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Carlos Orjuela Visits The Space

By now, Los Angelenos have seen the face of U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela all over the city. Louie Palu's powerful photo of Orjuela was part of our street banner campaign. The latter came in with his son for the final weekend of War/Photography. Read Palu's story behind the photograph here and our interview with Orjuela here.

Spiritual Preparation for War

© Hayne Palmour IV / U-T San Diego

By Hayne Palmour IV

On the morning of March 16, 2003, at Camp Inchon, Kuwait, reporter Darrin Mortenson informed me that he had heard that there was going to be a baptism ceremony for Marines later in the day. That immediately sounded like something I'd want to photograph. With images of baptisms in a slow moving river somewhere in the south coming to mind, I tried to imagine what a Marine baptism in a Middle Eastern desert might look like.

After nearly a month of uncertainly in Kuwait City, Darrin and I finally managed to secure an embed spot with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton. With so much competition for embed positions, that wasn't an easy task for a reporting team from the North County Times, a small to midsize daily newspaper covering north San Diego County. We had just arrived at the battalion's camp and had been reporting on the different things Marines were doing to prepare for the imminent war in Iraq.

These were things such as various types of training, writing letters home, packing away sea bags loaded with items they couldn't carry into battle, receiving their chemical protection garb and their caged pigeons. The purpose of the pigeons, one pigeon per company, was to warn of a chemical attack.

With all this preparation, a baptism ceremony, to get a Marine's spiritual house in order, was not surprising. We made the short walk from the tent we were staying in to where the ceremony was going to take place. There we saw sandbags stacked in the shape of a small jacuzzi. A tarp was stretched over it to shade the pool from the hot sun. A clear plastic sheet to hold water lined the inside of the sandbag structure. Next to the pool were several ten gallon water cans. A Navy chaplain's assistant was emptying the cans one by one until the pool was full. Meanwhile Marines started to arrive from all directions wearing nothing but their issued green shorts, t-shirts, and each carrying a small towel.  Before being dunked in the water by Navy Lt. Commander Tom Webber, some of the Marines would profess that they had strayed from the straight and narrow with their drinking and womanizing, but were resolute on their return to righteousness. After saying a few words, the chaplain would put one hand on the Marine's shaved head, the other on his back, and push the Marine forward until he was completely submerged. With a loud splash, the Marine was brought back to an upright position and was pronounced baptized by the chaplain. A chorus of "Oooohhhraaas!" and applause from those waiting their turn marked each Marine's return to air after being dunked. By the time dozens of Marines had gone through this baptismal process, the water in the pool, which started clean and clear, was murky with desert sand and nearly half gone.

While editing the photos afterward, the image of Webber patting Cpl. Albert Martinez on the head after dunking his body (tattooed with Christian symbols) rose above the rest. I didn't want to risk sending any other photos for that story to the newspaper. This was the shot. Four days later Darrin and I climbed aboard an amphibious assault vehicle filled with Marines and their weapons. Then we, along with the Marines, and the rest of the U.S. & British military forces involved in the invasion, crossed the border into Iraq.

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Click here to learn more about Hayne.

Spotted At The Space: Nick Ut & Kim Phúc

We had a couple of very special visitors at the Photography Space this past weekend. Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Nick Ut came to the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibit along with Kim Phúc, the little girl in his famous Vietnam War photo. The two viewed the photos and the film in the show. Above is a picture from their visit.

Phúc was only nine when the image was taken 41 years ago and now lives in Toronto. She described the event in an interview last year:

"Suddenly I saw fire around me and it burned my clothes. I was very scared and began to cry. I tried to run away from there...I ran and ran until I saw people in front of me. I felt very hot, thirsty and asked for help. They gave me water to drink and wet my body, and I lost consciousness."

Here's archival film footage of the moment when Ut took his photograph.

An Eye For Peace: By Janrose, The Woman In Marc Riboud's Photo

© Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos, Washington, DC, October 21, 1967

This guest blog post has been written by janrose, who was photographed by Marc Riboud in the famous image above.

Photographer Marc Riboud, who snapped the well-known photo of me holding up a flower in front of a National Guardsman during an anti-war protest in 1967, is a man of peace.  He was a member of the French Resistance movement that fought gallantly against the Nazi occupation during World War II.  No one but Marc could have perfectly captured this moment in my journey to understand "The War Machine.” 

I was a troubled 17-year-old who had butted up against “The Establishment” in many ways. I was passionate in my feeling that the war in Vietnam was wrong. For me at the time, it was proof perfect that the powers in Washington were corrupt and vile. All of the wrongs of the establishment and the horrors of that illegal war melded into the rhetorical monster, " The War Machine".  In my mind at the time, the soldiers were the "mongrels of death". 

