December 21, 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of George M. Lacks, a photojournalist who worked for the Los Angeles Times and other L.A.-area newspapers from the 1930s through the '50s. During World War II, and just afterward, he was employed as a war correspondent for LIFE Magazine, and free-lanced for many foreign news agencies. He toured extensively in Europe, Japan, and China, often shuttling back and forth from the United States. In the 1930s and '40s he maintained a photojournalistic and film-developing enterprise, Lacks News Photos, in the city of Shanghai, China.
During this time George Lacks produced hundreds, maybe thousands, of very fine—and historically significant—photographic images, including portraits of important personages such as Neville Chamberlain, Albert Lebrun, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, Gen. George C. Marshall, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Gen. Chou En-Lai, Richard M. Nixon, and Howard Hughes, to name but a few. In 1937 he captured a suite of images of Adolf Hitler at the latter's summer retreat in the Berchtesgadener Alpen—not an easy task, to say the least, for a man born into an Orthodox Jewish family. He is believed to be the first American lensman to photograph Hitler at close range, and remains one of very few who actually accomplished it. However, as a photographer he also exhibited a common touch, taking pictures of hundreds of ordinary Chinese and Japanese citizens, many of whom were entrenched in most extraordinary circumstances. Shortly after the war he returned to Los Angeles, and photographed such actors as Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, and Danny Kaye while they filmed in Hollywood studios. In the 1950s he played a significant role in creating what L.A. Times columnist Patt Morrison once described as "...L.A.'s family album, perhaps the definitive visual history of a city that grew to dominate visual power in a visual century."*
I'm proud to say that George Lacks was also my father.
I never got to know my father as well as I would have liked. That's because, at the age of 49, he was felled by a massive heart attack just three weeks shy of my tenth birthday. Thus the year 2010 also marked the 50th anniversary of his death, on June 26. (Coincidentally, 2010 marked my 60th birthday as well.)
This website pays tribute to the life and works of my father on the centenary of his birth.** The name of this site—"George Lacks: A Remembrance in Pictures"—owes to my father's having been, first and foremost, a photographer. But the name belies the fact that this remembrance actually comprises an extended narrative in pictures, words, and music. As you peruse this site, you will see that I not only reflect upon my father's life (somewhat philosophically at times), but also upon his death, as well as the child's experience of having one of his parents snatched away from him so suddenly.
Shoring up the remnants of George's life was not easy. Much of the information is sketchy, and only sporadically available. Many large gaps in the story remain, and it is far too late for any viable prospect of filling them. Even George himself scarcely took the time to compile something in the way of an autobiography, however slim or rough—and whatever intentions he may have had were dashed by an untimely and premature death that no one saw coming. To make matters worse, George was not particularly scrupulous about date-stamping his photos. Only a small fraction of the photos in my possession have such a stamp imprinted on the back—perhaps five percent, or even less. For these and other reasons, developing this website was surely an immense undertaking, one that required considerable forensic activity and a great deal of guesswork besides. But it was also a labor of love, and only the fitting thing to do, as I am George's sole surviving son, and have a modicum of web-developing experience. It is high time that the story of George Lacks be told.
*Patt Morrison, "Preserving L.A.'s Family Album," Los Angeles Times Magazine (September 6, 1998), p. 11.
**For the historical record, this website was launched at 4 p.m. PST, December 20, 2010, in San Diego, California. This corresponds to midnight GMT, December 21, 2010, which I take to be the onset of my father's 100th birthday.
On this site you'll find approximately 220 images. Most of these are photos shot by George between 1937 and 1960. A number of them are portraits of George that were either photographed by colleagues and friends, or by George himself. Lastly, a handful of these images depict certain memorabilia that are crucial to (or at least illus- trative in) the unfolding of George's life. Many of the more than 220 images are annotated with what I hope will be insightful and helpful information and commentary.
The photos are divided into six categories; in this list, the categories are hyperlinked in red:
- Online Collections is an assemblage of 60 photos produced between 1945 and 1947, all of which are available for viewing either on Google Images or on Getty Images. The 60 shown here represent a select fraction of the nearly 700 George Lacks photos already available online. That said,
- The Hitler Suite is the first of five categories of photos never before presented online. This set includes 32 photos of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen, produced by my father as he "crashed" Hitler's summer haven in Berchtesgaden, Germany in June 1937. The set also contains scans of a seven-page letter that George drafted to one Sidney James, describing the experience in full; and a nifty summary of the entire episode published by the Los Angeles Times in 1944;
- "Just one more!", a small compendium of work composed when George was on the staff of the L.A. Herald-Express between 1956 and 1960, and also a member of the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association (LAPPA), during which he served as its president in 1959. "Just one more!" was, and is, the annual journal of LAPPA, now the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles (PPAGLA);
- George as Subject features George standing in front of a camera lens, for a change. This section compiles nearly all the photos of my father that I could find, all of which were shot either by George himself or by one of his professional colleagues;
- A Family Album is much like your typical album full of family photos—if you can call family photos shot by a professional press photographer on black-and-white film using a Speed Graphic camera "typical"; and
- Odds'n'Ends, a small set of afterthoughts and miscellaneous miscellany either not accounted for previously, or which would not fit neatly into any of the preceding categories.
