If a great photograph is one that is symbolic, inviting us to project our wide-ranging interpretations onto them, then the images selected for deconstruction by Hans Pool and Maaik Krijgsman throughout Looking for an Icon are almost beyond reproach. From Bali, Charlie Cole, one of several photographers who took images of the “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989, forcibly acknowledges the moral impetus of all photojournalists to amplify acts of heroism and barbarism for the world to see. To us an emblem of individualist chutzpah against government aggression, the picture—as a testament to its openness—has been used by the Chinese government to flaunt its ostensible sense of decency for not running over the unknown student. Like the other World Press Photo of the Year winners featured here (David Turnley’s photo of a grieving soldier inside a chopper during the first Gulf War, the anonymously shot image of Salvador Allende on the last day of his life, and Eddie Adam’s 1968 photo of the exact moment when Brig. Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan put a bullet through the head of a Vietcong prisoner), the beauty of Cole’s famous picture is best understood emblematically, though it is interesting to hear photographers, in addition to editors and scholars, admit that these images would have been of scant value had the composition not been so precise (or, in the case of the Tiananmen Square protest, the “Tank Man” had worn a different colored shirt that day). This short but ambitious documentary provokes considerable thought from its subjects about the aesthetics and morality of image-making, how photographs are sold to the public, the pretense of exclusivity that clearly boosts their mystique, and how the iconic nature of a lot of modern photography has a lot to do with an image’s Christian resonance. This point is continued in The Day You’ll Love Me, which accompanies Looking for an Icon for one week at New York City’s Film Forum. Leandro Katz’s 1998 documentary concerns Freddy Alborta’s deconstruction of the photograph he took of a Christ-like Che Guevara’s corpse in Bolivia and how it’s been compared to the paintings of Rembrandt and Mantegna. Like the work of those famous masters, the extraordinariness of Alborta’s photograph resonates strongly, challenges our thoughts, good or bad, of the revolutionary leader.
- First Run/Icarus Films
- 55 min
- Hans Pool, Maaik Krijgsman
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