Photojournalism emerged as a distinctive form of photography in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The term denoted picture making that was spontaneous, topical and rapid. This was facilitated by the introduction of small, hand-held cameras such as the Ermanox and the Leica, which enabled photographers to record fast-moving events and catch their subjects unawares. Meanwhile, political turmoil and the rise of mass-circulation news stimulated a huge demand for illustrated magazines. Picture Post, Life and Vu were all established at this period. Picture agencies expanded and new professions evolved – not just that of the photojournalist, but also the picture editor and agent.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s photography collection has been enriched by two important gifts of mid-20th-century photojournalism. John and Judith Hillelson gave a large body of work and Ben Shneiderman gave a group of photographs by David Seymour (Chim) through the American Friends of the V&A.
In the 20th century publicity became an obsession. Even artists and intellectuals, like Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf and Albert Einstein, took care to shape their image for a mass audience. The photo-story could project the activities of artists and cinema stars as if they were part of a film narrative. Hollywood actors, like Lana Turner and Marlene Dietrich, might present themselves as ‘real people’, while others such as Gloria Swanson appeared as untouchable icons.
The photojournalist revelled in gaining access to private places and moments, though often the subject was complicit in this – as in the ‘day in the life’ of Helena Rubenstein. The disclosure of celebrities in intimate situations, like Erich Salomon’s surveillance shot of media mogul William Randolph Hearst at dinner, looked forward to the post-war phenomenon of the paparazzi and ultimately to contemporary ‘Reality TV’.
Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments was the title of a compilation of portraiture by Erich Salomon published in 1931. Salomon pioneered candid photography, disguising his camera to gain entrance to the hidden world of political conferences, diplomatic receptions and court cases. Others used clandestine photographs to reveal uncomfortable truths (Long Kesh) or to raise awareness of social inequalities.
As politics became a spectacle, politicians styled themselves for the ever-present gaze of the camera, sharing moments of triumph (Churchill hearing of his re-election) and disaster (Edouard Herriot defiant on ejection from office). The street became an arena of potential self-promotion or embarrassment (Ramsey Macdonald oblivious to the camera’s presence at the Stresa Conference). The self-assurance of these public figures contrasts with the bristling fervour of those involved in mass demonstrations.
In the period from 1936, illustrated magazines promoted a new kind of humane photography embodying liberal-Left aspirations. This formed the basis for post-war ‘concerned’ photography, epitomised by the work of the Magnum photographers' collective, of which David Seymour was a founder member.
Seymour's reportage traced the impact of war and its aftermath on vulnerable individuals. Other photographers showed the resilience and resistance of people in the face of social injustice (Ernest Cole’s photographs of segregated South Africa). Even pre-war photojournalism had celebrated individuals – such as Lucien Aigner’s strong man – who stood out from the urban masses.
Combat was never far from this world. The citizen was repeatedly recruited to national and ideological struggles, whether under Soviet Communist rule or on the outposts of Western democracy.
Photojournalism was the product of global technology. From the 1930s, images could be sent by electronic means from remote locations to picture agencies and magazines. The future appeared to be tied to technological advance and signs of progress lay on all sides – from a space-suited nuclear family to the first Concorde, recorded in the year of the Moon’s conquest.
The modern world could also be an uncanny place, with speeding cars in ghostly deserts and anxious exiles in lonely cities, or populated by sinister beings in uniform.
Like the photograph itself, modernity was associated with the reproducible, systematic unit, whether on the factory production line or in the tower block. From Hong Kong to New York, humanity was organised into mega-structures. The celebrations of Chinese Communism suggest an almost cosmic system of control. Elsewhere, however, crowds could be irregular and excessive, their dynamism suggestive of a more chaotic universe.
The increasing use of rolled photographic film from the 1920s enabled photographers to take a sequence of images. The picture - or photo-story (photographs plus captions) could then assume a narrative character akin to early cinema. This became the mainstay of the illustrated magazine, for news and features alike, and picture editors became adept at laying out a double-page spread to maximise its impact.
