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NARRATION: In May, 1999, a devastating tornado tore up large areas of Kansas and central Oklahoma. The storm killed 46 people; thousand lost their homes. In the hall of a church in Oklahoma City, volunteers collected photographs which had been scattered, sometimes over miles, by the storm. Their hope was to return these treasured possessions to people who had lost almost everything they owned.

Grandma: I don’t know, I had boxes of ’em, and they just all flew away.

Blonde Mother: The back of the house where I kept all my picture albums was sucked away, and the hallway where all our pictures were, everything is gone.

Man: Pictures are more important than all the other stuff we lost, you know, the furniture and all that stuff can be replaced.

British Woman: There was a day when George was three weeks old, and Terry, my husband, was getting ready to go back to work after his leave, and I really would have liked that page out of the album.

George: Is that Dad’s truck?

British Woman: No, Darling, that’s not Daddy’s truck. It looks like it though, doesn’t it.

Woman: I found one!

Man: You’re kidding! You actually found one in all this mess?

Woman: It’s your writing, and it says "Melanie at six months. December 1965." Would that not be...?

Woman 2: Yes, that’s my handwriting.

LEONARD NIMOY, Actor/Photographer: We take photographs and we keep photographs for so many different reasons. And even within the pictures that I have in my office there are a number of reasons for having them. Some are of great emotional memories that I want to preserve. Some happen to be a record of something that I did that I’m proud of and I like to have it around me. And it’s a kind of a proof, I did that, I was there, you know.

JOYCE LADNER, Brookings Institution: Someone, when I was maybe twelve, thirteen years old, gave me this picture book. The pictures showed us what the rest of the world was to which we aspired. I couldn’t have dreamed had I not seen the pictures. I wouldn’t have known what to dream.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: Try to imagine the world today without photographs, it’s really kind of impossible. It would be like a person who was blind from birth, trying to imagine the world out there.

DAVID FRIEND, Vanity Fair: Photographs are on the periphery of our lives as sort of visual undergrowth that we take for granted, but really photographs are a matter of life and death. They’re the pictures that we see on the front page of our newspaper that force us to act and stop this war in this region. They’re the pictures that when we go to the doctor, whether we have an x-ray or a sonogram, that can save our lives literally.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: They are one of the things that define the 20th century. The photo that everybody knows, that everybody’s familiar with, that circulates nationally, internationally that seems to define a particular moment.

GAIL BUCKLAND, Photographic Historian: There are many shots that we can’t even imagine living without, they become so fundamental to how we view ourselves and how we view a particular era.




Title: "You Press the Button, We Do the Rest"

NARRATION: On February 1, 1900, a new, small box camera appeared in stores. It was called the Brownie – a camera so popular that in one form or another, it remained in production for almost eighty years.

A decade earlier, the original Kodak, as it was known, had liberated would-be photographers from darkrooms and chemicals. But it was too expensive for most people.

The Brownie was something new – a small, solid camera with very few controls. The price was only a dollar.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, Critic: That was within the reach of the working class. Suddenly everybody could take pictures. They could have a visual record of their lives easily, inexpensively made. We were awash in photographs.

NARRATION: Before the Brownie, ordinary people would have their pictures taken only once or twice in their lives -- stiff, formal portraits from photo studios.

DR. NAOMI ROSENBLUM, Author: It changed the nature of the photographic portrait business completely because portraiture was now made in the home, instead of in studios where it usually had been. And it became much more casual. It was serendipitous; it captured a kind of flux of life the way posed portraiture had not been able to do.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: Ordinary folks begin to get a sense that if an event is not documented by photography, if you don’t have a photograph to show for example that you were on vacation, or to show the family opening presents on Christmas morning, or to show your little infant baby, somehow it’s not real.

NARRATION: In the first year alone, a quarter of a million Brownies were sold in America. With the snapshot camera, photography became the great democratic art – by and for ordinary people.

Around the turn of the century, a small change in postal regulations created a whole new way to share photographs - the picture postcard.

