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Originally published as a humor and general interest magazine in 1883, LIFE was transformed into a weekly news magazine with a heavy emphasis on photojournalism when it was purchased by Time founder Henry Luce in 1936. It was printed on a weekly basis from 1936 to 1972, then as an intermittent special from 1972 to 1978, and finally as a monthly from 1978 to 2002. The reinvented LIFE magazine was the first all-photographic American news periodical, and it ruled the market for more than 40 years. At one point, the magazine sold more than 13.5 million copies a week. The photographs appearing on the pages of the magazine provided rare glimpses into the Soviet Union, concentration camps in Germany and the conflict in Vietnam, among others. LIFE’s role in photojournalism is widely considered to be its most important contribution to publishing. In this post, you will learn about some of LIFE’s photographers, and see some of their most famous images.
 

Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke-White portrait by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Portrait of Margaret Bourke-White with some of her photo gear, captured by fellow LIFE staff photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hired as LIFE’s first female staff photographer, Margaret Bourke-White captured the image of Montana’s Fort Peck Dam for the inaugural issue of the reinvented periodical. In 1941 she gained access to the USSR, where she took Josef Stalin‘s portrait for another cover. After World War II ended, she traveled to India where she captured iconic images of Mahatma Ghandi, including the one below with his spinning wheel.

Fort Peck Dam by Margaret Bourke-White
Montana’s Fort Peck Dam, which appeared on the first cover of the reinvented LIFE magazine on November 23, 1936. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Josef Stalin portrait during World War II by Margaret Bourke-White
Portrait of Josef Stalin captured in 1941 during the German raids of the Kremlin. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Mahatma Ghandi and his spinning wheel by Margaret Bourke-White.
Mahatma Ghandi and his spinning wheel. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Portrait of Alfred Eisenstaedt in London
Alfred Eisenstaedt at age 34 in London.

Considered one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th century, Alfred Eisenstaedt’s images have graced the cover of LIFE magazine 90 times. Perhaps his most famous cover photo was that of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on VJ Day (see below). Unlike most news photographers of his era who used 4×5″ press cameras with flash attachments, Eisenstaedt preferred shooting with a 35mm Leica and making use of natural light. This gave him greater speed and added flexibility when shooting news events or capturing candid images of people in action.

Sailor kissing nurse in Times Square on VJ Day, Alfred Eisenstaedt
In the middle of Times Square, an uninhibited sailor grabs a girl clad in white and plants a kiss on her lips, Victory in Japan Day, 1945. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Children at puppet theater in Paris by Alfred Eisenstaedt.
Children react while watching the story of “Saint George and the Dragon” at an outdoor puppet theater in Paris, France in 1963. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Marilyn Monroe portrait by Alfred Eisenstaedt
Portrait of Marilyn Monroe on the patio of her home in 1953. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

John Dominis

LIFE photographer John Dominis in Indonesia, 1958.
John Dominis with his camera in Indonesia, 1958.

John Dominis was born in Los Angeles in 1921. He attended the University of Southern California, where he studied cinematography, and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1954. Following World War II, he worked as a freelance photographer for a number of publications, including LIFE magazine. One of his most famous images features African-American track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in support of the civil rights movement and black power during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Mickey Mantle tosses helmet by John Dominis
New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle tosses his helmet in response to a bad day in the batters’ box at Yankee Stadium. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
 Black Power Salute at 1968 Olympics in Mexico City by John Dominis, 1968.
African-American track stars Tommie Smith (center) and John Carlos (right) stand on the podium and raise black-gloved fists in support of the civil rights movement and black power at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Frank Sinatra at a black tie affair by John Dominis
Frank Sinatra parties the night away at a black tie affair. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Andreas Feininger

LIFE photographer Andreas Feininger
Portrait of Andreas Feininger holding a camera.

Andreas Feininger was born in Paris, France on December 27, 1906. He was raised in Germany where he received an education in architecture. In 1936 he moved to Sweden, where he shifted his focus to photography. During World War II, he immigrated to the United States, where he began a career as a freelance photographer. He joined the staff of LIFE magazine in 1943 where he worked until 1962. Feininger is best known for his dynamic black and white photographs of New York City.

Aerial view of Manhattan by photographer Andreas Feininger.
Aerial view of Manhattan by Andreas Feininger. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Brooklyn Bridge at night by Andreas Feininger.
View of the Brooklyn Bridge at night. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The Photojournalist, Andreas Feininger's most famous image.
The Photojournalist by Andreas Feininger. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Nina Leen

Nina Leen, contributing photographer to LIFE magazine.
Portrait of photographer Nina Leen.