By the 1950s, the photo-story had developed beyond reportage to become an expressive medium in its own right. Photographers such as Ernst Haas and Brian Brake pioneered the use of colour and created semi-abstract photo-stories that required minimal captioning. In part, this shift towards a more meditative ‘photo-essay’ was the result of the spread of television. But by the 1970s, the dominance of TV news had contributed to the demise of many of the great illustrated magazines. With them went the great years of mid-century photojournalism.
Lucien AignerBorn Nove Zamky, Slovakia (then Ersekujvar, Hungary) 1901, died Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 1999.
Lucien Aigner studied law at the University of Budapest, having previously studied theatre in Berlin and worked as an assistant cameraman to Stefan Lorant (a lifelong friend, who later became one of the most influential picture editors of the early 20th century). In 1924 he became a reporter for the Hungarian newspaper group Az Est. A keen photographer (he was given a box Brownie camera for his 9th birthday), Aigner started to illustrate his articles with his own photographs.
In 1925 he moved to Paris to act as manager for a photographer – a short-lived association – and continued to work as a correspondent for Az Est. Because of his poor French, Aigner bought a Leica and concentrated more on photography. He soon became known for his informal ‘grabbed’ shots of political figures and published picture stories in the leading illustrated magazines in France, Germany and England.
After a trip to America in 1936, Aigner became the Life magazine correspondent in Paris. He moved to America in 1939 and settled in New York. In 1947 he got a job in radio broadcasting, in the Hungarian section of Voice of America, but was forced out of this post in the 1950s during the McCarthy era. He moved to New England and set up a portrait studio. The discovery of the negatives of his European photographs in an old suitcase in 1970 prompted renewed interest in Aigner’s life and work.
Born Ukraine 1912, died Los Angeles 2003.
Zinn Arthur was born Abrasha Choosidman, but when his family arrived as immigrants at Ellis Island, New York, in 1921, they changed their surname to Zinberg. Arthur’s first career was in music. He led a big band in high school, shortening his name to ‘Arty Zinn’ and later changing it to Zinn Arthur. During the Second World War he toured US army bases around the world with Irving Berlin’s show This is the Army.
After the war, Arthur turned to photography, taking his first pictures of musicians such as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. He became a celebrity photographer, specialising in TV personalities and then in film. He worked on a total of 66 film sets and photographed actors including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster for the covers of magazines such as Life, Look, Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar. Finally, Arthur had a third career as a restaurateur, with establishments in Long Island, New York, and south Florida. The restaurant walls were lined with pictures he had taken during his years as a photographer.
Born Wellington, New Zealand, 1927, died Auckland 1988
Brian Brake started his career in 1945 as an assistant in a Wellington portrait studio. He joined the New Zealand National Film Unit as a cameraman in late 1948 and was also involved in directing films, including the prize-winning Snows of Aorangi (1955).
In 1954 he moved to Europe to pursue a career in photojournalism. Through the invitation of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ernst Haas, Brake joined Magnum in 1955. Specialising in Asia, he became one of the most famous documentary photographers of the late 1950s and the 1960s. In 1957 Brake was one of three Magnum photographers permitted to work in China and in 1959 he became the only western photographer to cover the tenth anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Brake started to publish colour picture stories, the most influential of which, Monsoon, first appeared in Life magazine in September 1961. His use of imaginative sequencing helped to establish Brake as one of the masters of colour photojournalism. Having worked mainly for Life magazine during the 1960s, Brake settled briefly in Hong Kong, where he worked in documentary film making, before returning to New Zealand in 1976. In the 1980s he helped establish the New Zealand Centre for Photography.
The Brian Brake collection is held at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Ernest ColeBorn Eersterust, Pretoria, 1940, died New York 1990
Ernest Cole was the first photographer to expose the conditions of life in South Africa under the apartheid regime. As a black man he was defined as an ‘unskilled labourer’, so his entry into photojournalism was as a sweeper and messenger at Zonk magazine.
In 1958 he joined the magazine Drum as a design and production assistant and registered for a correspondence course with the New York Institute of Photography. Encouraged by his tutors, he started a project to record apartheid in South Africa and finally got a job as a photographer for the newspaper Bantu World, before becoming South Africa’s first freelance black photojournalist in the early 1960s.
