John Morris: An eye-witness to the rise of photojournalism
As a life-long photo editor, John Morris shepherded some of the 20th century's most iconic images and most well-regarded photographers.
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Morris still feels strongly about the "Family" concept ("artistically, people loved it or hated it," he says), but "I may have been naive and overidealistic to think the peoples of the world would come together in harmony." He sent Magnum's George Rogers to South Asia during the partition of India in 1947. "Rogers couldn't get to India because of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands ... so we settled for a family in Pakistan."Skip to next paragraph
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But Paris comes first. Morris isn't a disillusioned expat, though he did lead a march of "Americans for Peace" during the first Iraq war. ("If I had come to Paris in protest it would have been over Vietnam.... I've never apologized for being a liberal ... I've not supported any US war since World War II," where he participated under conscientious-objector status.)
Rather, "I still think Paris is the most beautiful city in the world." In 1944, during its liberation, he wrote a love letter to his wife, and to Paris. But he didn't move there until 1983, for National Geographic. Morris agrees with expat Irwin Shaw, who said, "I was never a Parisian. I was always an American, on an extended visit...."
He's now defending the legacy of Capa, whom he calls an adopted brother. A recent New York Times story suggests Capa's soldier did not fall in the place described, based on landscape analysis. The famed image has long been accused of being staged.
"It's very painful for me," Morris says. Capa, he argues, sent rolls to Paris from Spain and didn't control selection from among hundreds of images. "It's hard to evaluate your friends. I excuse Capa for things I would condemn others for, I so admired his spirit.
"Capa was a liar and a rogue, but not on important things. He made 11 trips to Spain; worked in China; took risks in Africa, in Sicily, in Italy. He parachuted across the Rhine, and died on patrol in Indochina. What I believe in about Bob are shared ideals. I chose him for the first shoot of 'People Are People' – a farm family in Iowa. He had a gift for meeting people, for connecting with others."
Morris was raised in Chicago (in a Christian Science family; he later became a Quaker) and worked on the University of Chicago paper. On a ship back from Europe in 1935 he nearly got talked out of journalism by a friend of FDR's. "He was wearing a tuxedo, I was in knickers. He advised I get a public-policy degree." But Morris had an epiphany his first day back at the school paper: "I sat down at a typewriter, and just knew, 'This is it. This is my career.' "