TIME photography

Celebrating 80 Years of Associated Press’ Wirephoto

Exactly 80 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1935, the Associated Press sent its very first photograph over the organization’s brand new Wirephoto service: an aerial photo of a plane crash in upstate New York. The photo was delivered across the country to 47 newspapers in 25 states.

In an article published that day in The Bulletin newspaper, AP president Frank B. Noyes named each of the papers that had opted into the service saying, “These are the pioneers of wirephoto, which outstrips other messengers in conveying the news in pictures just as, a century ago, the telegraph came to outstrip the carrier pigeon and the pony express, and, a little more than a generation ago, the typewriter relegated the stylus to oblivion.”

Photos up to that point were largely delivered by mail, train or airplane, taking up to 85 hours in transit. AP Wirephoto could transmit a photo in minutes.

APThe first AP Wirephoto with original caption affixed: The wreckage of a small plane lies in a wooded area near Morehousville, N.Y., on Dec. 31, 1934.

AT&T had made a previous attempt at their own photo wire service. In 1926, the telephone company had succeeded in setting up eight sending and receiving centers across the nation, which AP and other outlets had put to use. It was, however, a hugely expensive endeavor for the company and its users; after spending over $3m dollars with comparatively small returns, the service was shut down in 1933.

Before AT&T closed down its service, AP General Manager Kent Cooper had made it his mission to develop such a service in house. “KC was the father of the AP Newsphoto Service,” former AP executive photo editor Al Resch was quoted as saying in the company magazine The AP World in 1969. “He was deeply dedicated to the proposition that the day’s news should be just as thoroughly and competently covered in pictures as in words.”

Cooper prevailed, despite hefty internal opposition (the service posed a threat to Hearst and Scripps-Howard, AP member organizations that owned competing photo services) and under the spectre of the Great Depression. The story is well documented in AP’s annual report for 1934: “After discussion it was voted that Mr. Howard be informed that the Board and Executive Committee would be glad to confer with representatives of the Scripps-Howard and Hearst member newspapers, on the basis that the Board was always willing to consider any problem affecting its members and in which there was any mutuality of interest.”

Associated Press Corporate ArchivesPhotographer Bill Allen uses the trunk of his car as a darkroom to develop film coverage of a 1938 Virginia mine explosion.

The system was comprised of three main elements: transmitters, receivers, and 10,000 miles of leased telephone lines – the wires. The transmitters required first a print – AP photographers would either send in their film to be developed and printed at an AP darkroom, or develop and print it themselves using portable darkrooms. At that time, they worked mainly with Speed Graphic cameras and 4×5 film.

Once the print was made and ready to be sent, it would be wrapped around a cylinder on the transmitter. At the push of a button, the cylinder, which could hold up to 11 x 17-inch prints, would spin at one hundred revolutions per minute underneath an optical scanner. The optical scanner would shine a very thin beam of light onto the spinning print, which would then reflect light back into a photoelectric cell, which, in turn, would translate the reflections of light and dark tones into signals that would be carried across the wires.

The receiver on the other end had a similar spinning cylinder with a negative on it. As the transmission came in, the signals would be converted back into light, which was then recorded onto the negative, reproducing the original image.

AP stationed a network monitor in their New York bureau to control the sending and receiving of images. It was his job to listen to daily offerings from the member papers who would call in descriptions of the best images each outlet had to send, and then to decide which of those photos would be transmitted to which member papers at what time. Each transmission could take from 10 to 17 minutes depending on the size of the print, so the network monitor’s challenge was to decide, within the time constraints of a given day, which photos the world would see. See a dramatization of this process in the video below.

APA man carries AP’s portable WirePhoto transmitter.

Over the next 20 years, AP Wirephoto technology would be continually streamlined as the network grew. By 1936, AP technicians had made available portable transmitters that came in two 40-pound suitcases. They were bulky and required trained technicians to run them. By the end of 1937, the stationary transmitters and receivers at the AP bureaus and newspapers were replaced with ones that were smaller, lighter, and could be plugged into a wall socket instead of taking power from a wet cell battery. By 1939, the portable transmitters were made more compact and AP had 35 units ready for use. Color transmissions, which took three times as long as black and white due to color separation, became available that same year.

