Behind the Photo: Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming

Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of fellow s
Mary Ann Vecchio screams as she kneels over the body of Jeffrey Miller during an anti-war demonstration at Kent State University, Ohio, May 4, 1970.

John Filo captured the Pulitzer Prize photo on May 4th, 1970 as the Ohio National Guard opened fire on Kent State students during an anti-war protest.

Filo talks about that day:

The bullets were supposed to be blanks. When I put the camera back to my eye, I noticed a particular guardsman pointing at me. I said, “I’ll get a picture of this,” and his rifle went off. And almost simultaneously, as his rifle went off, a halo of dust came off a sculpture next to me, and the bullet lodged in a tree.

I dropped my camera in the realization that it was live ammunition. I don’t know what gave me the combination of innocence and stupidity… I started to flee–run down the hill and stopped myself. “Where are you going?” I said to myself, “This is why you are here!”

And I started to take pictures again. … I knew I was running out of film. I could see the emotion welling up inside of her. She began to sob. And it culminated in her saying an exclamation. I can’t remember what she said exactly … something like, “Oh, my God!”

The Guardsmen fired 67 rounds in a span of about 13 seconds. Four students were killed, nine injured.

The story actually begins 4 days earlier on Thursday, April 30th, 1970 when it was announced by President Nixon that the “Cambodian Incursion” had been launched by US Forces. It was widely believed that the war in Vietnam had been winding down in 1969 and the announcement of a Cambodian invasion fueled campuses nationwide to erupt in protest.

On Friday, May 1st, about 500 protesters gathered on the Commons at Kent State University. The Commons, located in the center of the campus was a traditional meeting place for rallies and protests. There was sweeping anger and a burning of a copy of the US Constitution, implying that President Nixon had killed it. The crowd dispersed shortly after noon and planned on another protest on May 4th. Around midnight that same day, trouble erupted in town after people left a bar and began throwing beer bottles at police and destroying local business store fronts. As the news spread, the crowd began to grow larger.  As more police arrived, the crowd, now at about 120 had already set a small bonfire and hurled more bottles and began shouting obscenities at the local law enforcement. A State of Emergency was soon called for by Kent Mayor LeRoy Satrom and a call was placed to Governor Jim Rhodes asking for assistance. The bars were forced to close early, which in turn , increased the size of the crowd. Eventually the police dispersed the crowd using tear gas, forcing them several blocks away, back to the campus.

Saturday, May 2nd, rumors began to circulate that radical revolutionaries were in Kent to destroy the city and university. As a result of threats received by local businesses and leaders, Mayor Satrom met with city officials and representatives of Ohio’s Army National Guard. After the meeting, Satrom called Governor Rhodes requesting the National Guard be sent to Kent. He believed that the local officials would not be able to handle future disturbances. The request was granted and the National Guard was called in at 5:00 PM that day however, they did not arrive until later that evening, sometime around 10:00. By that time, a large protest was underway at the Commons and the campus ROTC building was ablaze. Kent firemen and police were struck by rocks and other debris as they attempted to put out the fire. Other Fire Departments had to be called in because protesters had carried away the fire hose and slashed it. By the end of the night the National Guard made several arrests and used tear gas to finally disperse the demonstrators. The arsonists were never caught, and no injuries were reported due to the fire. A later report on the blaze stated “Information developed by a FBI investigation of the ROTC building fire indicates that, of those who participated actively, a significant portion weren’t Kent State students. There is also evidence to suggest that the burning was planned beforehand: railroad flares, a machete, and ice picks are not customarily carried to peaceful rallies.”

Sunday May 3rd, a day before the shootings, Governor Rhodes holds a news conference at the firehouse, calling the protesters un-American and referring to them as ‘revolutionaries set on destroying higher education in Ohio’.

He goes on to say:

“We’ve seen here at the city of Kent especially, probably the most vicious form of campus-oriented violence yet perpetrated by dissident groups. They make definite plans of burning, destroying, and throwing rocks at police and at the National Guard and the Highway Patrol. This is when we’re going to use every part of the law enforcement agency of Ohio to drive them out of Kent. We are going to eradicate the problem. We’re not going to treat the symptoms. And these people just move from one campus to the other and terrorize the community. They’re worse than the brown shirts and the communist element and also the night riders and the vigilantes They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Now I want to say this. They are not going to take over [the] campus. I think that we’re up against the strongest, well-trained, militant, revolutionary group that has ever assembled in America.”