It should go without saying that you can also access any of the six categories by rolling your mouse over the link labeled "the photos" at the top and bottom of each page.
Most of the images that you see on this and the other pages are hyperlinked to enlarged images, or to external resources that might prove informative and useful. If you roll your mouse over each image, you'll see a tooltip that displays a caption for that image.
In most respects this website works in the usual ways. However, there are a couple of novel features and wrinkles that you should be aware of before you proceed. First of all, whenever you try to access another page from this home page, the new page will always open in a new tab or window. The effect is that once you leave this page, you will always have at least two pages open initially, including this one. The reason has to do with the music player that is embedded in this page. I want visitors to enjoy the music without interruption as they navigate from page to page. Keeping the home page open at all times is the simplest solution I can think of to keep the music going without impediment.
Of course, this assumes that you like the music presented here, and while I personally cannot conceive anyone who simultaneously enjoys looking at old photographs but despises jazz from the '40s and '50s, (;-}= I suppose it is logically possible that some visitors will want no part of the music on this site. Fair enough; if you're among the curmudgeonly crowd that doesn't like straight-ahead jazz (or you're occasionally of a mind to contemplate photographs in silence), you can circumvent the music in one of several ways:
- You can hit the Stop button on the music player (it's the rightmost of the four); or
- You can bypass the home page by closing it when you've finished viewing it; or
- You can always bookmark some other page of this website, and bypass the home page permanently.
So here's the deal: if you want to enhance your viewing experience with music, keep the home page open while you're viewing; if you don't, don't.
More information about the music on this site, as well as its rationale and motivation, can be found here, or by clicking "the music" from any page.
The photo-viewing apparatus on this website was developed by yours truly, writing raw code from scratch and assimilating what I believe are the best features from the phenotypes of other photo-viewing apparatus (apparatuses, apparati?) I've seen. However, this is an expansive and complicated website, with over 220 images available for viewing at any one time. For that reason I've incorporated in the photo viewer one or two other wrinkles that you should be aware of. To begin with, you'll notice not one but two spyglass icons for enlarging images. The left-facing spyglass will open the enlarged image in the same tab or window as the one in which the viewer is currently located. The right-facing spyglass opens the enlargement in a new tab or window. Thus you have two viewing options available, each with its advantages and disadvantages. If you prefer enlarging in the same tab, you keep the number of open tabs/windows to a minimum, but in so doing you risk "breaking the back arrow" of your browser. I personally prefer enlarging images in a new tab/window, which sometimes entails clutter at the top and bottom of my browser, and/or the need to close tabs or windows repeatedly. (In connection with all this, you should read the section entitled "Advantages of Tabbed Browsing" below.)
You can do a lot with this photo viewer: in addition to enlarging images, you can reset the slide show to the beginning, and you can jump to the top or bottom of the page to access the main links if you need to. You can access images in the slide show either by clicking on one of the thumbnail images, or by using the image counter. (And not to worry: the counter and thumbnail mechanisms communicate perfectly with one another!) You can jump directly to the photo viewer by clicking the small red arrow at the top left of any photo page, or immediately following the text of that page. Be sure to roll your mouse over each of the icons: you'll see a tooltip that indicates what that icon does. Roll your mouse over each thumbnail, and you'll see the caption of the photo associated with it. If you like, you can bypass the slide show entirely, and view all the enlargements in succession just by clicking either of the two red arrows at the bottom of each enlargement page. Experiment, click around, go nuts—you won't break anything!
In my estimation, opening new windows in a web browser is ergonomi- cally inefficient at best, and a colossal pain in the ass at worst. Once the window is opened, it has to be "maximized" to fill the screen, and once you're done with it, the window either has to be closed, or "minimized" to a button on the toolbar that's usually at the bottom. There are good reasons why browsers such as Mozilla's Firefox innovated with the concept of tabbed browsing, and why other browsers followed suit shortly thereafter.