Picture quality on the receiving end was continually improved and fine tuned. More newspapers signed on for the service, the network continued to enlarge. As America entered WWII, the demand for pictures – and for picture delivery – forced advances in Radiophoto transmissions. Wirephoto had also transmitted maps and charts from its inception, but these became especially valuable during war time.

Postwar, the transmitters and receivers became yet again smaller, picture quality and transmission of tonality improved, and AP developed receivers that were capable of producing positives as well as negatives, again cutting down time-to-market. By 1951, over 20,000 pictures were transmitted via Wirephoto annually.

By 1963, North America and Europe were connected via a leased circuit. In the same time period, as AP began its historic coverage of the Vietnam war, its photographers were making the transition from shooting 4×5 and 120mm film to 35mm film.

Between the 1960s and the 90s there were three major leaps in technology, ultimately leading to digital transmission. The first big jump was the establishment of the Electronic Darkroom in 1978 which digitized the signals coming through on the wires. It featured computers that could crop, tone, and sharpen images as they came through. It was in a way an early, crude version of Photoshop. Operators could receive an image, edit it, and send it back out to the network without the added delay of developing a negative or making prints.

Promotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images. 1988
Associated Press Corporate ArchivesPromotional brochure announcing the AP Leafax 35, a picture transmitter that requires only a negative to transmit photographic images, from 1988.

Negative scanning was the next push forward in the mid-80s with AP’s procurement of the Leafax, a compact and portable picture transmitter held in a briefcase-sized case. AP photographers could take color or black-and-white negatives, scan them into the Leafax, tone, sharpen, crop and add captions, then send them through to the network. With the exception of developing film, the Leafax eliminated darkroom work and printmaking for photographers and again cut the amount of time it took for the picture to travel from the camera to the news consumer.

Ron Edmonds—APPresident George H. W. Bush raises his hand as he takes the oath of office as President of the United States outside the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1989, Washington, D.C.

“That was the first step,” Hal Buell, AP’s former head of photography, tells TIME. “The next thing was to set up a digital network which we called Photostream.” Photostream was announced in 1989, and offered all digital transmission via satellite. It reduced transmission time from 10 minutes to 60 seconds, and offered a method of delivering higher quality color pictures. AP supplied every U.S. newspaper with a Leafdesk to receive the new digital transmissions.

“We had to send a representative into every newspaper in the U.S. that took photos and show them how the digital system worked with incoming wire pictures,” says Buell. “We put these desks in every newspaper, and that not only changed the way AP handled pictures, but it changed the way newspapers handled pictures.”

AP’s first digital news photo was made and transmitted earlier in 1989 at George H.W. Bush’s inauguration by Ron Edmonds using a Nikon QV-1000c. The advent of ever more powerful computers and laptops, portable satellites, improvements in image compression, and the lightning fast evolution of digital cameras, now with possibility of in-camera transmission and video, has continued to accelerate and increase AP’s delivery of images from the late 1990s to the present. Whereas in 1951 the service transmitted 22,000 images annually, AP now transmits over 3,000 images daily.

In that early 1935 Bulletin article, Noyes touched on something that was, and continues to be, essential to the news: speed, the need for which has driven the evolution of communication technology to this day. This may seem self-evident; however, as these technologies have evolved, they directly affect how news is created and how it is digested, and thus, in very profound, sometimes imperceptible ways, how we conceive of the world around us.

The launch of AP’s Photowire service initiated just that sort of weighty paradigm shift. “From Jan. 1, 1935 on, you could say that as far as the news goes, the visual had become newsworthy and capable of carrying the news, of being news,” Valerie Komor, Director of AP’s Corporate Archives, tells TIME. “Photography could be news.”

Photography is now indeed news, as is, increasingly, video. If we think of the way in which we – as news consumers – receive and read news images today, the experience feels instantaneous. Our understanding of the world is a constant, and rapid distillation of an ever increasing number of images spread over innumerable platforms. We are offered ever more perspectives, and a wealth of information. The responsibility now often falls on the reader to pace their intake of information.

“In the same way that a story can be read at the viewer’s leisure, a photograph can be contemplated at the viewer’s leisure,” says Santiago Lyon, the Vice President and Director of Photography at AP. “You are able to consider it and you’re able to have an opinion about it. And the discerning viewer won’t just look at a photograph, they’ll read a photograph, and they’ll look at all of the details in the picture and they’ll notice things and they’ll spend some time looking at a picture.”