During the day, several of the students went to town to assist in the cleanup after the riots and were met with some ambivalence by the local business owners. In response to business leaders and a concerned public, Mayor Satrom issues a curfew until further notice. At 8 PM another rally was held at the Commons which was broken up about 45 minutes later by National Guardsmen firing tear gas into the crowd. The students relocated to the intersection of Lincoln and Main staging a sit-in with the intent of gaining a meeting with the Mayor and the University President. At 11 PM, curfew took effect and the National Guard dispersed the sit-in and escorted the students back to campus.

The Kent State Massacre, Monday May 4th, 1970. The protest, planned three days prior, was scheduled to begin at noon.  The University handed out 12,000 flyers in an attempt to stop the gathering, stating the event had been cancelled. Still, over 2,000 students began gathering at the Commons. The first attempt to disperse the students was made by campus patrolmen who attempted to read an order to disperse or face arrest. The students reacted by throwing rocks and objects at the patrolmen, forcing them to retreat.

The National Guard returned in a second attempt to disperse the crowd. When the protesters refused to disperse, the National Guard began to fire tear gas which proved to be ineffective because of the wind that day. The students shouting “Pigs off campus!” retaliated by throwing rocks and the tear gas back at the Guardsmen, who were wearing gas masks.

After it was apparent that the protesters would not disperse, 77 National Guards, armed with M-1 rifles and bayonets, marched towards the Commons. As the Guardsmen approached, the crowd began to retreat from the Commons, up and over what is known as Blanket Hill. The National Guard continued to follow the crowd over the hill but instead of turning left at the bottom towards the Prentice Hall parking lot as the protesters did, they continued to march forward towards a practice field surrounded by a chain link fence. They remained on the practice field for about 10 minutes. At one point, several members of the Guard knelt and aimed their weapons towards the protestors now gathering to the left and front of them. After finally realizing that the only way back was to retrace their steps over Blanket Hill, they began to march back towards the Commons. Some of the students began to follow the Guard as they began to march back over the hill. As they climbed back up Blanket Hill, several of the guardsmen stopped, half turned and faced the gathering of students in the parking lot.

At 12:24, a guardsmen sergeant fired his .45 caliber pistol towards the crowd of students. A number of other guardsmen also turned and began to fire their rifles.

One witness was Chrissie Hynde, the future lead singer of The Pretenders and a student at Kent State University at the time. In her 2015 autobiography she described what she saw:

Then I heard the tatatatatatatatatat sound. I thought it was fireworks. An eerie sound fell over the common. The quiet felt like gravity pulling us to the ground. Then a young man’s voice: “They fucking killed somebody!” Everything slowed down and the silence got heavier.

The ROTC building, now nothing more than a few inches of charcoal, was surrounded by National Guardsmen. They were all on one knee and pointing their rifles at…us! Then they fired.

By the time I made my way to where I could see them it was still unclear what was going on. The guardsmen themselves looked stunned. We looked at them and they looked at us. They were just kids, 19 years old, like us. But in uniform. Like our boys in Vietnam.

29 of the 77 guardsmen claimed to have fired their weapons.

The shooting was estimated to have lasted 13 seconds.

According to Wikipedia, the shootings killed four students and wounded nine. Two of the four students killed, Allison Krause and Jeffrey Miller, had participated in the protest, and the other two, Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths. Schroeder was also a member of the campus ROTC battalion. Of those wounded, none was closer than 71 feet (22 m) to the guardsmen. Of those killed, the nearest (Miller) was 225 feet (69 m) away, and their average distance from the guardsmen was 345 feet (105 m).

The question of why the shots were fired remains widely debated.

It’s Hip to be Square

Hello Zensters and new readers. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about composition and more specifically, the square format. Once available only to those that shot Medium format cameras, the advent of programs such as Photoshop and Lightroom let you convert those digital images without loss of image quality.

Currently, your camera produces images in an aspect ratio of 3:2 giving you a nice rectangle image and one you’ve been accustomed to using in your composition. You’ve learned the Rule of Thirds and compose all your shots accordingly. (Of course, I am making an assumption if you are not familiar with the Rule Of Thirds, click here for a Wikipedia overview).

