Anniversary of a photograph

Pinochet te deum


It was forty years ago today that a Dutch photographer took a picture that would become a symbol of Chile’s new military regime: General Augusto Pinochet, arms folded and wearing sunglasses, sits with a grim and defiant expression. Other army generals stand at attention, including one positioned directly behind Pinochet’s chair.

Chas Gerretsen captured that image during the Te Deum mass traditionally celebrated on September 19, the second of Chile’s two-day fiestas patrias, the “Day of the Glories of the Army.”  Two former Chilean presidents, Jorge Alessandri (1958-64) and Eduardo Frei (1964-70), were also in attendance, but their successor, Salvador Allende, had died in the coup eight days earlier.

Other photographers were angling for wider shots of the Te Deum service or of four junta members together, and the commanders of Chile’s navy, air force and national police were seated in a row with Pinochet. “But none looked as imperial as General Pinochet,” he told the Chilean newspaper La Tercera. Gerretsen decided to take individual shots of each junta member, and when he approached Pinochet members of his entourage suggested he remove his sunglasses.  But the Chilean army commander ignored them, saying “yo soy Pinochet.”

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