TIME Military

See the U.S. Military’s Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan

The U.S.-led coalition ended its combat mission on Sunday

The United States-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission on Sunday, 13 years after it began in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. More than 10,000 troops will remain on the ground to aid Afghan forces in a new U.S. role that called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

Almost 1 million U.S. troops served at least one tour in Afghanistan; a total 3,485 allied troops were killed, including 2,356 Americans.

Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson documented the final days of the U.S.’s official combat campaign with the men and women of Forward Operating Bases Gamberi and Fenty in Laghman and Nangarhar provinces, respectively.

Read next: U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

TIME Military

U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-ISAF-NATO
Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images U.S. Army General John Campbell salutes during a ceremony marking the end of the allied combat mission in Afghanistan at his headquarters in Kabul, Dec. 28, 2014.

But the flag-lowering won't end the bloodshed

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission Sunday, marking the formal—if not real—end to the longest war in American history.

American warplanes began bombing the country on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. Their goal was to drive the ruling Taliban from power, after they had given sanctuary inside the country to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which had plotted the terror strikes.

That was accomplished on Nov. 13, 2001.

The U.S. and its allies have remained since then, trying to build up Afghan military and police forces sufficient to defend their country without outside help. Despite Sunday’s bowing out, the U.S. will remain involved in Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban for years to come.

“In the wake of the Taliban’s defeat in 2001, Afghanistan possessed no standing, professional security forces,” Army General John Campbell, chief of the International Security Assistance Force, said. “Over the course of a decade, our Afghan partners and we have built a highly capable Afghan army and police force of over 350,000 personnel.”

Sunday marked the formal handoff to that largely U.S.-trained Afghan military. “The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph,” Campbell told a small gathering at ISAF headquarters.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Obama said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

The new, slimmed-down allied mission, Campbell said, will be called Operation Resolute Support. Back in Washington, the Pentagon said its piece of the new mission will be called Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

“We will work with our allies and partners as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces,” outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. “And we will continue our counterterrorism mission against the remnants of al Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland.”

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010, will fall to 10,800 in January, aimed at helping the Afghan government hold on to power, even as Taliban units occupy territory increasingly close to the capital. Nearly 1 million U.S. troops pulled at least one tour in Afghanistan.

Yet during 2002 and 2003, the average number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan never topped 10,400. That means the U.S. forces left in country following the war will top the number fighting there during its first two years.

A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years, including 2,356 Americans. The war cost U.S. taxpayers, past, present and future, about $1 trillion.

“We will never forget your sons and daughters who have died on our soil,” Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar said at the flag-lowering ceremony Sunday. “They are now our sons and daughters.”

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Transfers 4 Guantánamo Prisoners to Afghanistan

Guantanamo Bay
Johannes Schmitt-Tegge—EPA A U.S. military guard on the grounds of the now closed Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Aug. 22 2013.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009

Four Guantánamo prisoners were transferred to Afghan authorities, the Pentagon said Saturday, as part of a continuing push by the Obama administration to close the contentious prison.

The detainees boarded a U.S. military plane and were flown to Kabul overnight, ending a decade of detention at the prison for suspected involvement in Taliban-affiliated militias, Reuters reports.

“Most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that,” an unnamed senior official told Reuters.

The transfer marks the first repatriation of prisoners to Afghanistan since 2009. 132 detainees are still being held at the Guantánamo complex, which President Barack Obama vowed to shut down early in his presidency–a promise he has struggled to carry through amid legal obstacles and stiff resistance from Congress.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Begins 3 Days of Mourning After Peshawar Massacre

But persistent questions remain over the military’s relationship with extremist groups

Pakistanis were in mourning Wednesday after a brutal attack on an army-run school in Peshawar by Taliban militants claimed more than 140 lives, 132 of them children.

Islamabad announced the commencement of a three-day mourning period. Vigils were held across the country as the nation struggled to come to terms with the brutality exhibited in one of the deadliest single-day attacks in the country since the Pakistani Taliban launched its insurgency seven years ago.

