfectly, compressing backstage hallways and stadium-sized crowds into the same hypnotically circular dimensions. “Perhaps its greatest strength was making rock stars appear larger than life.”

The fisheye photo “reflected the trippiness of the psychedelic era.” Although one of the earliest uses on an album cover was Sam Rivers’ Fuschia Swing Song, it soon adorned the Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man and—of course—the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced. The iconic band photo of the Experience, taken by graphic designer Karl Ferris, inspired hundreds of psychedelic imitators.

Ferris thought of the fisheye photo with reference, again, not to the ocean but the stars: Hendrix’s music, he said, was “so far out that it seemed to come from outer space.” In order to introduce the band to audiences who hadn’t heard of them yet, he conceived of them as a “group traveling through space in a Biosphere on their way to bring their otherworldly space music to earth.” Inseparable from space travel after NASA’s many fisheye photos of the Apollo missions, the fisheye album cover contains entire worlds in a single droplet, and promises to transport us to the outer reaches of sound.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Annie Leibovitz Photograph and Get Scolded by Queen Elizabeth: “What Do You Think This Is?”

No matter how many cultural icons you've met, Annie Leibovitz has almost certainly met more of them. Not only has she met them, she's talked with them, spent long stretches of time with them, told them what to do, and even looked into the nature of their very being — which is to say, she's photographed them. Having put in her crosshairs the likes of John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Christopher Hitchens, and Barack Obama, one would assume Leibovitz has lost entirely the ability to be intimidated by any personage, no matter how august. But then, she didn't have to address any of the aforementioned figures as "Your Majesty."

"Back in 2007, Leibovitz was hired to shoot a set of portraits of the Queen at Buckingham Palace in preparation for a state visit to the United States," writes Petapixel's Michael Zhang. "The photographer and her 11 assistants spent 3 weeks preparing for the 30-minute photo shoot." For the Queen's part, preparation included "the full regalia of the ancient Order of the Garter, complete with tiara," putting on all of which took 15 minutes longer than planned.

But when she got the Queen seated, Leibovitz — perhaps figuring that, if a casual manner works with pop stars and presidents, it might work even better with royalty — suggested that "it will look better without the crown." It would look better, she suggested, "less dressy." "Less dressy?" the Queen snaps back in a kind of irritated astonishment. "What do you think this is?"

Leibovitz, to her credit, remains unfazed, even when informed that the tiara can't go back on once it's been taken off. You can see it happen in the Dutch TV clip above, which takes its footage from the BBC documentary A Year with the Queen. Despite the pressure, the portraits came out well, as did the second series Leibovitz shot of the Queen in 2016. These more recent photographs were taken under less strict conditions. "I was told how relaxed she was at Windsor, and it was really true," says Leibovitz in the accompanying Vanity Fair story. "You get the sense of how at peace she was with herself, and very much enthralled with her family." At the Queen's request, the pictures included her family members both human and corgi, all arranged according to her own ideas. If she tires of her current job, she may have a promising future in portrait photography ahead of her.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Behold Félix Nadar’s Pioneering Photographs of the Paris Catacombs (1861)

As a tourist in England, one may be persuaded to pick a piece of merchandise with the now-ubiquitous slogan “Keep Calm and Carry On,” from a little-displayed World War II motivational poster rediscovered in 2000 and turned into the 21st-century's most cheeky emblem of stiff-upper-lip-ness. Travel across the Channel, however, and you’ll find another version of the sentiment, drawn not from war memorabilia but the ancient warning of memento mori.

“Keep Calm and Remember You Will Die” say magnets, key chains, and other souvenirs emblazoned with the logo of the Paris Catacombs, a major tourist attraction that sells timed tickets “to manage the large queue that forms daily outside the nondescript entrance on the Place Denfert-Rochereau (formerly called the Place d’Enfer, or Hell Square),” writes Allison Meier at Public Domain Review. Still profoundly creepy, the Catacombs were once as forbidding to descend into as their walls of skulls and bones are to gaze upon, requiring visitors to carry flaming torches into their depths.

When pioneering photographer Félix Nadar “descended into this ‘empire of death’ in the 1860s artificial lighting was still in its infancy.” Using Bunsen batteries “and a good deal of patience,” Nadar captured the Catacombs as they had never been seen. He also documented the completion of “artistic facades” of skulls and long bones, built “to hide piles of other bones,” notes Strange Remains, from an estimated six million corpses exhumed from overcrowded Parisian cemeteries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Nadar (the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, born 1820), helped turn the Catacombs into the globally famous destination they became. His “subterranean photographs,” writes Matthew Gandy in The Fabric of Space: Water, Modernity, and the Urban Imagination, “played a key role in fostering the growing popularity of sewers and catacombs among middle-class Parisians, and from the 1867 Exposition onward the city authorities began offering public tours of underground Paris.” The Catacombs became, in Nadar's own words, "one of those places that everyone wants to see and no one wants to see again."