LUC SANTE, Author: The paper moon of course being the most noticeable, most notable studio prop at the time. And here is true patriotism.

TITLE: Luc Sante and his Postcards

LUC SANTE, Author: As of 1908, I believe it was, the Eastman Kodak company offered to print any photograph on postcard paper at no extra charge. Why did people send postcards? Well for many, many, many reasons really, sometimes indecipherable reasons. To show the newborn, the newlyweds, the high school graduates, even in some cases, the dead lying in their coffins. They showed the barn, the chickens, the new cow. All these things could be sent to grandma, cousins, uncles. You know, the boy goes off to the big city to become an engineer, here is the new calf that was born last year. So they just send him a picture via postcard. They also fulfilled the function of newspaper photographs in the later years, because newspapers then did not have the capacity for halftone reproduction, or they couldn’t afford it really is the story. So you have coverage of disasters, parades, county fairs and of a few really big events such as the Mexican Revolution. There were probably tens of millions of these produced every year. We don’t have any idea of the exact number.

Ah, photo montage, the Wright biplane in Springfield, Minnesota. Do we actually believe that the plane flew down Main Street? It looks kind of convincing, actually, but this is actually montage. So the Dadaists didn’t invent this stuff after all. And you have these exaggeration photo montages too, the modern farmer here. Can only get one potato on the back of the wagon, 'cause the eggs were taking up the rest of the space. There are also many, many pictures recording for example the labor union struggles, the Socialist Party, the suffragettes. And they turn up in the attics of conservative Midwestern families, because somewhere in there was Aunt Mathilda or Uncle Bruce and you just didn’t throw away their images, it would be sacrilegious to do so. So fortunately because of personal sentimental associations these great slices of social history have been preserved.



NARRATION: For most of the 19th century, photographs could not be reproduced in magazines or newspapers. If photos were used in books, they had to be glued in by hand, one at a time.

Then, in the 1880s, a process called halftone was invented, making it possible to print photographs directly onto a page. But it would take years for publishers to appreciate how this mass production of images could change the world.

In 1905 Gilbert Grosvenor was the editor of a dry scientific journal with 3000 earnest subscribers. It was called the National Geographic. The magazine was losing money hand over fist, and Grosvenor was under pressure to increase circulation. But how? The answer came by accident.

VOLKMAR KURT WENTZEL, The National Geographic Magazine (retired): There was a printer’s deadline. He was wondering, what am I going to put into this magazine this month? And there on the desk was a package addressed to him and so almost out of boredom he opened it and it turned out that they were pictures of Lhasa in Tibet. And he decided to publish them.

NARRATION: Some of the Society’s conservative board members objected, but the general public loved the pictures. Grosvenor began filling the magazine with more and more photographs.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: Suddenly the wonders of the world were on your doorstep. And everybody could see a land that almost nobody was going to or could go to readily. It was some place that was not like home. It was somebody who was not like you. They were in odd costumes and some of them were not in much costume.

NARRATION: National Geographic pioneered the printing of color photographs. Photography made the magazine a huge success. Circulation soared, from three thousand subscribers to almost half a million, in just ten years.

DOROTHY OSBORNE, 101 years old: It was very valuable to own and to have. And you treasured it. Oh I think Americans learned a great deal from it. I can remember so many foreign places, Indians, natives, half-dressed people from Africa, you know, things like that, which as a girl going to a church school in New York, we never even thought of the natives in Africa.

NARRATION: It was through these pages that generations of Americans formed their impression of the world. It was a highly selective view, with foreigners always in quaint dress, and the natives always happy and frequently dancing. There were never images of Africans getting up in the morning and going to the office.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: It was a way of rationalizing this kind of colonialist point of view actually. The West was dominating a number of those countries. And they were made beautiful, exotic, attractive, whatever, in photographs and articles which subtly said that interesting as they were, they were inferior to our wonderfully upstanding, technological, civilized, sophisticated civilization.