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Things are a little bit different when you talk about composition in a 1:1, or square format. Subconsciously, we look at rectangle photos from left to right scanning the image for the subject. On a square photo we tend to look at the center and then around the image. The Rule of Thirds does not apply on 1:1 crops. Square crop lends itself to the subject being in the center of the photo.

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Photo courtesy of @allophile

Take advantage of geometrical shapes while you compose. Look at the photo above and Vivian Maiers photo below. Note the repetition of squares and rectangles in the photos…

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Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

…and the use of triangles in the photo below. Powerful stuff.

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Vivian Maier/John Maloof Collection

The square format works very well with black and white images because there are no colors to distract you from the subject and the geometric patterns in the photo. If you love shooting B&W, I would strongly encourage you to experiment with this format. The results can be stunning, especially when mounted and framed.

Look at some of your past work that you weren’t completely happy with. Try recomposing using the 1:1 crop, you might be pleasantly surprised and come away with a couple of more “keepers”.

Keep this in mind next time you’re out shooting. It’s a great tool to get those creative juices flowing and get you looking at familiar scenes in a different way. Get out there. Experiment. Have fun.

Weegee

The inspiration for the 1992 movie “The Public Eye” starring Joe Pesci, Weegee was every bit as colorful as Hollywood portrayed.

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Born Usher Fellig in Zloczew, Austria (now Zolochiv, Ukraine) in 1899, Fellig emigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1909 and moved to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was there he changed his name to Arthur because it sounded more American. Self-taught, Fellig took many odd jobs as a photographer and photographers assistant. In 1924 he became  a darkroom technician and part time news photographer and at Acme Newspictures which later on became United Press International Photos (UPI).

In 1935, Arthur Fellig decided to become a freelance photographer, says Fellig:

“In my particular case I didn’t wait ’til somebody gave me a job or something, I went and created a job for myself—freelance photographer. And what I did, anybody else can do. What I did simply was this: I went down to Manhattan Police Headquarters and for two years I worked without a police card or any kind of credentials. When a story came over a police teletype, I would go to it. The idea was I sold the pictures to the newspapers. And naturally, I picked a story that meant something.”

 

Arthur Fellig would soon become known as Weegee, the phonetic pronunciation of the word Ouija, because of his uncanny ability to often appear at crime scenes before the authorities. His photos were soon published by the Herald Tribune, World-Telegram, Daily News, New York Post, New York Journal American, Sun, and others. Weegee worked at night, developing his photos in the darkroom he set up in the back of his car in order to expedite getting his photos to the waiting press. He also had a great feel for what photos sold best.

“Names make news. There’s a fight between a drunken couple on Third Avenue or Ninth Avenue in Hell’s Kitchen, nobody cares. It’s just a barroom brawl. But if society has a fight in a Cadillac on Park Avenue and their names are in the Social Register, this makes news and the papers are interested in that”

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Weegee based his photographic work around police headquarters, and in 1938 obtained permission to install a police radio in his car. This allowed him to take the first and most sensational photographs of news events and offer them for sale to publications such as the Herald-Tribune, Daily News and the Post
Photograph: Weegee/International Center of Photography

 

“Crime was my oyster,” Weegee wrote in his 1961 memoir, “Weegee by Weegee.” “I was friend and confidant to them all. The bookies, madams, gamblers, call girls, pimps, con men, burglars and jewel fencers.”

Weegee’s peak period as a freelance crime and street photographer ran from the mid-1930s into the postwar years. He took thousands of photographs that defined Manhattan as a nightscape of hoodlums and gangsters, Bowery bums and  tenement dwellers and victims of domestic disturbance, fires and car crashes. Aptly, he named it “The Naked City”. Weegee became a celebrity in his own right even creating a rubber stamp that he used to sign his photos that read “Credit Photo by Weegee the Famous”.

 

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Weegee worked at night, developing his photos in the darkroom he set up in the back of his car in order to expedite getting his photos to the waiting press.

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By the early 1940’s, Weegee was beginning to achieve success outside the mainstream media when in 1941, The Photo League in New York held and exhibition of his work and later in 1945 with an exhibit in the Museum of Modern Art. Weegee published 3 books of his work in the later 1940’s and his book “Naked City” inspired the movie “The Naked City” in 1947 which prompted him to move to Hollywood.

u_48_568015261676_09Weegee mingled with the Hollywood crowd, getting a couple of bit parts in small films, but by 1951, he was back in NY. Until his death in 1968, he spent his time experimenting with trick photography and distortions. He also toured the United States and Europe giving lectures and relishing in his fame.