I believe that navigating this site will be much more pleasurable if you stick with tabbed browsing, and shun the opening of windows altogether. You can do this by using a browser that employs tabs by default. (Firefox is the most prominent example, but there are others, including Google Chrome.) Alas, despite its many virtues (including its status as free, open-source software), Firefox for Windows sometimes renders text fonts rather crudely compared to Micro$oft's Internet Explorer. Fortunately, despite its expense, (next column)
and its many irritations and peccadilloes from a web developer's standpoint, Internet Explorer finally incorporated tabbed browsing as an option (beginning with IE 7, I believe). You may not know that you don't have to hit Ctrl-T and click on a link simultaneously to open a new tab in IE. You can program IE to open new tabs by default. Here's the procedure:
- From the 'Tools' menu, select 'Internet Options';
- Click the 'General' tab; in the 'Tabs' section, click the 'Settings' button;
- In the section labeled 'When a pop-up is encountered:', select 'Always open pop-up in a new tab';
- Click the 'OK' button to exit 'Tabbed Browsing Settings';
- Click the 'OK' button to exit the 'Tools' menu.
Incidentally or not, it bears mentioning that this site is best viewed using a speedy broadband connection and a modern, flat-screen monitor with a viewing area at least 1280 pixels wide. This is not an optimally viewable site for people who are still stuck with a slow Internet connection, or an old-fashioned, bulky cathode-ray-tube monitor, or even an older flat-screen with a resolution of 1024x768 or less. (For the sake of your health, if for no other reason, ditch that old CRT monitor, stimulate the economy a bit, and pony up for a new flat-screen, or laptop computer!)
I hasten to add that this site is best appreciated when viewed not before 2 a.m., with your favorite gimlet, martini, or bourbon whiskey readily to hand, any of which will doubtlessly enhance your viewing pleasure. To add further comfort to your experience, be aware that no animals were harmed in the course of producing this website, although inconceivably large numbers of electrons were greatly inconvenienced.
For the dedicatory page of the 1959 edition of "Just one more!", George Lacks, then president of the Los Angeles Press Photographers Association, wrote: "The aim of the Press Photographer is to record current history on film. It is not enough to shoot good pictures, but to tell a story, and in the telling of our story, retain our objectivity and integrity as befits good newspapermen."
To be honest, I believe that my father, who was of considerable philosophical bent, wrote this passage somewhat cynically. He had to have known better; as every decent philosopher knows, pure objectivity —with respect to capturing an image on film, or writing a news story, or a book, or any other creative endeavor—is an ideal, a fiction, an impossibility. Every person's conscious experience of the world is unavoidably filtered through, colored and conditioned by, the frames of reference cultivated by familial, social, cultural, and environ- mental influences at work practically from the time he or she is born. (For that matter, the most pernicious "damage," it might be said, occurs directly during early childhood, with the child's perceptual and conceptual frameworks pretty much set for life by the age of four or five.) Take photography, for example. Many people imagine the process of photographing an image (as opposed to, say, drawing or painting it) to be an objective endeavor insofar as it entails the physically objective phenomenon of photons bombarding a photosensitive plate of some sort, the occurrence of which, it is supposed, cannot be altered or affected by human intervention in any way.
Seriously, does it take more than a moment or two of honest introspection to see that this concep- tion is not only false, but absurd as well? The very matter of what a photographer chooses to photograph, and what to ignore, imposes subjectivity upon the objects being photographed. (Hence, their apperception as subjects of the photograph!) In like fashion, how the photographer composes his or her photo is entirely subjective. That subjectivity can only be exacerbated insofar as, and to the extent that, the photographer approaches the subject from various angles; uses artificial lighting, or flash; alters exposure times, and depth of field; uses lenses of various focal lengths; deliberately focuses or blurs an image; deliberately moves the camera while shooting, or mounts it on a tripod or other stationary device; deliberately exposes a single frame once, twice, or multiple times; uses filters to colorify an image, or grayscale film to desaturate it. This is not even to account for the many things that are possible after an image has been rendered on film, or in digital memory. Think of what can happen in the darkroom, or in the studio as the photog wields her airbrush, or the photo-processing software on her computer. (Think too of the publication process, as publishers select, crop, resize, rearrange, reposition, and repurpose photos to achieve the effects that they aim for in their publications.) On the contrary, the variety of ways in which photographers inevitably impose subjectivity upon their creations is virtually without limit.