NARRATION: In the early part of the century, Edward Curtis published a 20-volume set of photographs documenting the lives of Native Americans. Most people’s idea of what Indians look like comes from Curtis’s photographs.

RAYNA GREEN, Smithsonian Institution: I’m Rayna Green. I’m Oklahoma Cherokee and German Jewish from Texas and Oklahoma.


RAYNA GREEN, Smithsonian Institution: I have no pictures in my family album from the turn of the century. Whoever my people were, they took no pictures.


RAYNA GREEN, Smithsonian Institution: Every Indian in North America has a Curtis photograph on their wall at sometime during their lives. Edward Curtis, a great photographer, an extraordinary man, made it his enterprise to photograph the people whom he believed would disappear. And so he set about on this extraordinary enterprise. And he did go all over North America from the northwest coast to Hopi land to the northern plains.

Curtis gave non-Indians an image of a world that they wanted intact. Indians as beautiful, Indians as romantic. He dragged around a trunk full of clothes just in case Indians didn’t look the way he wanted them to look. If they didn’t look right, he fixed it. If he didn’t think they looked glamorous enough in their daily Sioux outfits, he’d drag out the Blackfeet ermine-tailed war bonnets, just to hype it up a little more.

What Curtis did was extraordinary and what he left us with was an amazing legacy, these beautiful pictures of a moment in time that we all wish was true, that last brief shining moment when we looked glorious, when things weren’t shattered.

For me though and I think for a lot of native people those pictures give us a lie, give us a fantasy. I want the real picture of a daily world the way native people were living it, and Curtis can’t give me that.

Frank Matsura photographed hundreds and hundreds of Indian people at the time. He was making pictures of all the things they were, of all the ways they looked. He took pictures of the not-Curtis world. And I want those pictures. I want the reality. I want the past as it was rather than as someone dreamed it into being.



TITLE: "Mr. Stieglitz, you won’t insist that a photograph can possibly be a work of art?" – Director, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

NARRATION: Is photography an art? Since its invention, critics had argued that it couldn’t be compared to painting and drawing, because the camera was simply a mechanical means of reproducing reality. And now there was the snapshot camera. "Where is the art," the critics asked, "when all you do is press a button?"

JOHN SZARKOWSKI, The Museum of Modern Art (Emeritus): The problem for serious photographers at about the turn of the century was that basic photography had become so easy that there was no longer any distinction in being a photographer. So that a new system had to be designed that would separate the sheep from the goats.

NARRATION: In 1902, Alfred Stieglitz started the Photo-Secessionist movement. The name meant "breaking away" – away from what Stieglitz called commercial trash and artless amateur photography.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, Critic: Stieglitz felt that people should recognize photography as another branch of art, just as they recognized etching, just as they recognized aquatint, just as they recognized lithography.

NARRATION: The Pictorialists, as they became known, intervened in the photographic process by smearing Vaseline on their lenses or in the darkroom afterwards by scratching the negative or painting chemicals on their prints to simulate brushstrokes. The aim was to make photography a handmade process, like the other arts.

MERRY FORESTA, National Museum of American Art: The pictorialist photographs looked like art, quite literally. They looked like paintings. They looked like drawings. They looked like beautiful, rich prints. They were meant to have chiaroscuro, they were meant to have darkness, they were meant to have a kind of sketchiness.

MARIA MORRIS HAMBOURG, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: These pictures do have a very seductive quality which is one of a sort of a dream world. It’s a kind of place where you don’t have to have things exact, where you can enter a kind of floating existence that is not too unlike music.

MERRY FORESTA, National Museum of American Art: This hands-on process brought photography back to the older traditions of handmade art, and sort of satisfied that question at least for the moment that photography was made by a machine. No, it clearly wasn’t. It needed human intervention in order to really become art.



NARRATION: In the first decades of the century, America was speeding up. Photography not only documented America’s growing industrial might – it was put to work as a tool of the modern assembly line. In this speeded up world, factory owners looked to the camera to make their workers move even faster.

