Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Iconic Red Army Reichstag Photo Faked

I don't know if Der Spiegel was having a slow news day or they are merely employing bad headline writers (at least they didn't use a "!"), but their article about Red Army photogrpaher Yevgeny Khaldei makes it sound like the retouching of the famous Reichstag photo to remove looted watches as well as add smoke is fresh news.

Whereas the photograph in question is a standard illustration in works about war photogrpahy and propaganda or about the long practice of manipulating photographs - I remember reading about it in one of those old 1970's Time Life books that was either about photogrpahy or WWII (Khaldei also brought his own supersized Soviet flag with him - sewn together by his uncle... just in case). But then again, perhaps Spiegel only just figured it out.

In fact, what is at the root of the story is that there is a current exhibition about Khaldei at the Martin Gropius Bau in Berlin. Which in itself shouyld be worth a view if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

Interestingly, I recall reading somewhere that Khaldei said he had been inspired by Joe Rosenthal's famous Iwo Jima flag raising photograph - which is self has been embroiled in controversy (unfairly imo) almost from the moment it was made.

BTW, Khaldei was a former TASS press photographer who, despite photographing the Red Army after their grinding advance on Berlin, was actually a photographer/Lieutenant in the Soviet Navy. After the war, despite his 15 minutes of fame, he didn't fare too well as a Jew in Stalin's Soviet Union and he was never acknowledged as the photographer who took this picture until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

"As the Soviet army marches through a devastated Budapest he sees a couple wandering about with yellow Jewish stars on their clothing. Approaching them he first snaps a photo; he is after all a photographer first. Then uttering a prayer in Hebrew he tears off their yellow stars and tells them that the fascists have been beaten. (Bram Goodwin)

His work is certainly well worth looking at.


eko said...

Hi. Your blog is intereting. Im photographer and i have one blog by contemporary photography. See you. Cheers from France.

Vanda said...

To me this is too much fuss about too little. There is this myth that photography equals truth. It never have, never will. Photographs are as truthful as eyewitness accounts, and we all know how highly subjective those are. They both contain facts, but the most they can aspire for is to present a compelling narrative. If you discover that a famous civil war photographer moved some bodies for better composition, that does not make the war less real. Young men still died by the droves, and looking into their dead faces you can spin your own fictional narrative, wondering who they were and could have become. Photography does not give you the historical truth, but makes it personal.

On the flip side, there is a line somewhere in the sand, and once you cross it what will stop you from faking the whole thing? Is it ok to merge the best elements of two photos, taken only seconds apart? Days apart? Once you start stretching the limits of manipulation how do you know where to stop? It's an uneasy question, and it's easy to argue, that the only way to stay on the right side of the line is to forego manipulations altogether. But is that even possible? The act of photographing is a manipulation. The photographer takes a fragment of time and space, but this piece can potentially be so heavily laden with meaning and suggestion, that the viewers imagination recreates the missing parts, but not necessarily the same they were. If you see a picture of an injured child in a war torn country, that is an indictment of war. But if the picture is half a dozen well dressed, well fed western journalists crowding around the child trying to take that Pulitzer winning photo, that is also a comment on the vulturish nature of photo journalism.

It's too easy to take a photo that is real, but still lies. The the omitted parts, all that falls outside of the frame, all that happened before or after the photo was taken could completely change its meaning. All the technical aspect of photography, framing, angle, depth of field, shutter speed, darkroom processes are acts of manipulation. Now with digital photography it goes even further. Is it ok to adjust saturation and contrast? It can affect the mood of the image. Or should you use a photoshop filter to counter the bubble effect caused by using too wide angle lens?

Controversies about photography will never stop because the photograph will always face this expectation of truth that it couldn't possibly fulfill.

Yger said...

Well, I grew up in the Soviet Union and remember Khaldei's pictures very well - back in the late 70. His name was well recognized then. It's today that he is forgotten.

I read about the watch, too - long time ago. Stanged war photography was accepted as norm in the US army as well. David Sherman who worked with Lee Miller staged a lot of images, inluding the famous shot of the dead Nazi family - all the furniture was rearranged, bodies movied, the telephone repositioned, etc. etc. Or take the famous Migrant mother by Dorothea Lange. she had to remove a thumb in the right side of the frame. Does it only seem politically correct to talk about Soviet propaganda? Easy, right? - nobody's going to argue.