The Women of ‘LIFE’ Magazine

Carole Naggar

Photograph by Marie Hansen from “The WAACs,” LIFE, September 7, 1942

An exhibition now at the New York Historical Society features six women photographers who contributed to America’s first successful image-based magazine, and how these women’s work “contributed to LIFE’s pursuit of American identity through photojournalism.” One of the most interesting features of the show is its inclusion of materials that illuminate the behind-the-scenes processes at LIFE, like contact sheets and editorial correspondence. For instance, in Hansel Mieth’s reportage on garment union workers, we see that images of the workers’ strike did not make the cut for publication. Neither did several images of women at work, many of them black. The published photographs—of women riding a bike and lighthearted images of the union’s summer resort, with couples boating on the lake or lounging on the ground—have an overall optimistic tone, emphasizing the American Dream and the good life, and distorting Mieth’s intent.

The Info War of All Against All

Peter Pomerantsev

Martin Sellner, an Austrian leader of the far-right Identitarian Movement, Vienna, March 29, 2019

If these paternalistic old media bastions still stood, then one would most likely see a new normal settle eventually after this period of crisis and contest. But the new modes of instant, constant digital connection have abolished their authority; there is no barrier to entry policed by a gatekeeper, and anyone can jump into the fray at any moment. There were always battles of ideas, especially at times when anciens régimes collapsed. Today, though, the battle is not a structured affair with common rules and clear victories, but an all-out war of all against all with no discernible end-point. 

Riding in Cars with Jacques Lacan

Jamieson Webster

Then newly elected president of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing taking the wheel of a Citroën DS, Paris, May 27, 1974

Read anything about Lacan’s life and you will find it punctuated by stories about cars and driving. Both Lacan’s son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, and his patient and lover Catherine Millot considered Lacan’s way of driving as part of his ethical stance: one had to follow one’s desire and not give way to inhibitions or norms. If one had to stop, make it a choice; do not yield to an anonymous law or the whims of the other’s demand. This is always the story that one encounters about Lacan, part of the mythology of the courageous, disobedient, relentless man. But after 1968, the car completely disappeared from his teaching—and in his late seminars, Lacan’s thinking changed direction.

The Streets of New York

Phil Penman

Rush-hour on 34th Street, New York City, February 21, 2018

The life of a “celebrity photographer”—otherwise known as paparazzi—entails little glamour. More often than not, I was standing not on the red carpet behind a velvet rope but on the streets of New York, hiding behind a trash can in 20-degree weather, hoping for that decisive moment. The paparazzi always get a bad rap, from hiding behind trash to being called “trash.” But being on the street all day, you get a real feel for the city. In time, I found myself drawn to street photography.

Singapore’s ‘Fake News’ Law: An Exchange

Ashok Kumar Mirpuri, reply by Salil Tripathi

Visitors at the Merlion park, Singapore, August 13, 2019

Ambassador Mirpuri: Singapore’s deep concern about online falsehoods is shared with many countries around the world. Some have taken measures that are more sweeping than Singapore’s. But our law is not meant as a model for the rest of the world.
Salil Tripathi: Nobody who wishes well for Singapore would want the city or its people to be harmed. But fake news is a nebulous term. There will be genuine curiosity among governments around the world about how Singapore implements POFMA, because Singapore’s efficient use of laws is a matter of significant interest among many countries that would indeed like to replicate the Singapore model. 

Once Upon a Time in Tarantino’s Hollywood

J. Hoberman

Leonardo DiCaprio as Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt as Cliff Both in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019

In the Hollywood world of wish-fulfillment, Tarantino’s 2007 Inglourious Basterds, a movie that began with the title “Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France” and climaxed with a band of Jewish-American commandos, led by Brad Pitt’s wily hillbilly, contriving to kill Hitler, may be a tough act to follow. But by recreating “1969” Hollywood in his own image, Tarantino has done so. He has made Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, with a title evoking his own career and its ending to end all endings, what used to be called a “movie-movie.” His most personal film, it is also the one he has hinted may be his last.

Delighting in Ross Gay, One Essay at a Time

Nicole Rudick

Henri Matisse: Reader on a Black Background, 1939

I put off beginning the poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, which was published earlier this year, because I was afraid it would end too quickly. I felt sure that the book’s 102 essays, most between one paragraph and three pages in length, would be kin to his poems, which are tender, tactile, and human, whether he’s celebrating the spastic joy of listening to a good song or articulating a swelling fury. Gay wrote the book’s essays over the period of a year, one each day, for the simple reason that he thought it would be nice to write about delight every day. The handful of rules he set out for himself included composing the essays quickly and writing them by hand. I decided to read one entry from the book each day, to follow the model of how he’d written them and to give each entry its own space to unfold in my mind—to let it warm me, I’d come to realize, like sunshine.

Data Leviathan: China’s Burgeoning Surveillance State

Kenneth Roth and Maya Wang

Laser pointers being used by protesters in Hong Kong in an effort to defeat surveillance cameras and facial recognition software used by the authorities, China, August 7, 2019

Today, in Xinjiang, a region in China’s northwest, a new totalitarianism is emerging—one built not on state ownership of enterprises or property but on the state’s intrusive collection and analysis of information about the people there. Xinjiang shows us what a surveillance state looks like under a government that brooks no dissent and seeks to preclude the ability to fight back. And it demonstrates the power of personal information as a tool of social control that is both all-encompassing and highly individualized, using a mix of mechanisms to impose varying levels of supervision and constraint on people depending on their perceived threat to the state.

El Lago

Eduardo Halfon

A boy playing near Lake Atitlán, in the highlands of Sierra Madre, Guatemala, 1975

We called it El Lago. The Lake. As kids, growing up in the Guatemala of the 1970s, we spent most weekends and holidays of my childhood there, jumping off the wooden dock, learning to swim in the icy blue water. One early morning, we all woke up to find two indigenous men floating face down by the wooden dock. They were naked and bloated. Guerrilleros, my father said, his tone far from compassionate or even sympathetic. Guerrilla fighters, probably from one of the surrounding villages. I was still too young to understand that the military used to dispose of some of their enemies there, dumping the dead and tortured bodies into the water. A few weeks later, my grandparents sold the chalet.

The Fight Against Trump’s Other Family Separation Policy

E. Tammy Kim, with art by Molly Crabapple

Maribel Hernández Rivera and her husband, Giddel Contreras, a TPS holder from Honduras, Queens, New York, July 20, 2019

This week, on August 14, a federal appeals court will hear oral argument from attorneys for the Department of Homeland Security, on one hand, and Temporary Protected Status holders, on the other, as to whether the terminations should occur as originally scheduled. For Maribel Hernández Rivera, the litigation is personal: her husband, Giddel Contreras, is a TPS holder. A native of Honduras, Contreras has been in the United States for nearly twenty-five years, but was undocumented until he got TPS. His thirteen-year-old daughter, Madison, Hernández Rivera’s stepdaughter, is a US citizen. “We’re going to fight,” Hernández Rivera told me. “We’re going to do everything we need to do.”