Title: Time-Motion Studies

OLD DOCUMENTARY ANNOUNCER: Frank Bunker Gilbreth took his first step into the field of management in 1885, when, on his second day as an apprentice bricklayer, he questioned why he was being taught several different methods for laying bricks. His interest in finding the best method led to his development of motion and fatigue studies.

NARRATION: Early in the century, Frank Gilbreth used photographs to break a worker’s every action into the smallest units, revealing all unnecessary movements. He studied the fastest workers, in order to teach maximum efficiency to everyone.

In Gilbreth’s cyclograph technique, he attached flashing lights to a worker’s fingers to indicate the length of time a motion would take. Soon Gilbreth’s photographs were changing the lives of everyone from golfers to oyster shuckers.

Gilbreth observed that surgeons took more time looking for their instruments than they did in performing the operation itself. He suggested a new procedure: keeping an eye on the incision, the surgeon would extend an open palm to the nurse and utter the now-famous words, "Scalpel, please."

Some accused Gilbreth of turning skilled workers into robots but the bosses loved his techniques. Gilbreth even brought his zeal for efficiency to his own large family. His children got their revenge when they wrote about home life with their eccentric father and called it "Cheaper by the Dozen." Gilbreth died of a heart attack at age 55.



NARRATION: In the first decade of the century, photographs were beginning to enter into many aspects of American life. They came through the mail; pictures appeared in newspapers and magazines. Photography was starting to have an influence not only on how people saw the world, but on what they believed.

TITLE: "With a picture sympathetically interpreted, what a lever we have for social uplift." – Lewis Hine.

NARRATION: Writers had been describing the sufferings of the poor since before the time of Dickens. But no one thought of using photographs to advocate social change. Soon after it became possible to print photographs in books, Jacob Riis included pictures in his influential work on housing reform.

Riis’s work inspired Lewis Hine, a teacher who first picked up a camera as an educational tool. In 1906, he was hired by the National Child Labor Committee. They hoped that photographs might lend powerful support to their campaign to make child labor illegal.

NAOMI ROSENBLUM, Author: Hine and the National Child Labor Committee set out to educate the American middle class public about the need for legislation. Hine’s purpose was to show that children who worked so hard would be used up, would not provide America with an intelligent working class.

NARRATION: Hine assembled his pictures into exhibitions and slide shows, which criss-crossed the country. His photographs reached a huge audience - people who had never seen these kinds of images before. They were both moved and outraged.

"Perhaps you are weary of child labor pictures," Hine wrote. "Well, so are the rest of us. But we propose to make you and the whole country so sick and tired of the whole business that when the time for action comes, child labor pictures will be records of the past."

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Lewis Hine is probably one of the first people who realizes that what you see in a photographic image has extraordinary power and it’s got power way beyond logic and way beyond language. There were certain kinds of things that you could see in those pictures that would go right to your heart instead of to your head.

NARRATION: The photographs and the campaign led to state, and ultimately federal legislation outlawing child labor. Hine had made photography an essential tool in the struggle for social change.




NARRATION: It was 1915. In politics in the arts and in the world of ideas, revolution was in the air. Cubism. Freudian psychoanalysis. Einstein’s theory of relativity. Jazz, with its strange new rhythms, was sweeping America. Even ballet was causing riots.

Everything was changing. But in photography, the Pictorialists were still evoking foggy, romantic images of the past. One photographic artist would lead the medium into the modern age his name was Paul Strand.


Title: Straight Photography

MARIA MORRIS HAMBOURG, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Strand had been working sort of in the shadow of Stieglitz’s teachings for a couple of years, when finally in 1915 he brought in a portfolio of prints to the older man and showed him what he had been doing. Stieglitz looked at the portfolio, and said, well young man, this is it, you have created a new and great modern art.

NARRATION: Strand realized that the camera had a unique ability to capture shapes and forms simply, directly, and in sharp focus. The modernist movement he pioneered was called simply, "straight photography."