In 1966 Cole got himself reclassified as ‘coloured’, which meant that he was able to leave country. He travelled to France and England before arriving in New York with the prints and layout sheets of his apartheid project in September 1966. Magnum Photos organised to publish the series in book form. House of Bondage came out the following year but was banned in South Africa, forcing Cole into exile. After a period working for Magnum, he moved to Sweden to take up film making, though his pictures were still published extensively, often in anti-apartheid publications.
Born Berlin 1908, died Paris 2000
Gisèle Freund studied sociology and history of art at the University of Freiburg before moving to Frankfurt in 1931 to study with the famous sociologists Karl Mannheim and Norbert Elias. Her father had given her a Leica and Elias – noting the ever-present camera – suggested that she study 19th-century photography. Freund was also active in socialist circles and in 1933 she was forced to flee to Paris. There she continued her studies, completing what was to be the first PhD thesis ever written on photography, and started to take photographs for a living. She became known for her portraits of writers (from 1938 often taken with colour film) and published reportage in Life, Picture Post, Vu and Paris Match magazines.
On the eve of the German occupation of Paris, Freund – a Jew and an anti-fascist – was again forced into exile, first to the south of France and then to Argentina. She became a member of Magnum in 1947 and covered Latin America for the agency until 1954. She returned to Paris and continued her career as a writer, photographic reporter and photographer of literary figures. In 1974 her PhD thesis was translated into English and published as the influential book Photography and Society.
Born Vienna 1921, died New York 1986
Ernst Haas bought his first camera in 1946 on the Viennese black market, exchanging the 10 kilograms of margarine he had been given for his 25th birthday for a 35 mm Rolleiflex. His medical studies had been interrupted during the war, so he had been working on and off in a photographers’ studio. His first published photo-story, Homecoming Prisoners of War, marked a turning point in his career. It was taken with his new camera in 1946 and published in Heute magazine in 1949. When this piece was taken up by Life magazine, Haas became the first photographer to be asked to join Magnum, an invitation that he accepted.
The following year Haas started to experiment with colour film. He played a pivotal role in the development of colour photography and in 1953 Life magazine devoted an unprecedented 24 pages to his first published colour essay, ‘Shots of a Magic City’, taken in New York. Haas went on to produce colour essays for magazines during the 1950s and 1960s, including features on Paris, Venice and England. From the mid 1950s he also started to investigate the semi-abstract depiction of movement. In 1958 readers of Popular Photography voted Haas one of the ‘World’s Ten Greatest Photographers’.
Born Riga, Latvia, 1906, died New York 1979
Philippe Halsman studied engineering in Dresden before moving to Paris to open a photographic portrait studio in 1932. There he photographed public figures including politicians, intellectuals and actors. When Paris fell to the Nazi forces in 1940, Halsman fled to America.
He received his first commission for Life magazine in 1942 and went on to produce over one hundred magazine covers between 1942 and 1971. Halsman’s sitters included film stars and celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe and artists such as Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Georgia O’Keefe. He stated that the ‘fascination with the human face has never left me…every face I see seems to hide and sometimes, fleetingly, to reveal the mystery of another human being…capturing this revelation became the goal and passion of my life’.
His work is, at times, saturated with humour. In the 1950s he produced a series of ‘jump’ photographs, capturing his sitters – including figures such Richard Nixon, vice-president at the time – mid air. Halsman claimed that these photographs, usually taken at the end of a portrait sitting, revealed the real character of the celebrity.
Born Opatija, Croatia (then Abbazia, Italy) 1928
When he was 15 Frank Horvat swapped his stamp collection for a 35 mm Retinamat camera. After studying art at the Accademia di Brera in Milan and working in an advertising firm, he started his career as a photographer in the late 1940s, working freelance for Italian magazines. He then had a brief stay in London, working for Life and Picture Post, before moving to Paris in 1955, where he worked as both a fashion photographer and photojournalist (he was an associate member of Magnum from 1958 to 1961).
In the 1950s and 1960s his photographs were published in Jardin des modes, Elle, Glamour, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Horvat has travelled extensively throughout his career. In 1962, for example, the German magazine Revue commissioned him to produce a series of picture essays from cities across the globe. In recent years he has focused more on book projects and personal work. In a recent piece, entitled A Daily Report, 1999, Horvat took at least one photograph every day for the last year of the millennium.