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Weegee.Saxophonist (Distortion)
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Weegee Portrait of a Man (Distortion)

Weegee still remains popular today and is still shown in galleries and museums around the world. His work is now owned by the International Center of Photography in New York.

 

 

 

 

 

The Enigmatic Life of Vivian Maier.

In 2007, realtor John Maloof, purchased a box of old negatives at auction, hoping to find vintage photos of his old Portage Park neighborhood in Chicago. He later bought more negatives along with rolls of film, 8mm movies and other documents. In total, he collected more than 100,000 negatives and a few thousand rolls of film. in 2009, searching through the boxes he found an envelope with the name Vivian Maier and after a google search he discovered that she had passed away just a few days earlier.

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Vivian Maier self portrait

Two years prior to her death, Vivian Maier had failed to keep up payments on her storage unit and as a result, the contents were sold off at auction and sold to 3 different buyers. Maloof owns approximately 90% of Maier’s work including negatives, film, movies, and audio recordings. Realizing that these photos were good, he posted some of them on a blog in 2008 and received very little response.  In 2009, he posted them again on Flickr and soon he was flooded with comments and emails. The photos went viral. Vivian Maier was born.

Vivian Maier worked as a nanny between the years of 1950-1990. Her first 17 years in Chicago she worked for two families, the Gensburgs and the Raymonds. She also spent time in the 1970’s as a housekeeper for Phil Donahue. According to the families in later interviews, Vivian spent all her off time taking photos with her Rolleiflex camera, often bringing the children along with her. She never married and reportedly never even received a personal phone call.

In 1959-1960, Maier took a trip around the world photographing places like Egypt, Syria, Italy, Bangkok, Manila, Beijing and Shanghai. The trip was probably funded by the sale of the family farm in France.

She photographed the rich, the poor, men, women and children. Maier didn’t care if you were dressed in heels or barefoot, young or old. She captured everything. Her work is a stunning visual history of yesteryear. Vivian Maier did not even see most of the photos she captured and almost never showed her work.  The pictures “only needed to be made.”

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“She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved. … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone.”- John Maloof
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According to Maloof, Maier almost never showed her work. Most of it she never even saw herself. The pictures “only needed to be made.”

Since the discovery of Maier’s photographs, she has attracted worldwide attention in the media and photography world. Her work is on display in gallery exhibits, the subject of several books and two documentaries.  In 2014, a legal case was filed to determine the ownership rights to her estate.

For more on the Vivian Maier story, watch “Finding Vivian Maier”, the Academy Award Winning documentary on the life and discovery of Ms Maier.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” – Robert Capa

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War Photographer and Photojournalist Robert Capa is perhaps the greatest combat photographer in history.

Heavy statement from someone that shot combat scenes. I think when he refers to getting “closer”, he meant get more absorbed into the image, more visceral. This will in turn, make you better understand the force of what you are capturing and the essentia of your surroundings.

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During his career he risked his life numerous times, most dramatically as the only photographer landing with the first wave on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

My favorite advice to anyone that’ll listen me is to spend couple of weeks just shooting with a 50mm lens. (35mm if you’re shooting cropped sensors). This just about forces you to get closer to your subject and not rely on telephoto lenses. Not only with this build your self-confidence but will help you in your composition and your ability to “feel” the shot. Use your legs, get in there, absorb the energy. If done correctly, it will manifest itself in your image. This is what Capa was talking about. You’re a storyteller and artist. Flaunt that in your images.

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Barcelona, Spain. Running for shelter during an air raid alarm, January 1939

Once you understand the significance of Capa’s quote, your photography will improve. Keep it in mind the whenever you’re out shooting, let it become second nature. Think of it as a gift.

 

 

Although Capa said he was finished with war, in the early 1950’s he accepted an assignment for Life in Southeast Asia to cover the Indochina War. On May 25th, 1954, he accompanied a French regiment along with two other Time-Life journalists. While the regiment was approaching a hostile area under fire, he decided to leave the Jeep and go further up the road to photograph the advance. As he travelled up the road, he was killed after stepping on a land mine.

He was 41.