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Life Photographers: What They Saw Hardcover – October 1, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Bulfinch Pr (October 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0821225189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821225189
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.9 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #773,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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

About the Author

John Loengard joined Life magazine's staff in 1961. Hailed by American Photographer as "Life's most influential photographer" during the 1060s and instrumental in its rebirth as a monthly in 1978, Loengard served as its pictures editor until 1987. His books of his own photographers include PICTURES UNDER DISCUSSION, CLEBRATING THE NEGATIVE, and GEORGIA O'KEEFE at GHOST RANCH. He is also the editor of LIFE CLASSIC PHOTOGRAPHERS: A PERSONAL INTERPRETATION, and LIFE FACES. Loengard lives in New York City.

More About the Author

John Loengard was born in New York City in 1934. He was a promising photographer on the Harvard Crimson in 1956, when Life magazine asked him to photograph a freighter run aground on Cape Cod. The photographs never ran, but the assignment kicked off Loengard's long association with the magazine.

After graduation, Loengard freelanced for five years before joining the Life magazine staff as a photographer in 1961. Many of his pictures taken for Life, including his photographic essays on "The Shakers" and "Georgia O'Keeffe," are now considered classics.

Loengard became picture editor of the ten semi-annual Life Special Reports when Life magazine suspended weekly publication in 1972. He was also the picture editor of People magazine, during its conception in 1973 and the first three months of its publication in 1974. Loengard was instrumental in the rebirth of Life as a monthly magazine in 1978 and was Life's picture editor until 1987. Under his direction in 1986 Life won the first award for "Excellence in Photography" ever given by the American Society of Magazine Editors
Loengard continued as a contributing photographer to Life until 2000. In 2004 he was the fifth person to receive the coveted Henry R. Luce "Lifetime Achievement Award" from Time Inc. Since 1987 he has been the author of eight books and taught at The International Center for Photography, the New School for Social Research (both in New York City) and at workshops around the country. In 2005, American Photo magazine identified Loengard as "One of the 100 most influential people in photography."

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 6 customer reviews
As an aspiring photographer, I thought this book gave great insight.
Sharon Henning
What makes this book so fascinating is how the vivid details build into a story greater than the sum of their details.
Joseph Biskup
Many of these greats are now passed on (the book is 20 years old) but it is a great look back.
Gene Bowker

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Rex Hardy on September 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
***** This is a splendid book. John Loengard, himself a distinguished photo-essayist and picture editor , has presented in their own words the stories of many of the men and women who had served on the photographic staff during the years of publication of the influential. LIFE magazine. In the early nineties Loengard interviewed 44 of the total 88 staff members who had defined the profession of photo-journalist. And just in time! Since the video-taped conversations, one third of the subjects have followed their pioneering fellows in death. Most of the very earliest group are included in this sad roster, including Alfred Eisenstadt, Peter Stackpole, Hansel Mieth, and Horace Bristol. In this handsomely produced volume these noted photographers, along with many of their less well-known colleagues, recount their experiences in the momentous years since LIFE¹s first issue in October 1936. The book is well illustrated with photographs of and by these talented people. It will be especially appreciated by readers with an interest in photography but will also fascinate ordinary observers of the exciting times of our century, as they were recorded by this very perceptive group.
Rex Hardy
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Biskup on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This fascinating book is a compendium of 44 separate interviews, edited down to an easily readable length. All the interviews were taken in the early 1990's, and with two or three exceptions, long after the photographers left Life magazine. I cannot even call myself an amateur photographer; I could not identify any of the people interviewed; yet the interviews were immensely interesting for me.
Mr. Loengard starts with a handful of stock questions and from this beginning, each interview takes its own direction. Putting all the interviews one after the other allows the reader to compare and contrast the different people, and at the same time each person retains a solid individual identity. What makes this book so fascinating is how the vivid details build into a story greater than the sum of their details. From the stock questions about their style, their thoughts on photography as art, how they got into photography, and their strengths, passions, & challenges, and who they disliked, were friends with, or inspired by and why, each interview then delves into each photographer's unique perspective and opinions. The interviews go much beyond photography, the Life photographers talk about their lives, and what went on behind the pictures.
This is definitely not a picture book! I estimate that 25% of the book is pictures and the rest is the text of the interviews. The questions are short (Mr. Loengard is not grand-standing here) and the answers are long. It is clear that each interviewee has wide latitude to go where they think it is most interesting, this is what ensures that each photographer maintains their own unique identity. When we stumble across something valuable, a short question asks for more.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Wonderfully written and illustrated. These interviews provide personal narratives from the photographers who brought us the images recording our history. While the photograph is a moment in time, these interviews tell the stories that preceeded the camera click. The one-on-one relationship between the photographer and subject can be very intimate -- abstract historical figures become real when described in these pages.
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