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: And that aesthetic became the aesthetic of the twenties. It meant that you took things the way they were and you did not manipulate them in the darkroom. The picture was supposed to look the way it looked in your viewfinder. The camera was supposed to be clearly focused. You were supposed to face reality, not muck around with it.

NARRATION: Instead of distorting the image or manipulating the print afterwards, Strand would emphasize the selection and framing of the picture. The art would depend on the eye of the photographer.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: The big revolution that Strand instituted in America was an investigation of abstract form. He took the shadows made by a chair railing on the porch and a table and then once in a while he turned the picture on its side, so you really weren’t certain what it was. He had looked at work by Picasso and Picabia and Braque and Matisse in Stieglitz’s gallery. He really knew something about European avant-garde painting. And he knew something about abstraction. And he was doing something similar with a camera.

NARRATION: Strand’s enthusiasm for sharp-focused realism was shared by a new generation of young photographers: Edward Weston, Imogene Cunningham, Walker Evans...

As Strand put it, the camera would now become an instrument of a new kind of vision.



NARRATION: Americans were being bombarded with more and more photographs, and they still seemed to hunger for more. A writer in Harper’s Magazine complained that "we can no longer see the ideas for the illustrations."

Photography’s power to motivate and inspire did not go unnoticed by the U.S. government.



In 1917, the United States entered World War One. The war did have its enthusiastic supporters, but much of the country remained to be convinced. A large percentage of the population was isolationist, and believed that it was senseless for Americans to die in this distant European conflict.

Just one week after America’s declaration of war, President Wilson established the country’s first propaganda agency. It would unleash a massive media campaign to rally the country to the cause. The camera, tightly controlled, became an important weapon of war.

PAUL FUSSELL, Author: In the first world war, American any photography of the troops was designed only to raise their morale, or to raise the morale of the folks at home. It was the government's attitude, I think correctly, that photographs depicting anything disgusting might slow down enlistments, as well as annoy the home front.

NARRATION: Photographers were kept away from the front lines, and most images of combat were either posed, or taken very far from the action. Government censorship was total. In a war in which over ten million people were slaughtered, no newspaper or magazine was ever permitted to show a photograph of a dead American soldier.

DOROTHY OSBORNE, 101 years old: We heard a great deal about the trenches. I haven’t thought of it really until you brought it up, the fact that we didn’t see pictures and pictures of dead soldiers. I don’t remember seeing many photographs of death, no I don’t.

JOHN SZARKOWSKI, The Museum of Modern Art (Emeritus): Well it was an appalling war. I mean, In terms of human sacrifice and idiocy, it was surely a much more horrible war, at least from the point of view of the armies that were engaged, than the Second War. I mean, repeatedly back and forth for the same one hundred yards of territory year in and year out, killing millions of men on the same narrow strips of ground. You know, you don’t want that kind of thing reported in your daily paper while the war is going on.

PAUL FUSSELL, Author: The argument is always made against the actual showing of photographs showing real life. That it would bother the relatives, and that's quite true. Yeah. My position is that I want to bother the relatives. You see, because I think war is a really appalling business, and I think it's everybody's business to know how appalling it is.

NARRATION: The actual horrors of war, although censored at the time, had in fact been photographed.

In the 1930’s, as hostilities were again building up in Europe, these photographs were published by America’s antiwar lobby. Right up until the moment that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, they bolstered the country’s determination to avoid foreign wars. The pictures showed the truth – that modern warfare was anything but glorious.











NARRATION: Seven P.M. The offices of the New York Daily News. The tension is running high. The presses must begin to roll in less than an hour, and nobody is quite sure what picture and what screaming headline will appear on the all-important front page.

REPORTER 1: You've got a headline here?


NARRATION: This ritual has been going on for over eighty years.

REPORTER 3: I just love the phrase "cheerful account of abortion, sex and suicide."