Mary Ellen Mark
Born Philadelphia 1940
After studying painting and art history and gaining an MA in photojournalism from the University of Pennsylvania, Mary Ellen Mark started her career as a freelance photojournalist in the mid 1960s.
In 1965 she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to photograph in Turkey. There Mark established her signature style of combining a documentary approach with a fascination with the bizarre. She also established one of the key themes in her work: an interest in children acting like adults.
Returning to America in 1967, Mark moved to New York and worked as a photojournalist, publishing photo-stories in magazines such as the New York Times, Evergreen and Life. Mark also worked on film sets, taking production stills on films including Catch 22 and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Mark’s first solo exhibition, Ward 81, was a result of her work on the latter, when she returned to the high-security women’s mental hospital where it had been filmed.
An interest in people, especially women, on the edge of society is apparent throughout her work. Her projects include a series on prostitutes in Bombay’s Falkland Road (1978), street kids in Seattle (1983) and a study of Indian travelling circuses (1989). Mark continues to publish and exhibit her work to great acclaim and in 2001 was awarded the Cornell Capa Infinity Award from the International Center for Photography, New York.
Born Warsaw 1911, died Suez 1956
With the intention of entering his family’s printing and publishing business, David Seymour studied at the Academy of Graphic and Book Arts in Leipzig, Germany, from 1929 to 1931. Because of the worsening political situation in Germany, he then moved to Paris to study chemistry in 1932. Soon economic difficulties in Poland meant that he had to supplement his allowance, so he took up photography to earn a living. Adopting the nickname ‘Chim’ (a French phonetic abbreviation of his Polish-Jewish surname Szymin), Seymour worked as a freelance photographer, publishing picture stories in Regards, the Popular Front illustrated magazine, from 1934.
From 1936 to 1938 he covered the Spanish Civil War, before moving on assignment to Mexico for the newly created Paris Match magazine. When the Second World War broke out, he changed his surname to Seymour and moved to the USA, where he worked in photo-reconnaissance for the US army.
In 1947 Seymour co-founded the Magnum photographer’s agency with Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa (whom he had met in Paris in the 1930s), George Rodger and William Vandivert. He returned to Europe in 1948, commissioned by UNICEF to take pictures of displaced children, a project that helped to establish his reputation. Seymour worked as Magnum’s representative in Europe and Israel during the 1950s but was killed while reporting the Suez crisis of 1956.
Erich SalomonBorn Berlin 1886, died Auschwitz 1944
Erich Salomon was a key figure in the development of modern photojournalism. He graduated in law in 1913 before being called up for military service. When war ended he returned to Berlin and in 1925 he got a job in the publicity department of the publishers Ullstein. He bought a large-format press camera before acquiring a more compact Ermanox in 1927.
After publishing his first press photograph in the Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung in 1928, Salomon set himself up as a freelance photographer and journalist. He travelled widely in Europe and America and soon became known for his off-guard pictures of politicians, sporting events and celebrities. Salomon went to such great lengths to disguise his camera that the editor of Graphic coined the term ‘candid photography’ to describe his clandestine technique. In 1931 he published a book of his work entitled Famous Contemporaries in Unguarded Moments and in 1935 held an exhibition at the Royal Photographic Society in London. However, the rise of the Nazis meant that from 1933 Salomon, who was Jewish, was no longer able to publish in German magazines, so he moved with his family to The Hague in the Netherlands. He was discovered by the Nazi authorities in 1944 and, with his wife and son Dirk, deported to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia and then on to Auschwitz.
After serving in the French army, which he joined in 1944 after the liberation of Paris, Nicolas Tikhomiroff began his photographic career working in the darkroom of a fashion photographer. He soon began publishing his own work in magazines such as Marie France and from the 1950s started working with Magnum Photos. Assignments took him to the Soviet Union, South-East Asia and Africa, where he spent long periods covering the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Algeria. Tikhomiroff later worked in the film industry, documenting the behind-the-scenes activities of directors such as Federico Fellini, Lucchino Visconti and Orson Welles. He was also active in fashion and advertising photography.
Tikhomiroff retired from professional activities in 1987 and now spends his time working on personal projects in France. Although he was never a full member of the agency, his earlier work is still distributed by Magnum Photos.