As we have previously discussed on more than one occasion, the Universe has a habit of allowing irreplaceable examples of human creativity to be destroyed by Mr. Bean levels of bumbling stupidity. Whether it's priceless works of art getting cooked in an oven or historical landmarks being demolished by angry homeowners, people always find a way to undercut our greatest achievements with pettiness, vanity, or downright idiocy.
5A Guy Risked Death On D-Day To Get Combat Photos, And An Intern Ruined Them
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Anyone who's seen the opening battle scene of Saving Private Ryan knows it's a miracle that we have any pictures of the D-Day invasion at all, because a beach full of trained soldiers getting straight-up blown away is not a safe place for unarmed photographers. But against all conceivable odds (and in direct opposition to the innate human will to survive), we do in fact have photos from right in the thick of that battle -- 11 of them, to be precise. And it's all thanks to preeminent wartime photographer Robert Capa, whose personal mantra was "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."
Also, we'd have way more than 11 D-Day photographs if it weren't for a single, bumbling intern.
To be fair, said intern was about as experienced as most of the boys being tossed at the beach that day.
Capa was among the second wave of troops to hit Omaha Beach. And he was in just as much danger as any of them, because German defenders didn't give a single loose Sauerbraten shit whether the thing you were pointing at them was a rifle or a telephoto lens. Covered in blood and bits of tattered troops, holding his cameras above water with shaking hands, and protecting his film canisters as if they were his life's blood, Capa managed to capture 106 insanely close-up images of the invasion. And unlike most of his colleagues, Capa actually managed to ensure his film survived the day, because he carried it off the beach his goddamned self.
Problem was, this was long before the Instagram era, when we can watch our images disseminate to the entire world with the flick of a finger. On his return to London, Capa handed his precious rolls of film over to staff members at Life magazine for developing. Said staff members then shrugged and handed the duty off to 15-year-old lab assistant Dennis Banks, who, in the time-honored tradition of 15-year-olds throughout history, fucked everything up instantly.
Upon hanging the film to dry, Banks was practically shitting himself at how utterly soul-crushing the photographs were. But then -- perhaps due to his excitement, but probably more because editors were incessantly screaming deadlines at him -- he cranked the heat up too far in an attempt to dry them faster. Of the four rolls of film that Capa had gone to hell and back to capture, Banks melted three and a half of them.
Ironically, the heat damage done to the surviving 11 photos is what lent them the blurry, otherworldly quality that is part of what makes them so memorable to this day. So if you're the generous type, you could say that Banks did the world a favor by utterly destroying 90 percent of history's hardest-earned photographs.
As a reward, Capa refrained from destroying 90 percent of his ass.
4A Priceless Leonardo Da Vinci Ink Sketch Was Erased By Overzealous Historians
Finding a previously undiscovered work of one of the most famous Renaissance masters isn't something that happens every day. So imagine the art world's furor when a new Leonardo da Vinci ink sketch -- instantly worth millions of dollars -- was discovered stashed among drawings by Italian draughtsman and painter Stefano della Bella. The sketch was of Orpheus being attacked by the Furies, drawn up for a production of contemporary Renaissance playwright Agnolo Poliziano's Orpheus.
King's College, University of London
Picture this, only signed "Leonardo da Vinci."
The more observant among you may have noticed that we are referring to this priceless sketch in the past tense. That's because no sooner had restorers gotten their hands on it than they plopped it into a solution of alcohol and water. The problems with this technique were twofold. First, the restorers utterly failed to follow the common protocol of testing any restoration technique on a small, minimally noticeable area first, rather than basting the entire work in solution. Second, da Vinci used delicate vegetable-based inks, and dipping said inks into an alcohol solution had roughly the same result as rubbing a grape juice stain with a Tide pen.
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They did what Shredder and an entire foot clan failed to do: destroy a Leonardo.
As a result, the world was left with a blank piece of paper that was once owned by Leonardo da Vinci, for whatever that's worth. But Italian historian Carlo Pedretti is still hopeful that the sketch can one day be recovered using hi-tech chemicals or nuclear procedures. We are equally optimistic, if for no other reason than that we never realized blasting a piece of paper with white-hot radiation was a tool in the art historian utility belt.