For all the images that constantly bombard us, do we see the world any more clearly than our parents did back when, once a week, LIFE magazine appeared in mailboxes and on newsstands?
The author, a former Life photographer and editor, interviewed eighty-eight photographers who worked for the magazine sometime between 1936, when it was founded by Henry R. Luce, and 1972, when it ceased weekly publication.
Over the years, Life photographers were harassed, arrested, shot at, killed. The hobnobbed with royalty and slept with refugees. And always they completed furiously. (One even took a shot at another Life photographer whom he suspected of poaching on his story.)
What comes through is their resourcefulness and intelligence. They did not invent photojournalism, which had been practiced in Europe for a decade, but Life photographers raised the status of photojournalists to that of world journalists. Ironically, around the magazine they were considered second-class citizens, clearly the social and intellectual interiors of the mainly Ivy League editors and writers in Luce's empire. They were paid less and, for years, were banished to a separate building where they did not even have their own restroom.
The images reproduced here suggest that they have had their revenge. Long after Life's published words have been forgotten, these pictures live on: Carl Mydans' image of General Douglas MacArthur wading ashore in the Philippines; Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous shot of the V-J Day kiss in Times Square; Dmitri Kessel's photo, by the light of a single lantern, of a wartime meeting between Churchill and members of the Greek government. (Almost every Life photographer got a shot at Churchill). For almost four decades, what Life's photographers saw, we all saw.
"Do you think photography is an art?" the author asked photographer George Silk.
"No," Silk replied. "I think it's fun." -- The American Way, Bill Marvel, November 1998
John Loengard, himself a Life veteran, has done us all a service by interviewing 43 of Life's best-known photojournalists (and including a CBS interview with himself) about the how, who, what, where and when of their most famous pictures. -- The New York Times Book Review, Andy Grundberg
Two books have just appeared concerning the evolution of photojournalism form the mid-1930s onward. John Loengard's LIFE PHOTOGRAPHERS : WHAT THEY SAW has a simple premise: What do photographers who worked for Life magazine have to say for themselves? Loengard, himself one of their number, interviewed 44 of them - almost half the total - in the early 1990s, editing results down to 200,000 words that, along with 250 images, pack this volume. Loengard has a handful of stock questions - what was your relationship with Life pictures editor Wilson Hicks? Do you think of yourself as an artist? But he also knows the particulars of his colleague's careers, and gently prods them toward pointed disclosures. Not that they seem to need a lot of persuading in that regard. On the whole, of course, they're middle-aged to elderly people repeating tales as they told them for decades. In the ease of the better-known faces - Alfred Eisenstaedt, Cornell Capa, Gordon Parks - these stories are often familiar. But the book is full of commentary by others less frequently heard from: Myron Davis, John Flores, Nina Leen, George Silk, and many more. So there is much here that new. Cumulatively, it adds up to a multi-faceted vision of the glory days of the picture press as seen from inside the most trend-setting of all those publications, as well as an extended-family history of one particular long-term collusion (and collision) between information ally oriented photographers and corporate media culture. -- Photography In New York, A.D. Coleman, November/December 1998
What didn't they see, those powerful photojournalists who worked for Life magazine in its heyday: wars, summit conferences, urban squalor, country comforts, lives of the rich and the poor, political events, minority struggles, the famous and the infamous, on and on and on. This show celebrates the publication of a book containing interviews with 44 Life photographers by John Loengard, Life's former picture editor.
Many of the photographers in it are world-renowned like Andreas Feininger, Carl Mydans, Cornell Capa, Gordon Parks, Dmitri Kessel, Alfred Eisenstaedt, all of them made memorable pictures in the days before television cut in on Life's turf.
Some of the great images are here, and may not be unfamiliar in Life readers who go back far enough, like Hansel Meith's unforgettable close-up of a lone male rhesue monkey half submerged in a body of water, scowling balefully at the intrusive lens. Less well know, but equally startling is David Scherman's 1945 shot of Lee Miller half submerged in Hitler's bathtub in Munich, looking winsome as she prepares to scrub her back.
General Douglas MacArthur lands on Luzon in the Philippines that same year, sloshing through water under the watchful lens of Mr. Mydans; in 1954 a group of Little Leaguers in Manchester, N.H., recorded by Yale Joel, drop their illfitting pants in a demand for new ones. Bill Kay was on hand at the 1952 Democratic fund raiser in Madison Square Garden where Marilyn Munroe sang "Happy Birthday" to President John Kennedy, and Harry Benson caught a pillow flight among the Beatles at the George V Hotel in Paris 1964.
This is photography of an in the moment; it has no esthetic aspirations. Still the show reaffirms that photojournalism is an art all its own. -- New York Times, Grace Glueck, November 13, 1998