Visitors came seeking the grim fascinations they had seen in Nadar’s photos, taken during a “single three-month campaign,” Meier notes, sometime in 1861, after the photographer “pioneered new approaches to artificial light.” The project was an irresistible photographic essay on the leveling force of mortality. In an essay titled “Paris Above and Below,” published in the 1867 Exposition guide, Nadar described the “egalitarian confusion of death,” in which “a Merovingian king remains in eternal silence next to those massacred in September ’92.”

The ancient and the modern dead, peasants, aristocrats, victims of the Revolutionary terror all piled together, “every trace implacably lost in the unaccountable clutter of the most humble, the anonymous.” The huge necropolis initially had no shape or order. Its 19th century redesign reflected that of the Parisian streets above. In 1810, Napoleon authorized quarries inspector Héricart de Thury to undertake a renovation that accounted for what Thury called “the intimate rapport that will surely exist between the Catacombs and the events of the French Revolution.”

This “rapport” not only included the “mass burial of the victims of the 1792 September Massacres” Nadar references in his essay, but also, Meier points out, the arrangement of bones in “patterns, rows, and crosses; altars and columns were installed below the earth. Plaques with evocative quotations were added to encourage visitors to reflect on mortality.” Because of the long exposure times the photographs required, Nadar used mannequins to stand in for the living workers who completed this work. The only living body he captured was his own, in the self-portrait above.

Learn more about the history of the Catacombs and Nadar’s now-legendary photographic project at Public Domain Review and see many more memento mori images here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Very First Picture of the Far Side of the Moon, Taken 60 Years Ago

Sixty years ago, mankind got its very first glimpse of the far side of the Moon, so called because it faces away from the Earth. (And as astronomers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson have long taken pains to point out to Pink Floyd fans, it isn't "dark.") Taken by the Soviet Union, that first photo may not look like much today, especially compared to the high-resolution color images sent back from the surface itself by China's Chang’e-4 probe earlier this year. But with the technology of the late 1950s, even the technology commanded by the Soviets' then-world-beating space program, the fact that it was taken at all seems not far short of miraculous. How did they do it?

"This photograph was taken by the Soviet spacecraft Luna 3, which was launched a month after the Luna 2 spacecraft became the first man-made object to impact on the surface of the Moon," explains astronomer Kevin Hainline in a recent Twitter thread. "Luna 2 followed Luna 1, the first spacecraft to escape a geosynchronous Earth orbit." Luna 3 was designed to take photographs of the Moon, hardly an uncomplicated prospect: "To take pictures you have to be stable on three-axes. You have to take the photographs remotely. AND you have to somehow transfer those pictures back to Earth." The first three-axis stabilized spacecraft ever sent on a mission, Luna 3 "had to use a little photocell to orient towards the Moon so that now, while stabilized, it could take the pictures. Which it did. On PHOTOGRAPHIC FILM."

Even those of us who took pictures on film for decades have started to take for granted the convenience of digital photography. But think back to all the hassle of traditional photography, then imagine making a robot carry them out in space. Once taken Luna 3's photos "were then moved to a little CHEMICAL PLANT to DEVELOP AND DRY THEM." (In other words, "Luna 3 had a little 1 Hour Photo inside.") Then they continued into "a device that shone a cathode ray tube, like in an older TV, through them, towards a device that recorded the brightness and converted this to an electrical signal." You can read about what happened then in more detail at Damn Interesting, where Alan Bellows describes how the spacecraft sent "the lightness and darkness information line-by-line via frequency-modulated analog signal — in essence, a fax sent over radio."

Soviet Scientists could thus "retrieve one photographic frame every 30 minutes or so. Due to the distance and weak signal, the first images received contained nothing but static. In subsequent attempts in the following few days, an indistinct, blotchy white disc began to resolve on the thermal paper printouts at Soviet listening stations." As Luna 3's photos became clearer, they revealed, as Hainline puts it, that "the backside of the moon was SO WEIRD AND DIFFERENT" — covered in the craters, for example, which have become its visual signature. For a modern-day equivalent to this achievement, we might look not just to Chang’e-4 but to the image of a black hole captured by the Event Horizon Telescope this past April — the one that led to an abundance of articles like "In Defense of the Blurry Black Hole Photo" and "We Need to Admit That the Black Hole Photo Isn’t Very Good." Astrophotography has come a long way, but at least back in 1959 it didn't produce quite so many takes.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Beautiful New Photo Book Documents Patti Smith’s Breakthrough Years in Music: Features Hundreds of Unseen Photographs

Patti Smith is always surprising her fans with new work and new opportunities to admire her commitment to art and activism. If she isn’t publishing another memoir, or leading 250 people in a protest song, she’s showing her photographs, which she’s taken since the 60s, with Polaroid cameras and a German Minox 35EL. “I am not a photographer,” she says, “yet taking pictures has given me a sense of unity and personal satisfaction. They are relics of my life. Souvenirs of my wandering.” She surprised her fans once again by putting her treasury of pictures on Instagram.