NARRATION: The Daily News is the oldest tabloid newspaper in the United States. When it started publication in 1919, it was the first paper to sell itself on the basis of pictures.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: It was then called "The Illustrated Daily News." And its logo was a winged camera. That camera went every place and brought the news winging back to you. And it had photographs and it had big photographs and it had a lot of photographs.

JAY MAEDER, New York Daily News: The one driving principle of assembling a page, then as now, is that you’re focusing on one specific story. And you’re blowing that story up for the maximum possible effect in terms of what kind of electric effect it’s going to have on the reader the instant he looks at it.

HARRY EVANS, New York Daily News, US News and World Report: A tabloid front page is a kind of poster like, "Come to the circus." And you want the fat lady on the front or the roaring tiger, something which makes an immediate appeal to the emotions.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Newspapers did six, seven editions a day. So you want the biggest, loudest, brashest picture that you can splash on the cover of that newspaper to get people to buy your newspaper. To get people to buy, you know, that edition of your newspaper, so pictures are used to attract attention.

JAY MAEDER, New York Daily News: It was hard not to have a good news day in the 1920s really, which just happened to be the great period of time of the tabloid wars. You had these three tabloid papers, these unbelievably rowdy, raucous, in-your-face tabloids. The Daily News, and the Daily Mirror, and something called the Evening Graphic which was probably the worst newspaper that’s ever been published in North America.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: The New York Graphic was the most extreme tabloid of all. That is, it seemed to have the most sex, it had the most illustrations, it had the most scandal. It was in some ways the lowest rent tabloid there was. And one of the most interesting innovations of The Graphic was the so-called Composograph.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Well The Evening Graphic decides that the real world and photographs of the real world are not interesting enough, right. That there’s so many pictures out there now that we’re going to show you what you’ve never seen before. And so Bernarr Macfadden, the guy who’s the editor and his I guess, photographers and art directors and editors, come up with this idea of a Composograph.

LUC SANTE, Author: What they would do is stage the photograph, often using staffers at the newspaper, copy boys and stenographers, having them pose and then later pasting in the faces of the principals

NARRATION: One of the most famous uses of the Composograph came during the Rhinelander scandal. Wealthy socialite Kip Rhinelander was seeking a divorce from his wife Alice. He claimed she hadn’t told him she was part Negro. When Alice stripped in front of the judge to show that Kip must have known her race all along, the fake photograph boosted the Graphic’s circulation by 100,000.

But the most sensational trial of the 1920s was that of Ruth Snyder. She was found guilty of murdering her husband by smashing his head in with an iron bar. The Daily News got its biggest scoop of the decade when their photographer snuck a hidden camera into the execution chamber.

HAROLD EVANS, New York Daily News, US News and World Report: The Daily News photographer had a camera strapped to his ankle. And you see Ruth Snyder being electrocuted. Shocking photograph. And the simple, single word on that front page was DEAD, exclamation mark. Well, that’s news.


JERRY DELLA FEMINA, Advertiser: I think, in photography, or in life, the truth always loses out to fantasy. I mean, the truth is there, but fantasy? This is better than the truth. A car is a car is a car. Yet they look at it, and they shoot it from an angle so that it's not a car. It's a sex organ. And suddenly everybody has a fantasy about that car. Without photographers, advertising would have been in a lot of trouble.


NARRATION: In the 1920’s, photographs began replacing drawings in printed advertising. A photograph could show the product in a direct and believable way.

MARIA MORRIS HAMBOURG, The Metropolitan Museum of Art: It was remarkable how much more the public responded to photographs than to drawings. People believed the photograph. They knew that drawings could lie, but they believed that photographs were true.

NARRATION: Advertisers realized that photographs could invest their products with drama and glamour. The most avant-garde art photographers were showing the way. Paul Strand had used the camera to explore the shape and form of a car fender. Paul Outerbridge took a loving closeup of a telephone.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: Weston made a beautiful photograph of an Excusado -- a toilet! The camera can elevate the most lowly object into something quite magnificent.

