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Moments of Our Time: Photography that Define Modern History at Atlas Gallery
U.S. Marines of the 28th Regiment, 5th Division, raise the American flag atop Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, on Friday, Feb. 23, 1945. AP Photo/Joe Rosenthal.

LONDON.- As a sequel to the gallery’s exhibition of May 2010, ‘Faces of our Times’, Atlas presents an exhibition of rare photographs capturing key historical events of the last one hundred years. Many of the photographs featured in this exhibition not only moved the public at the time of their publication, and continue to have an impact today, but set social and political changes in motion, transforming the way we live and think. These photographs have become icons of photojournalism.

Among the exhibition’s many recognisable images is the Magnum photographer Robert Capa’s D-Day, Omaha Beach, Normandy, 6th June, 1944. Capa is perhaps the best known of all World War Two combat photographers. For a split second this short exposure places us shoulder to shoulder with the soldiers of the 16th regiment landing at Omaha Beach. Epitomising Capa’s remark that "...if your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough” the photograph of the GI’s struggling through the churning surf has survived as the definitive image of the Normandy invasion. Yevgeni Khaldei’s Raising the Soviet Flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, 1945 is an interesting contrast. Khaldei was looking for an image to match the celebrated photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the Marine Corps raising the American flag on Iwo Jima (also included in the exhibition). As Berlin fell in the closing days of the war, Red Army photographer Khaldei gathered soldiers and posed a shot of them hoisting the flag on the roof of the Reichstag building. The photograph represented a historic moment, the defeat of Germany in a war that cost the Soviet Union tens of millions of lives. Celebrated as the image is, it was a reconstruction of a moment that had happened the previous day and demonstrates the power of image propaganda. The original exposure had to be re-touched to remove the looted watches on the right wrist of the soldier holding the flag in the foreground.

Although the photograph of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki, Japan, 1945, is by an anonymous photographer (but nevertheless a first-hand witness), the image of a cloud over the city is imprinted on all our memories. The photograph gave concrete reality to the atomic bomb, which until the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima had existed only in the imagination. In contrast, but equally as harrowing, is the washed-out ethereal image of John F. Kennedy slumped in the back of the presidential car cradled in Jackie Kennedy’s arms seconds after he was shot, 22 November, 1963. Morbidly cinematic, it was imitated in contemporary artworks, notably by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, and has etched this tragic event in all our minds.

Peter Leibing’s Escape to the West, August 13, 1961, depicting a young East German border guard seizing his opportunity to escape in the first days of the construction of the Berlin Wall became an iconic image in the West and an enduring symbol of the Cold War. There could not be a more poetic or articulate image of the wall than this young soldier suspended for a moment in limbo between East and West. Eddie Adams’ Execution in Saigon, South Vietnam, February 1, 1968 captures Nguyen Ngoc Loan, South Vietnam’s chief of police shooting a suspected Viet Cong collaborator, identified as a North Vietnamese officer. This is one of the most memorable images in the history of war photography. We are witnessing an individual’s fear a fraction of a second before the loss of his life. Adam’s photograph appeared on the front page of The New York Times the day after it was taken and was syndicated worldwide, mobilizing public opinion against the Vietnam War.

The Apollo missions of 1967-72 made an indelible impression on all who witnessed them from afar; a small number of universally-recognised images taken on these missions have become icons of the 20th century. The photograph of Aldrin’s boot-print from the Apollo 11 mission, 1969, has become a symbol of this achievement and of human endeavour itself.

Thomas Hoepker’s Twin Towers, Brooklyn, NYC, 9/11, 2001 depicts an almost idyllic scene near a restaurant, with flowers, cypress trees and a group of young people sitting in the bright sunshine on this late summer day while the dark, thick plume of smoke rises in the background. This is a fiercely debated photograph of the al-Qaeda September 11 terrorist attacks, raising questions about people’s reactions to disasters in today’s image-saturated world. It also highlights the precariousness of basing opinion on a single frame, the seconds before or after may tell another story. It is the confused nature of this image that makes it so compelling, and perhaps in this way a truer record of “the fog of war”.

The majority of the photographs in the exhibition relate to events that represent the culmination of a development or the eruption of social forces. Looking at the pictorial documentation of such revolutionary events we often get the impression that we are feeling the pulse of history more intensively than at other times. Although often not beautiful, or easy, they are images that shake and disquiet us, and are etched in our memories forever.

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