Excerpted here are snippets from Langfords’ A Cold War Tourist and His Camera, an illustrated history of their father’s cold war world tour as an incidental tourist and student of the Canadian National Defence College.
The MQUP invites you too to unearth your own family snapshots and unintended historical records. The best shots will be published on this blog, and the very best will receive a free copy of A Cold War Tourist and His Camera.
Send your entries before March 31st to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Cold War Tourist and His Camera by Martha Langford and John Langford
In 1963, Warren Langford, a Second World War air force veteran and career public servant, travelled through Europe, North America, and Africa as part of the National Defence College’s curriculum of Cold War training. Langford, never before much interested in photography, bought a camera and produced some 200 slides of his travels. In A Cold War Tourist and His Camera, his art historian daughter and political scientist son bring his photographs - an unexpected combination of iconic images of Cold War dangers and touristic snapshots - back into view.
Martha Langford and John Langford examine their father’s apparently innocuous photographic experience, revealing the complexity of both the images and their creator. An intelligent and personal look at the ways that the historical and the private are represented and remembered, A Cold War Tourist and His Camera stages the family slide show as you’ve never seen it before.
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San Diego, California 1963
His first photographic choices can be seen as emulative; some of these are plainly staged, and quite playfully, as repositories of camaraderie and special moments. The silliness of this double portrait, made in San Diego, strikes us now as it would have struck viewers then – as an amusing image of incongruity. Placing the slides in numerical order confirms that the portrait of our father was taken first, using his camera. Was he in fact waiting by the pool for transport, sunbathing in his brown suit, when a colleague happened along and saw how funny he looked?
San Diego, California, January 1963
The same hierarchical relationship is preserved when the group visits the uss Oriskany, an aircraft carrier built late in World War ii and a participant, like the Sperry, in the Korean War. The first sighting, taken on the approach, is of a warship stem to stern, from the perspective of a humbler vessel on the water. A photograph taken on the vast flight deck reinforces the message. A friendly handshake – the photographic standard ‘grip and grin’ – might have been staged as a photo opportunity, so neatly has it been executed by our novice photographer. The protagonists clasp hands beneath an enormous warning sign: “Beware of jet blast and propellers.” A glance around the flight deck suggests that none of that is about to occur. Two sailors, one actually reclining, are taking a break in the background, above skids loaded with buckets. A cord or hose snakes across the deck under the protagonists’ feet. Things are not shipshape, in other words, and the sailor in work shirt looking down from above seems to be counting the minutes until the visitors leave. The Oriskany had come into San Diego in mid-December and was taking part in operational training exercises: enter Course Sixteen. But even at this random, in-between moment, the sheer scale of the warship is impressive, and the dwarfed NDC visitors are on their best behaviour: no horsing around as in North Bay. If Warren Langford was able to record this ceremonial handshake, so, one might surmise, were his companions, who are not in the picture but well off to the side, looking on.
A few months after these pictures were taken, the Oriskany had its first contact with the Vietnam War. It went on to launch thousands of bombing missions during the war and suffer an onboard fire that killed forty-four crewmen. The ship was decommissioned in 1976, but it came to public attention again during the 2008 American presidential election as the carrier base of navy pilot, become Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, when he was shot down over North Vietnam in October 1967 and imprisoned until early 1973.
Near Kano, Nigeria, April 1963
What did Africa represent to a visiting Canadian public servant at this point in time? The course syndicate studying “Black Africa” was instructed to focus on African nationalism, colonial policies, white settler populations, and the degree of Communist penetration. The syndicate concentrating on the “Arab World” was directed to pay attention to the struggle for Arab unity and the “rampant antiwestern feeling in the Arab world or at best an ambivalence.” It was posed the question “Why hasn’t Communism made any noticeable gain in the area?” The briefings and business on the ground were all about the challenges of cementing loyalties to Western values and economic interests in an ostensibly post-colonial setting.
Cairo, United Arab Republic, April or May 1963
The view is a snapshot of three competing visions for Egypt. The distant mosque represents the controversial legacy of a dynasty that had ruled until 1952; the Turkish patriarch Mohammed Ali Pasha is sometimes honoured as the “father of modern Egypt” because he opened the country culturally and institutionally to the West. His grandson, Khedive Ismail, built the square that temporarily bore his name to a French design. He is perhaps better known for the Suez Canal, which ran Egypt into irreparable debt to European creditors, tipping the country into the arms of British imperial control. Nasser’s UAR was another push toward modernization, a heavily subsidized transit system turning Midan Al-Tahrir into a commuter hub for a growing population of urban workers; the bus depot is this period’s triumphal arch.
The Lido, Venice, Italy, May 1963
An aerial view is closer to a map than a conventional landscape; the earliest experiments in aerial photography were conducted with military applications in mind. The same basic technology was still informing military intelligence, as the Cuban missile site photographs had only recently shown. This is God’s, or Big Brother’s, perspective. So however pretty the pictures, there is something slightly sinister in the bird’s-eye views from the big black whirlybird as it transports the Cold War tourists to their next round of meetings. Their knowledge and prestige are growing apace.
West Berlin, May 1963
As guests of the British occupation force, our Cold War tourists travelled from Bonn in a Royal Air Force plane that landed at the British base in Gatow. Their itinerary was packed with briefings, as well as social and cultural events. Some members were anticipating an evening of musical theatre in the West Berlin production of My Fair Lady. Its implicit message? British manners and an upper-class English accent will win you the world. Every public moment in the travellers’ three-day visit to the city would be freighted with iconic connections to the Cold War and its key players.
View of East Berlin, May 1963
In 1963 there were only a few parts of the city where a proper wall had been built. In many places, east-west streets were simply blocked off by wire, barriers, and devices designed to stop any vehicles. Warren Langford’s and Volkmar Wentzel’s photographs of Bernauer Strasse, to be considered presently, illustrate the most sinister development, the bricking-up of windows and doorways of buildings that were right on the border. In 1963 East Germans were still living and working in some of these buildings. Their homes and offices were systematically emptied of people and their possessions turned into hollow barriers. Later such structures were all knocked down to make room for the ‘death strip,’ part of a system of high concrete slab walls, spotlights, tripwires, crash barriers, booby traps, patrolling guards (the Grepos and Vopos), and their infamous dogs. These nightmarish images of Berlin fuelled beliefs in the irreconcilability of East and West, conditions in the present creating amnesia about the past.
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