In Peshawar, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on officials from all parties to attend a multiparty conference this week, where they hope to present a unified front against terrorism.

Opposition stalwart Imran Khan, who has previously sought reconciliation with the Taliban, joined the litany of voices on Tuesday condemning the indiscriminate slaughter.

“Fight with men, not innocent children,” said the former cricket star, according to the New York Times.

The deliberate targeting of children appears to have affected even some of the Pakistani Taliban’s most steadfast supporters.

“The intentional killing of innocent people, children and women are against the basics of Islam and this criteria has to be considered by every Islamic party and government,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

But as the nation grieves, tough questions have begun to resurface regarding the Pakistani military’s track record of incubating militancy within the country’s borders.

During an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif rejected the notion that the country’s security establishment maintained relations with extremist groups.

“[These] terrorists are the biggest threat to the peace in this region, to peace in Pakistan, to the existence of Pakistan,” said Asif. “We do not classify between different groups of Taliban — that there are good Taliban or bad Taliban. They are all bad.”

However, analysts contend that factions within the security services continue to see militant groups inside Pakistan as valuable proxies in the battle for influence in neighboring Afghanistan and Kashmir.

“It seems to me that there are elements within the military establishment who are willing to sustain or willing to endure civilian causalities and even military casualties as long as some broader strategic objective is met,” Hassan Javid, associate professor of political science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, tells TIME.

But as Javid argues, the country’s brutal experience with insurgency has long demonstrated that these groups can never be controlled.

“Given the ideologies that motivate these groups, and given the links they have to other such groups, I think its inevitable that they will turn their guns on Pakistan,” says Javid. “Even if they’re working with them today, there’s always the possibility they will turn around and bite the hand that’s been feeding them a few years down the line.”

Following the attacks, a spokesperson with the Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, said the assault on the school was retaliation against the ongoing offensive in the country’s tribal belt.

“We selected the army’s school for the attack because the government is targeting our families and females,” said Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani. “We want them to feel the pain.”

In June, the Pakistani military launched a full-scale assault on Taliban sanctuaries in North Waziristan, days after militants allied with the group overran a terminal at Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport in the heart of the country’s commercial capital

The ongoing military operation in North Warziristan is believed to have been largely successful in uprooting a majority of the militant forces based there, but experts say these extremists are now dispersed throughout the country.

“Over time this militancy has spread into the cities and these kinds of people are hiding and have melted into society,” says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent Pakistani defense analyst. “The military operations can only take place in places like the tribal areas, but not necessarily in urban centers.”

TIME Afghanistan

U.S. Closes Bagram Prison in Afghanistan

Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at the Bagram prison gate, Feb. 13, 2014.
Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at the Bagram prison gate, Feb. 13, 2014.

At its busiest, Bagram prison held hundreds of detainees

The Department of Defense said Thursday that it had shuttered the last American detention facility in Afghanistan, bringing to an end a controversial practice of holding prisoners in the country without trial.

The U.S. said it no longer had custody of detainees in Afghanistan following the transfer on Wednesday of remaining detainees from Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, which once held hundreds of detainees, Reuters reports. In recent weeks, detainees have been shifted out of U.S. custody, including a top Pakistani Taliban member who was handed over to Pakistan and a Tunisian detainee, Redha al Najar, who was placed in Afghan custody on Tuesday.

The Defense Department said the closure had been planned and was not linked to the Congressional report on the CIA’s interrogation tactics. But Bagram has faced criticism for the treatment of its detainees, including two inmates who a U.S. court said were beaten to death in 2002. One detainee who was detained in 2004 at age 16 and held for five years, Pakistan citizen Kamil Shah, told Reuters he was beaten by U.S. personnel and held in isolation for 11 months.

Najar, the transferred Tunisian detainee who was detained in 2002 as a suspected bodyguard to Osama bin Laden, was identified in the Congressional report, which said he had been one of the first to be subjected to the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques at a prison outside Kabul. He has never been charged.

The U.S. and NATO ceremoniously ended their combat command in Afghanistan on Monday, though some 13,000 troops will remain in the country after the new year.