NARRATION: Advertisers were quick to apply modernist photography to the business of selling.

With the skill of top photographers like Edward Steichen, a cigarette lighter could be transformed into an object of desire.

LUC SANTE, Author: The advertising photographs of the 1920s is where modernism starts hitting its vernacular stride in the United States. And you see, well you see a lot of fuddy-duddy advertising in the 1920s obviously, but occasionally you see something, you know an isolated celluloid collar against a checkerboard background. And it just says, Bauhaus. But here it is appearing in some American publication in 1924. The message is, become the new person step in to the modern world.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: The photograph isolates, monumentalizes and in some way worships these objects. And we can scarcely help but respond to them on the same level.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: It helps to bring about a revolution in advertising. By the ‘20s advertising is not read, it’s seen. And you know that’s a testament to the fact that increasingly advertisements are organized around photographic images.



NARRATION: From Julius Caesar to George Washington, there have always been famous people. But photography added a new dimension to fame, and created a uniquely 20th century phenomenon – the media celebrity.

Scientists, gangsters, politicians and preachers all could become famous, as long as they looked good in pictures.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: By and large, the more you’re seen, the more people find you inevitable. Not just unavoidable, but inevitable.

LEO BRAUDY, Cultural History: The stories of individuals were being brought to a public that seemed to be hungry for more stories about these individuals. People wanted to connect with these people, wanted to know more about them, wanted to know about their private lives, wanted to know what they did off camera.

NARRATION: For the first time in history, sports stars became superstars. Baseball player George Herman Ruth became, after the Prince of Wales, the most photographed human being on earth. Babe Ruth was the first sports star to have his image marketed as a commodity, selling everything from anchovies to zippers. As a baseball player, he earned $50,000. As a celebrity, he made millions.

In Hollywood, photographers like Clarence Sinclair Bull and George Hurrell invented a new school of publicity photograph that was instantly recognizable. They didn’t merely photograph stars, they created stars. They didn’t merely capture an actor’s image, they invented it. They defined glamour.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: Increasingly, what the Hollywood studios sees is that they’re not just selling movies. They’re selling a belief that ordinary people can somehow enter into that world, and inhabit that world through their relationship with their favorite stars.

VICKI GOLDBERG, Author, critic: You could sit and stare at somebody you were sort of half in love with anyway for minutes on end. You could put it up on your wall, you could put it on your dresser and you then had a sort of ersatz intimacy with this person. It related you to that celebrity.

NARRATION: In 1913 Rodolfo Guglielmi, aged 18, immigrated to New York from his native Italy. He worked as a gardener, a dancer, and then as a bit player in Hollywood. Renamed Rudolph Valentino, he would become the romantic idol of the silent screen.

It was his extraordinary good looks, rather than his acting ability, which made him a star. His smoldering eyes looked out from the tabloids and the fan magazines. Young women all over the country lovingly assembled his pictures in scrapbooks.

And then in 1926, at the height of his career, Valentino was suddenly taken ill.

DANIEL CZITROM, Historian: You see a Composograph on the front page of The Graphic which shows Rudolph Valentino lying on a hospital bed, of course it’s a model with his face pasted on it and all the nurses and doctors around.

NARRATION: Valentino died of a burst appendix. He was only 31.

Song: "Valentino goodbye, but way up in the sky / There’s a new star in heaven tonight."

NARRATION: The NEW YORK GRAPHIC printed a front-page photo of Valentino in heaven.

MARVIN HEIFERMAN, Curator/Writer: Every newspaper’s got a picture of Rudolph Valentino, dead. So you know big deal. So well here’s a picture of him in heaven, right. This is it, you’ve never seen this before! Here’s Rudolph Valentino in heaven, you know, meeting Fate and meeting Caruso, and whoever else happens to be hanging around in, you know, café society, you know, dead café society.


NARRATION: The intense media attention turned Valentino’s death into a circus. A crowd of one hundred thousand people descended on the funeral home, in a scene that brought out the riot police. Over 100 people were injured.

