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Friday, 12 June 2020

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The Life magazine exhibition at the Princeton Art Museum was fantastic. I wanted to go back and see it a few times (the museum is free thanks to the university) but covid shutdown happened.

Thanks so much for the review Ken. I am definitely getting this book. I use Eugene Smith's Life Magazine essay "The Country Doctor" as an example of the photo essay approach in my course. I look forward to adding some more depth to that material with this book.

Interesting article. As a young boy growing up in Montreal in the 50’s, Life Magazine was my window on the world. In those days, news did not travel that quickly. What I remember about Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952, was that news at that time from overseas travelled very slowly. Immediately following the coronation, the films of the event (movie and still) were sent undeveloped by air to North America where it would be processed and then included in the next week’s print edition. In all it took about a week to actually see the pictures in Life. Even the photos for the newspapers had a delay of about a day. At that time, it was considered to be very quick compared to 20 years earlier when it would take about a week, because at that time, the film would have to travel by ship. I might prefer that to these days where everything is instantaneous resulting in a more pressure-driven society.

The exhibit opened only two weeks before Princeton and all other US universities shut down. But the exhibit has gone online like many other academic activities. The opening video describes the approach taken, the history of a four year effort by a much larger group, and introduces the three main contributors. The very tightly edited set of eight (so far) two minute comments by Kate Bussard has turned the exhibit into a concise lecture course. The text for this course is the exhibit catalog, which appears to be a quite exhaustive trip though the planning, execution and thought processes that ended up producing a Life article, illustrated by extensive collections of ephemera -- the shapes that a photo article took along the way to its final form. I've ordered the catalog, which should give insights into how the stories they cover were affected by choice of images from the enormous number of shots that Life could commission and also through layout and caption development. When the Life image library became available online, I hoped that it would include outtakes from famous stories, but in fact very little beyond the published images is available. This exhibit goes well beyond that, showing both front and back of famous shots, with their handling and subsequent history showing in stamps and scars.

When I got serious about photography, in the late 1960s, the conversation in places like Jim Hughes' Camera 35 often centered around the reaction of some very fine photographers against Life magazine's view of the world and its channelling of photography into that framework. Danny Lyon wanted none of that. Gene Smith's battles with Life's editors were legend. I think you will find little of that debate in this exhibit. It's a trip in a time machine into the heart of the huge team enterprise which brought pictures to the world from the New Deal's taming of the west through WW II up to the Kennedy assassination and the moon landings. It was heart-warming to hear a Western Union telegram patiently explained to the modern audience.

My pet peeve is shown in the second shot of the book (with dogs) and more than a few of the photo books in my personal library are borderline ruined because of this... photos spread across the binding which can never be spread flat enough to see the photo as it was actually shot.

I would gladly tolerate a smaller photo on one page or better yet I would not mind turning the book 90 degrees so the photo could occupy a single page in a larger scale.

I do miss Life magazine and all similar periodicals. Guess I'm old.

[But Albert, it was like that in the original magazine! It's funny because my thought was that this is ONE book in which crossing the gutter with a photo makes perfect sense...because they are replicating the spread in the magazine. --Mike]

Mike

First, and just a few days back, you said the four letter word. Now, and before some readers can fully recover, you show and tell about the four letter word magazine.

Some hearts can barely take it anymore. Relief can only come after we get our hands on this book.

Dan K.

It didn't occur to me to ask my parents for a subscription to Life for my photo interest.

It probably should have.

My education on Photography included the Time-Life series of books on Photography. I still have them and about once a year I look through them both to refresh my memory and to generate inspiration.

Our family subscribed to both Life and Look magazines from the late 50's through the early 70's when the coverage of the Civil Rights Movement - ah - became an issue among some of us... I do recall a lot of stories from Life through the years. Some of them have been covered by other media outlets due to the unfortunate fact that the photographers are/have died, but their work lives on.

I have placed an order for the book. I suspect it is going to make me wish I had not sold my Pentax-A* 300mm f/4 lens in 1985 (through Shutterbug Ads). With social distancing now advisable that focal length is back in vogue.

Wow, it is hard for me to believe that it has been nearly 50 years since I last held a freshly delivered copy of Life magazine in my hands. It would be difficult to overestimate the impact that magazines like Life and Look had on us in the pre-internet age of my youth when there were only 3 US TV networks mostly viewed in black and white. The photographs in these magazines really opened the world to us (and the Moon!).

With reference to David Saxe's comment on Queen Elizabeth's coronation, it was on 2 June 1953, not 1952. She became Queen immediately her father died in 1952.

My wife was able to watch the procession from the first floor of her family's photographic equipment business, James A Sinclair & Co, on the corner of Whitehall and Trafalgar Sq. They were known for Pt/Pd materials, and the Una and Newman-Sinclair Autokine cameras. But being only young, she fell asleep.
I was able to watch it live on the neighbour's TV, with a 10 or 12 inch screen, 405 line B&W, along with a dozen more friends and neighbours.
A week later we crocodiled from school to the local cinema to watch it in colour, together with the Ascent of Everest.

And Life was a big part of my photographic education, too. I kept the copy reporting on the JFK assassination for years.

'...that’s exactly how Americans consumed much of their visual news' - please, do remember that America is not exceptional, and that this would have been true anywhere in the world at the time. For example, Picture Post's weekly sales figures at its peak in 1943 were nearly 2m, which was 5% of the population in sales alone. I would guess the after-sale circulation would have been similar - making it the per capita equal of Life. it had almost a concurrent weekly life span, too, from the late 30s to the late 50s.

I am not meaning this as a negative comment about Life magazine, by the way - what kind of fool would try to think of one? Just wanting to say 'please, Mike - 'the World', when it's appropriate, not just 'America/Americans'. eh?'

My book arrived yesterday and I'm looking forward to getting into it today. Sort of wish it were raining!

Mike, not only do I remember only a short time ago when it seemed like a businessman roaming an airport loudly having an unimportant sounding conversation or giving orders that didn't seem worth their volume would attract worried looks. Now it's taken for granted, but still a nuisance. And I live in a nuclear family in which at least the other three of us wander around with Blue Toothed audio in both ears. Conversation requires making eye contact and requesting an interrupt. What's the world coming to?

Following up on John Camp's recollection, my parents also snapped up a copy of Life's "Picture History of World War II," back in 1950, and I pored over it but not as aggressively as did John. Our copy left home with me and is still in good order:
https://flic.kr/p/2jcvKBi
From the masthead, one sees only Life editorial personnel:
https://flic.kr/p/2jcx679
One puzzle, of Robert Capa's D-Day shots only one appears and that is cropped small. But surely you remember this Gene Smith:
https://flic.kr/p/2jct4fs

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