In various phases of my life I have worked as a draftsman, a professor of philosophy at a community college, an announcer/programmer at several classical-music radio stations, and a web developer. I have brought to bear upon this website my interest and experience in all four fields, including philosophy. Accordingly, just as surely as no photographer can be objective with respect to his or her creations, I cannot even begin to profess one whit of objectivity with respect to creating this website. I have tried to report as faithfully as possible the bare facts of my father's existence, to the extent that they were reported faithfully in turn by him, by my mother Blossom Lacks Brown, and by a few of his closest friends and colleagues, notably Delmar Watson and Alex Buchman. At the same time, visitors should be warned that this report bears the imprint of my own personal frames of reference, my own perception of the world. That holds true from the visual standpoint every bit as much as it does from the verbal. Therefore I cannot guarantee that how I think of my father will be an accurate reflection of how he thought of himself. That matter will be complicated, to put it mildly, by the limited extent to which any nine-year-old child could perceive his father, and by the more than fifty years that have elapsed since.
Furthermore, I apologize in advance if perchance what I say and show here causes offense to any person, particularly to members of my own family, and to descendants of my father's associates. Know that any such offense, if it occurs, is neither intended nor wielded with malice aforethought.
There are many whose interest in this project encouraged me to pursue it, and for better or worse I refrain from naming most of them here. All were extremely patient, either because they waited patiently through its long gestation, or because they patiently endured my constant yammering about this site as it continued to unfold and develop. I just hope that the finished product will have amply rewarded their patience.
Of these, however, a few were directly instrumental in its creation. First, and most fundamentally: My father had scores of friends and colleagues in the profession of press journalism, but two stand out in particular for contributing, however unknowingly, to this website. Before they passed away during the last decade, Alex Buchman and Delmar Watson provided me with photographs, xerographs of photos, numerous negatives, Lacks memorabilia, and valuable correspendence that shed light on important aspects of my father's life and career. Their contributions were not only substantial; they were huge. Suffice it to say that this would not have been a very good website without them. There is so much more to say about both men, and I haven't the space to do it here. So I've written more about them elsewhere in this site, which is why I include the links above.
Next, I have to thank my sister Jennifer Brown Hine and her husband Richard Hine. A few years ago they did some sleuthing, and brought to my attention the fact that hundreds of George's photos were actually posted online. Jennifer also furnished the copy of the Los Angeles Times article that appears in The Hitler Suite.
Bob Riha, Jr., the current president of the Press Photographers Association of Greater Los Angeles, graciously and enthusiastically granted permis- sion for me to publish photos from (and reproduce the covers of) the annual journals "Just one more!" for all of the years 1957 through 1960. I hope that I will have reciprocated in kind by providing the PPAGLA with useful information and memorabilia as it celebrates a milestone of its own: the 75th anniversary of LAPPA/PPAGLA in March 2011. Daniel Watson, a former president of PPAGLA and a nephew of Delmar Watson who maintains the Watson Family Photographic Archive, was helpful in identifying members of his family in some of the enclosed photos.
Production of this site would have been virtually impossible were it not for the inestimable assistance of my friend and graphic-arts partner, Liesa Walker. Liesa scanned about 150 of the 220 images contained herein, then, without any prompting on my part, tastefully and judiciously cropped and retouched many of those scans to remove or alleviate damage to the original photos caused by spotting, scratching, creasing, buckling, delamination, emulsion-staining, edge-fading, edge irregularities, and so on. She inspired me to touch up scanned images wherever I could, in the event that she was unavailable. (Our approach to retouching was simply to repair damage, and never to misrepresent content in any way. Just the same, we anticipate that certain "purists" will recoil in horror at our attempts at photographic revisionism!) Liesa also created the logos, headers, and special typographical elements for this site, according to specifications so rigid that it's a wonder she didn't abandon me a long time ago. Had I not developed Liesa's own website concurrently, together with its own image-viewing apparatus, I would not have gotten the head start that eased and accelerated development of the George Lacks website considerably. Kudos, and great big hugs, to Liesa for work so very well-done.
My search for a suitable music player ended when I came across the players from Premiumbeat. Their website offers some of the coolest media players you're likely to find anywhere: they are open-source, absolutely free of charge (unless you opt not to display their link on the player), extensively customizable, and very installation-friendly to web developers like myself. (Developers beware, though: If you don't specify an absolute path name absolutely everywhere a path name is called for, the player isn't likely to work!) Props also to my colleague and good buddy Rick Roome, for his advice and assistance in this subproject.
Lastly, a tip-of-the-hat to my dear friend and constant animal companion of more than nine years, my cat Dion. Sad to say, Dion passed away on September 16, 2010, right in the midst of this project's creation, due to complica- tions from diabetes that he weathered bravely, without medication, for about 15 months. At a time when all the tropes of death appear to envelop and encircle me, I prefer to reflect happily upon the vividness and vigor with which the lives of Dion, and my father, informed my own—ironically, each for about the same length of time as the other, and on opposite ends of my life to this point.
Needless to say, in the face of all these contributions, any defects that remain (there are bound to be many) are strictly my own.
Enjoy this website.
Gordon M. Brown