[Reuters]

Read next: Zap Wars: U.S. Navy Successfully Tests Laser Weapon in the Persian Gulf

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 11, 2014

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Evgenia Arbugaeva‘s photographs of a weather man living in extreme solitude in northern Russia. The photographs follow Vyacheslav Korotki, a Polyarniki – a meteorologist specializing in the polar north, who mans a remote Arctic outpost in Khodovarikha, where he keeps track of the temperatures, snowfall and wind. The closest town to Khodovarikha is an hour away — by helicopter — and visitors are rare with supplies brought in only once a year. From the outside, Korotki’s existence appears to be a lonely one, but as Arbugaeva explains in her accompanying text, she found him to be anything but. This man is right where he wants to be. The pictures are stunning and the viewers can almost feel the Arctic cold. It’s truly extraordinary work.

Evgenia Arbugaeva: Weather Man (The New Yorker)

Larry Towell: Afghanistan (The New York Times Lens) Another look at the Magnum photographer’s Afghanistan work which was recently published as book.

How John Moore Covered the Ebola Outbreak (TIME LightBox) The Getty photographer talks about his assignment covering Ebola in Liberia.

China’s wild west: photographing a vanishing way of life (The Guardian) For her book Wild Pigeon, Carolyn Drake spent seven years exploring China’s Xinjiang and the Uyghurs living there. The work is collaborative as Drake asked the locals to draw on, reassemble and play with her photographs. The work was also published on TIME LightBox in November.

Sim Chi Yin – A Singaporean Abroad (Channel NewsAsia) A TV program on photographer Sim Chi Yin and her long term projects.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 10

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The cheap oil American consumers are enjoying might be the result of an existential battle between Saudi Arabia and ISIS.

By James R. Rogers in First Things

2. Turns out the busts of the first dot-com era were great ideas.

By Robert McMillan in Wired

3. The return of American manufacturing and a skilled population hungry for jobs is reviving the Rust Belt.

By Joel Kotkin & Richey Piiparinen in the Daily Beast

4. Climate change might transform coal, oil, and gas reserves into financially-troubled stranded assets.

By Andrew Freedman in Mashable

5. A nonprofit boarding school for girls in Afghanistan is working to upend education there.

By Susan Daugherty in National Geographic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Military

U.S. Plans to Keep 1,000 Additional Troops in Afghanistan

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Travels To Mideast
Mark Wilson—Getty Images Mohammed Ashraf Ghani President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan walks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel down a red carpet during an arrival ceremony at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 6, 2014 in Kabul.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who resigned in November, made the remarks on one of his last diplomatic trips to the country

The U.S. military will keep 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan next year than originally planned, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday. The number of troops in the country will be lowered to 10,800 next year. Originally the U.S. had planned to reduce the force to 9,800 troops.

The delayed withdrawal will not affect long-term troop reduction plans, NBC News reports. In 2016, the U.S. still plans to reduce its troops to 5,500. By 2017, the U.S. will only have an embassy presence in the country.

Hagel made the remarks on a trip to Kabul to meet with Ashraf Ghani, the new president of Afghanistan, which will be one of the last diplomatic trips to the country for the defense secretary, who resigned Nov. 24.

[NBC News]

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 5, 2014

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Andrew Quilty‘s work on Pakistani refugees in Afghanistan. Some 100,000 civilians fled the Pakistani military’s offensive against insurgents in North Waziristan this past summer by seeking shelter across the border in Afghanistan. More than 3,000 families ended up at the Gulan Refugee Camp in Gurbuz District in Khost, only to find out another danger was lurking underneath their feet. It turned out the camp is located above a decades old minefield from the time muhajideen were fighting the Russians. Quilty’s compelling photographs capture these unfortunate refugees haunted by weapons of an old war.


Andrew Quilty: Finding Refuge on a Mine Field (Foreign Policy)

William Daniels: Fighting Over the Spoils of War in Central African Republic (Al Jazeera America) These photographs show how natural riches play a part in the conflict often seen purely in ethnic terms | Part of a series of posts on Central African Republic.

Best Photos of the Year 2014 (Reuters)

War’s effect on peace is examined in new Tate show (Phaidon) Tate Modern curator Shoair Mavlian talks about the new exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography.

Elena Chernyshova (Verve Photo) The World Press Photo award-winning Russian photographer writes about one of her photographs from Norilsk.


Photojournalism Links is a compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen, Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

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