One mourner, Mrs. Angeline Celestina, went home, took poison, and then shot herself for good measure, collapsing in a heap upon her Valentino picture collection.

Valentino’s death was just a small preview of what would become a celebrity-obsessed century. For these fans, the loss of a hero they’d known only in pictures was as real, perhaps more real, than that of a family member.







NEIL de GRASSE TYSON, Hayden Planetarium, NYC: Some people are moved by pictures of celebrities or of disasters, or of war, for me, I'm moved by these very special photographs that help humans place ourselves in a context of cosmic time and cosmic space.


NEIL de GRASSE TYSON, Hayden Planetarium: 20th century astronomy would be unthinkable without the photograph. In the early part of the century, just before photography started to play a significant role in the acquisition of data on telescopes, what were astronomers doing? They were looking through eye pieces, and drawing what they saw. Percival Lowell looked through his eye piece of his telescope at the planet Mars, and started drawing what he believed he saw. And if you look at his hand drawings, he's got canals, and vegetation, and regions that he identified with cities. There were artists of the day that painted up what Mars must look like, given the illustrations of Percival Lowell.

Only later did people come to terms with the fact that since nobody else saw what he saw, maybe this system of canals was in his imagination. What photography did was neutralize any effect that your imagination might have in your acquisition of data.

But the photograph wasn't simply a recording of what you saw. It could be much, much more than that. What the human eye sees does not compare to what you can recover with the help of a photographic emulsion.

The naked eye sees about 6,000 stars in the night time sky. The Milky Way contains billions of stars, but they're so far away, that their light is just smeared into this glow. You don't resolve it. Whereas a photograph, you can open the shutter and leave that film exposed for as long as you choose, a minute, ten minutes, an hour, ten hours, 20 hours. And in so doing, however feeble that source of light was, it will accumulate on the photographic emulsion.

By enabling humans to see things that happen faster than we would otherwise be able to recognize, to see bands of light that are outside the sensitivity of the human retina, to see things that are farther away in the universe than the human eye or mind could have ever imagined, what photography has done for us in this century, is enabled our five senses to be broadened, to be expanded.



LEONARD NIMOY, Actor/Photographer: A few years ago I was invited to come to Moscow where a film of mine, a film that I’d directed, was being shown.


LEONARD NIMOY, Actor/Photographer: So my wife and I went to Moscow and we were there for the screening and then this voyage started, a voyage back to roots. And we had done some research and discovered that there was a Nimoy family living in a city called Chmelnitsky. And there were a sizable family of Nimoys waiting for us, they’d been told we were coming. They were very suspicious of us, had no idea who we were. So there was this wary kind of standoff relationship for a while. And then we sat down, we ate, we had a couple of beers. And then when there seemed to be the appropriate moment the gentleman of the house got up and left the room and came back carrying an envelope. White envelope, obviously carefully kept in a drawer somewhere with a U.S. postage stamp on it. And I immediately recognized my mother’s handwriting on the address. It was very clear. And I got a chill. And he opened the envelope and brought out two small black and white snapshots, and laid them out on a table in front of me and said to me, do you know these people? And through the interpreter who was with us and through Yiddish, which I speak and he spoke, I said I do, this photograph is one of my children. This was 25 years later, and because I was able to identify these children, obviously immediately made connection and understood what our relationship was. So you are the son of... and he was the brother of... and the family tree was established. Those people had been holding on to those photographs for 25 years. That was their connection to family in the United States. And there had been no further communication. But they had them carefully taken care of like something precious in a drawer.



NARRATION: It had been thirty short years since the introduction of the Brownie. Photographs, once rare, were now everywhere, influencing every aspect of American life.

It seemed as if photography had reached its peak, but the medium had yet to show its full power.

In the coming decades, photographs would travel around the world instantly, over telephone lines. Picture magazines would sweep the country, and vivid photographs would unify the nation during this century’s darkest hours.

The golden age of photography was about to begin...