But as comfortable as Smith has been behind the camera, she has been even more relaxed in front of it: “widely regarded as a style icon,” writes Stephanie Eckardt at W magazine, “she’s been a magnet for photographers almost immediately” after she arrived in New York “to hang around CBGB's and pose for Robert Mapplethorpe.”

She appeared in plenty of photos with Mapplethorpe when the two were just kids. Photographer Frank Stefanko captured her bohemian lounging in the 60s and 70s in stark black and white. (When he first encountered her in South Jersey, he says, she looked like “the bad guy walking into a saloon in an old Western movie.”)

“There are many photographers who have photographed Patti who are wonderful artists,” writes Lynn Goldsmith, whose own striking photographic record of Smith’s career is now being published in a new book by Taschen titled Before Easter After. (The book will be released in November.) Unlike Goldsmith, however, “they did not do documentary as well as concert as well as studio work with her. So that enabled Patti and I to have a narrative in the book that we could share with people of what was going on at that time.”

Smith describes what was going on with her usual casual lyricism:

We traipsed the path of rock ‘n’ roll, savouring its swagger, yet dodging the pitfalls. [Lynn] witnessed formative nights at CBGBs, gaining ground across America, my accident in a Tampa arena, and the struggle to rise again.

She refers to her fall offstage in 1977 while the band toured their album Radio Ethiopia. She broke her neck and spent the year recovering. Goldsmith captured the tragic event: “I saw her nearing the edge of the stage, but I thought she knew what she was doing because she always did this turning dervish on that song, where she spun and spun and spun.”  The following year, the band released Easter, their third and “most widely known and distributed” album, notes AnOther, and Goldsmith nervously shot Smith onstage at CBGBs in a neck brace.

The photographer surprised Smith by asking her longtime friend Sam Shepard to write a poem for the book inspired by the 1977 photo above. And at the book’s October 8th launch party, which included Henry Rollins, Rosanna Arquette, Moon Zappa, and John Densmore, Smith surprised her 150 guests by playing a set of songs “inspired by Goldsmith’s previous unseen photographs of the transformative period documented in the book,” writes Taschen. “She ended her set with her best-known hit ‘Because the Night’ from the album Easter… joined in song by every person in the room.”

The book is available in a pricey edition from Taschen (you can pre-order it here) and, coming soon, even pricier, numbered Art Editions. Here’s hoping they’ll surprise Patti Smith fans for the holidays with a paperback.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The First Faked Photograph (1840)

The photograph was invented in the early 19th century, but who invented it? Histories of photography point to several different independent inventors, most of them French: Nicéphore Niépce, for example, who in 1826 made the first work recognizable as a photograph, or more famously Louis Daguerre, honored for his invention of the daguerreotype photographic process by the French Academy of Sciences and the Académie des Beaux Arts in 1839. But what about Daguerre's contemporary Hippolyte Bayard, who had also been developing and refining his own form of photography? After going unacknowledged by the Academy, he had only one option left: suicide.

The Vox Darkroom video above tells the story of Bayard's 1840 Self Portrait as a Drowned Man, which depicts exactly what its title suggests: Bayard's corpse, retrieved from the water and propped up unclaimed at the morgue. "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," reads the note on the back of the photograph. "Oh the vagaries of human life....!"

A sorry tale, to be sure, and of a kind not unknown in the history of invention. But wait: how could a dead man shoot a "self-portrait"? And if indeed "no-one has recognized or claimed him," as the note adds, who would have bothered to write the note itself?

Bayard, still very much alive, made Self Portrait as a Drowned Man as a kind of artistic stunt, the latest in a series of self-portraits testing his photographic process. The "morgue" shot contains some of the artifacts in its predecessors, including a garden statue, a floral vase, and Bayard's signature broad straw hat. (Even the expression of death was of a piece with his previous self-portraits: the long exposure time meant he'd had to hold absolutely still with his eyes closed in all of them as well.) Until his death in 1887 — long after Daguerre had passed — Bayard continued experimenting with photography, creating reality-departing images including "double self portraits." If he couldn't go down as the inventor of the photograph, at least he could go down as the inventor of the fake photograph — a still-relevant invention, to say the least, given our increasingly complicated relationship with the truth in the 21st century.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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