New York Photo Review
NYPR Archives - 2010

A Brief History by Life

Leica Focuses on LIFE
Margaret Bourke-White, Prisoners at Buchenwald, 1945

You have to be of a certain age to remember the excitement and anticipation that occurred when the weekly copy of Life magazine arrived in millions of mailboxes. For most photographers, Life’s larger format and its commitment to photojournalism was as good as it got. First published in 1936 by Henry Luce, founder of Time, it appeared weekly until 1972, then, after a number of special issues, became a monthly in 1978 until its demise in 2000.

The current exhibition at the Leica gallery captures some of Life’s magic with 56 prints by some of the best known chroniclers of the 20th century, including Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret-Bourke-White, Andreas Feininger, Cornell Capa, Carl Mydans, Bill Ray, John Loengard, Yale Joel among others. One name missing from this show for whatever reason is Robert Capa who, of course, covered the D-Day landings for Life. In any case, many iconic photographs are on display, along with a few relatively unknown ones. Overall, it’s a walk through the history of the 20th century—and that’s just how Henry Luce would have wanted it.

Some images that stand out: Margaret Bourke-White’s picture of the Buchenwald inmates after being liberated by American soldiers; John Dominis’s photographs of a Polish bar scene in Detroit (1954) and Frank Sinatra singing in Miami (1964). Alfred Eisenstaedt’s work is well represented. There’s a contact sheet showing five frames he shot in Times Square of the VJ day celebration. After seeing so many images (and imitations) of that happy sailor and nurse embracing, here’s the real thing, or how it came to be. Another Eisenstaedt beauty is the 1939 image of Katherine Hepburn modeling a costume from “The Philadelphia Story. “Carl Mydans covered World War II, including the Japanese surrender on board the U.S.S. Missouri. It’s a good opportunity to study the faces of the victors and the vanquished. Look for Yale Joel’s photograph of a young JFK running for Congress in 1946. And Life photographer Bill Ray was there in 1962 when Marilyn Monroe sang Happy Birthday to him!

This worthwhile exhibition is a powerful reminder of how Life magazine defined American photojournalism in its heyday, delivering some of the most memorable images of war, politics, entertainment or sports–week after week for over 40 years.

 by unidentified photographer.
Bill Ray, Marilyn Sings Happy Birthday to JFK, 1962

Leica Focuses on LIFE

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