IMAGES OF LIFE. A decade of famous photojournalism
Long Beach, Calif.
BACK before the wonders of video tape could emblazon a morning shuttle explosion onto the national consciousness by noon; before the nightly news opened American windows onto Vietnamese rice paddies; before video cassette recorders, live-action ``mini-cams,'' or even television itself, the images of our time were synonymous with Life magazine. This weekly newsmagazine catapulted the photographic image ahead for 36 years (1936-72) by highlighting the lifework of some of the most celebrated photojournalists of this century -- Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, and many others.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, a 200-photograph exhibit -- chosen from 156,000 prints used in Life and its sister publications -- is making its way across the United States and Europe.
Entitled ``LIFE: The Second Decade, 1946-55,'' the exhibit is the second of three major retrospectives generated by the magazine's archivists beginning in 1978 and running through 1990. This latest collection is to tour seven cities in the US and six in Europe through 1988.
Everyone who loves Life's wondrous capability of capturing both the monumental and the usual with uncommon sensitivity are getting more than an exercise in nostalgia. They are reminded that the picture press images of decades past -- colorless, motionless, without audio accompaniment -- speak as loudly, eloquently, and symbolically as the most compelling images of our own day.
Some reviewers say the photos are especially moving because they represent the artist's vision often captured at great personal peril -- retreating marines caught in an ambush, for instance, a photo taken by David Douglas Duncan in Korea. Viewers have been relishing the opportunity to examine the way the mass media in previous decades projected the world and influenced the ways an entire generation interpreted the events and social phenomena of the immediate post-war era.
Here are US soldiers in action from Korea to Berlin, the birth of Israel and the UN, the end of colonialism in Indochina.
Besides images of political struggle, there are actors from Hollywood to Broadway, artists from Picasso to Pollock. There are snippets of Americana from 3-D movies in suburbia to Marlene Dietrich's legs, and normal citizens from the Champs 'Elys'ees to Shanghai.
``The good pictures don't begin to happen until the photographer has hung around enough until his subject no longer notices him,'' says Ralph Graves, former Life managing editor.
Hanging around long enough to chronicle the human condition uncontrived was the special goal of Life photographers, 69 of whom are represented here. Doris O'Neil, director of vintage prints for Time, spent 30 years pooling prints from the three Time publications into the ``Life Picture Collection.'' She was around opening day at the Long Beach Museum of Art here to inform reporters just how long ``hanging around'' can be.
Take, for instance, the famous photograph of surrealist painter Salvador Dali, replete with flying cats and cascading water. Ms. O'Neil says the wife of photographer Philippe Halsman ``told me they had to have Dali jump in the air countless times over many days until the cats ended up in the right place on the negative.''
Other stories abound. Of Winston Churchill playing tricks on Mr. Halsman -- preparing a pose then walking away before the click of the shutter -- until Halsman photographed him from behind. Of Indian leader Mohandas K. Gandhi refusing to pose for Margaret Bourke-White unless she learned to use the spinning wheel, symbol of India's quest to shake the economic domination of Britain. Of US marines stalked from one side by the Red Army, from the other by camera-wielding photojournalists.