I joined thousands of my comrades in peace in Washington, DC, marching from the Washington Monument and over the bridge to the Pentagon. I shouted, "Viva Che,”  (even though I had no idea at that time who or what a Che was!) only because it was what everyone around me was chanting. At one point, we marchers decided to break from the designated route. The soldiers knew this and lined up, forming a barricade to keep us in place. I confronted them, coming closer and closer, beseeching them to put down their guns and join us. I continued to shout, but as soon as I was close enough to really look into their eyes, my idea of “the war machine” melted away, and suddenly I realized that these soldiers were just young boys.  They could have been my brother, my date, my cousin....

Marc's camera captured my deep sadness as my realization bridged the gulf isolating and alienating me from those young men. The rhetorical facade melted away, reducing the monsters into mortals.

Precisely, at that moment, a simpatico resonated between me and those young soldiers. We were one.

If you look into my eyes in the photo, you will see this deep sadness, as I realized that they too were the victims of war.  

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013.

Photographer Gay Block: 'She Worked With The Resistance, Hiding Guns In One Part Of Her Warsaw Flat, And Jews In Another'

© Gay Block, Zofia Baniecka, Poland, from the series Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, 1986

When researching for what became the book, Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust, Malka Drucker and I interviewed and I photographed over 100 Christians in eight countries who risked their lives to rescue Jews. Zofia Baniecka (b. 1917) was one of these amazing people. She worked with the Resistance, hiding guns in one part of her Warsaw flat, and Jews in another.

“We weren’t heroes!” Zofia told us. “We did what everyone should have done.” This is a sentence we heard repeatedly as we interviewed rescuers - they refused see themselves as heroes. They were, in fact, ordinary people who never considered the ubiquitous role of bystander. “After the war,” Zofia told us, “I never stopped working for a free Poland – my husband and I were imprisoned many times.”

What qualities gave these ordinary people the courage to choose rescue? Scholars have concluded that not only could they tolerate risk but, more importantly, they were non-conformists. They watched, and as others obeyed unacceptable orders they allowed their hearts to guide their actions.

In terms of historical numbers, rescuers were so few that they are historically insignificant - their acts might occupy a paragraph in a volume about the Holocaust. However, their human, psychological significance is so important that there could never be too many books about their heroic deeds

During this interview, Zofia smoked continuously, lighting one cigarette from another - there was no other way to photograph her. For these portraits I chose color, feeling that black and white would separate the rescuers from reality, giving them the elevated image they so vehemently eschewed. They wanted people today to connect, and to know that it’s possible act as they had, in spite of overwhelming odds.

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Learn more about Photographer Gay Block and his work on her official website.

Alexandria Avakian: 'I Was Used To Dangerous Situations'

© Alexandra Avakian

By Alexandra Avakian

I lived in Gaza between September 1993 and December 1995. I used to go to the Israeli settlement beach in this photo to swim because I could wear a bikini and not the full-length Islamic dress then required in Gaza, which was also mandatory on the beaches and in the water. Hamas was underground but in control of the streets then, and the Israeli army occupied the Strip. 

It was dicey getting to any Israeli settlement whether driving from a Palestinian area in a car with Palestinian license plates, or driving from the Israeli army checkpoint in my car with Israeli plates. The best way to stay safe while doing so was to be very open about it, and drive slowly on approach.

I was used to dangerous situations by then, and they had become a normal part of life since covering my first uprising in Haiti 1986, the civil wars and uprisings at the end of the USSR from 1990-92, and the famines and civil wars of Somalia and Sudan in 1992/1993, etc.

The young men in this photograph are off duty Israeli Navy personnel and they were used to me swimming at their beach. Even though they were not on duty when I took this photo, they are prepared just in case, as attacks on Israeli settlements in Gaza were fairly common. I wasn't working that day, but had my camera with me - as I always do. 

This Israeli settlement and all others in Gaza were evacuated and closed in 2005. Gaza is still the scene of occasionally intense violence.

WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Learn more about Alexandra on her official website.

Paris Photo Comes To Los Angeles

Paris Photo, the prestigious art fair dedicated to historical and contemporary photography, is launching its first American edition at Paramount Pictures Studios in Los Angeles from April 26-28, 2013. An event for collectors, photography professionals, artists and art appreciators, Paris Photo offers its visitors a diverse range of photography as well as book signings, talks and screenings.

Click here for more info.