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Friday, 23 September 2016

The Epic of Everest

Leni Riefenstahl by Martin Munkacsi.

It's funny how everything somehow ties together. Earlier this week, I was looking through a book of images by Martin Munkacsi and came across this picture of Leni Riefenstahl which caught my eye. 

The picture was taken in 1930 or 1931, when Riefenstahl was making mountaineering movies. Munkacsi was a Hungarian photographer who might just be one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century.

Munkacsi's picture of kids playing in the water in Lake Tanganyika capture Henri Cartier-Bresson's imagination. this is what HCB said about it:

"For me this photograph was the spark that ignited my enthusiasm. I suddenly realized that, by capturing the moment, photography was able to achieve eternity. It is the only photograph to have influenced me. This picture has such intensity, such joie de vivre, such a sense of wonder that it continues to fascinate me to this day." 

Munkacsi was also at the forefront of the modernisation of fashion photography. He worked for Alexey Brodovitch at Harper's Bazaar and used his beautifully relaxed style to create images like the one below. And that work inspired Avedon and so many others. 

Munkacsi died in poverty in 1963 and nobody wanted his archive. So it goes...

Riefenstahl worked for a time as the star of Alpine pictures (and here is a  link to Susan Sontag's Fascinating Fascism article on her - thanks Joerg), pictures that Sontag claimed were part of a Teutonic claim to mastery of the heights above this earth. 

Then yesterday on BBC4 they showed the history of climbing Mountain Everest. Mountaineering was never a neutral subject, it was always invested with politics (hence the Riefenstahl connection). 

The other film they showed was The Epic of Everest, which was shot in 1924 and details the expedition where the British Mountaineers Mallory and Irvine died. But it's a beautiful film and says something about the Himalaya that contemporary movies just fail to capture. 

Perhaps that's something to do with the primitive equipment and the simplicity of choices that make for a very still, considered take of the landscape and the mountaineers moving through it, with lots of long shots (the film makers are very proud of their long lenses).

And then there is the journey to the mountain and the images of the people they meet. And the baby donkey.

Here's the baby donkey. 


Stan B. said...

Interesting piece of revisionist history on good ol' Leni! I still remember my initial reactions upon seeing both Triumph of the Will and The Nuba Coffee Table Book. I was literally blown away by the first, and did more than the casual double take upon matching the name with the book. Yes, all things are possible when all can be rewritten...

2 Corinthians 11:14- "And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light."

colin pantall said...

Revisionist. Where's that, Stan. Be really specific.

Stan B. said...

Her "life history" via The Last of the Nuba in Fascinating Fascism via The New York Book Review. That's about as specific as I can get... sorry for any confusion- should have initially noted!

PS- And I usually don't go about quoting Scripture.