Photographer Nina Leen was born in Russia, but spent time in Italy, Switzerland and Germany. She studied painting in Berlin before immigrating to the United States in 1939. Her first series published in LIFE was of tortoises at the Bronx Zoo, which she shot with her Rolleiflex camera. She never became a staff photographer with the magazine, but contributed regularly from 1940 until the magazine closed in 1972. Throughout her time shooting for LIFE, she contributed over 50 cover photos and countless reports from all over the world.

Women at Roosevelt Raceways in checkered coats by Nina Leen.
Checkered fashion at Roosevelt Raceways in March, 1958. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Sunbathing models by Nina Leen.
Models sunbathing in the latest beach fashions. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Women wearing beach hats by Nina Leen.
Women wearing beach hats by Nina Leen. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

John Loengard

LIFE photographer John Loengard
LIFE photographer John Loengard examines some negatives.

American photographer John Loengard was born in New York City in 1934. He became interested in photography at the age of 11, when his father purchased a new camera. John took pictures for his high school newspaper, and photographed a freighter run aground on Cape Cod for LIFE in his senior year at Harvard University. Loengard joined the staff of LIFE magazine in 1961, and served as its photo editor from 1973 until 1987. In addition, he has taught at the International Center for Photography and held numerous photographic workshops around the country.

The Beatles take a dip in a Miami Beach pool, photo by John Loengard.
Four lads from Liverpool — Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr — cool off in an unheated Miami Beach swimming pool during their first trip to the United States. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Boy in Manchester, England by photographer John Loengard.
Portrait of a boy in Manchester, England. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Henri Cartier Bresson by John Loengard.
Portrait of legendary photographer Henri Cartier Bresson at his apartment in Paris. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Gjon Mili

Gjon Mili, LIFE photographer.
Photographer Gjon Mili smokes a cigarette with his eyes closed.

Gjon Mili was born in present-day Albania, but spent the majority of his childhood in Romania. He attended Gheorghe Lazăr National College in Bucharest, and migrated to the United States in 1923. Mili was educated as an engineer and completely self-taught as a photographer. He started working for LIFE in 1939, and shot a wide variety of assignments ranging from Pablo Picasso in the French Riviera to various celebrities in Hollywood and many subjects in between. Gjon Mili was one of the first photographers to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light for non-scientific photographs. This enabled him to effectively freeze people in rapid movement, for which he was very well known.

Joe Louis vs. Jersey Joe Walcott title bout in December, 1947 by Gjon Mili.
Joe Louis lies on the canvas at the original Madison Square Garden after being knocked down by Jersey Joe Walcott in their December, 1947 title bout. Louis won by a controversial decision. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Lindy Hop dance by Willa Mae Ricker and Leon James, photo by Gjon Mili.
Willa Mae Ricker and Leon James perform the Lindy Hop dance. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Pablo Picasso draws a light painting in southeastern France. Photo by LIFE photographer Gjon Mili.
World-renowned artist Pablo Picasso draws a centaur in mid-air with a “light pen.” The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Henry G. (Hank) Walker

Hank Walker, LIFE staff photographer
LIFE photographer Hank Walker looking through a camera. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Hank Walker started shooting for LIFE magazine in 1948 as a contract photographer, and joined the staff three years later. In 1951, he was assigned to Washington D.C., where he was a White House photographer. His most famous image features the silhouetted figures of John F. Kennedy and his brother and campaign manager Robert F. Kennedy as they talk in a Los Angeles hotel suite on the eve of the 1960 Democratic convention.

Security Guard on U.S. Highway 101 by LIFE photographer Hank Walker.
A lone security guard walks down U.S. Highway 101 among towering stacks of hollow iron floats, from which iron antisubmarine nets were held up to protect the U.S. ports in California during the last war. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
JFK and Bobby in a Los Angeles hotel suite by Hank Walker.
John F. Kennedy speaks with his brother and campaign manager Bobby in a Los Angeles hotel suite. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Children with gifts from the Berlin Airlift in 1948 by Hank Walker.
Children with gifts from the Berlin Airlift in 1948, captured by LIFE photographer Hank Walker. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

W. Eugene Smith

W. Eugene Smith, LIFE photographer
LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith holding his camera.

American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith was known for his dedication to his projects, and helping to develop the photo essay into a sophisticated visual form. He was born in Wichita, Kansas and got his start in photography shooting for a pair of local newspapers, The Wichita Eagle and the Beacon. Eventually, Smith relocated to New York City and started working for Newsweek. He was fired from his position at Newsweek for refusing to shoot with a medium format camera. He joined as a staff photographer of LIFE magazine in 1939, where he continued to use his 35mm camera. Screenwriter and documentarian Ben Maddow wrote that “during his relatively brief and often painful life, Smith created at least fifty images so powerful that they have changed the perception of our history.”

LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith's children walk into a clearing.
Juanita and Patrick, LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith’s children, walk hand-in-hand into a clearing in 1946. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Surgeon stands in hospital kitchen by LIFE photographer W. Eugene Smith.
General Practitioner Dr. Ernest Ceriani stands in a hospital kitchen following a surgery that lasted until 2 AM in the tiny town of Kremmling, Colorado. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Three members of the Guardia Civil by W. Eugene Smith.
Three members of dictator Francisco Franco’s feared Guardia Civil by W. Eugene Smith. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

J.R. Eyerman

J.R. Eyerman, LIFE staff photographer
LIFE staff photographer J.R. Eyerman with his camera in hand.

The idea of a famous photographer being born in his parents’ photo studio sounds like something out of a fictional novel. It was, in fact, how J.R. Wharton Eyerman arrived in this world, being delivered in his parents’ Butte, Montana studio. Both of his parents were photographers from whom J.R. learned an immense amount. As a youngster, he helped his father take thousands of images of Yellowstone and Glacier Park. He left home at the age of 15 to attend the University of Washington, where he became a civil engineer. At the height of World War II in 1943, Eyerman was assigned to the Atlantic fleet, where he covered naval operations during the North African and Sicilian campaigns.

Howard Hughes in cockpit of H4 Hercules plane by J.R. Eyerman.
American entrepreneur Howard Robard Hughes Jr. in the cockpit of his H4 Hercules troop transport plane on November 6, 1947. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Audience at Bwana Devil in 3D by J.R. Eyerman.
The audience enjoys the Bwana Devil, the first full-length feature film in 3D. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The Ten Commandments movie at a drive-in theater in Utah by LIFE photographer J.R. Eyerman.
The Ten Commandments movie, starring Charlton Heston as Moses, plays on the screen of a drive-in theater in Utah. This image was shot by J.R. Eyerman, and originally published in the December 22, 1958 issue of LIFE magazine. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Ralph Morse

Ralph Morse, LIFE photographer.
LIFE photographer Ralph Morse on a bicycle.

Photographer Ralph Morse was born in Manhattan, but grew up in a Bronx apartment with his mother and sister. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School, where he joined the school newspaper and was a dedicated journalism student. He aspired to become a newsreel cameraman, but lacked the necessary $1,000 to join the union. Instead, he enrolled at City College of New York for free, and took every single photography class they offered. He worked at a photo studio in New York City, and in the darkroom at Pix Publishing. Alfred Eisenstaedt was a silent partner at Pix, who discovered Morse’s photographic skill. After much nagging, Eisenstaedt convinced Wilson Hicks, the picture editor of LIFE, to meet with Ralph. At their first meeting, Hicks gave Morse his first assignment, covering author Thornton Wilder’s acting on Broadway in his own play Our Town. This was the start to Ralph Morse’s 30-year career with LIFE, where he was considered the magazine’s specialist in technical photography.

Audrey Hepburn wins Oscar for Roman Holiday in 1954. Photo by Ralph Morse.
Actress Audrey Hepburn looking at the Oscar she won for her performance in Roman Holiday in 1954. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Liberation of Paris by LIFE photographer Ralph Morse in 1944.
A Free French soldier rushes to the aid of a French resistance fighter who is taking aim at a German sniper following the liberation of Paris in 1944. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Apollo 11 launch in 1969 by LIFE photographer Ralph Morse.
The launch of Apollo 11 on its historic flight to the moon in 1969 by LIFE photographer Ralph Morse. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

 

Carl Mydans

LIFE photographer Carl Mydans
Portrait of LIFE photographer Carl Mydans.

Carl Mydans was born in 1907 and grew up playing on the Mystic River near Medford, Massachusetts. He became interested in photography while studying at Boston University, where he worked at the school newspaper. As a child, he had dreams of becoming a surgeon or boat builder, but gave these up while attending college to pursue a career in journalism instead. His first reporting jobs were for The Boston Globe and the Boston Heraldand he worked as a writer for American Banker in New York City after graduating from college. In 1935, he moved to Washington D.C. where he joined a group of photographers in the Farm Security Administration. He and fellow photographers Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn documented the conditions of rural American workers. Carl Mydans joined LIFE magazine in 1936 as one of its earliest staff photographers. He shot a wide array of photographs throughout Europe and Asia during World War II. In 1941, he and his wife Shelley became the first husband and wife team on LIFE magazine’s staff. While in the Philippines, they were both captured by invading Japanese forces. They were held as prisoners for one year in Manilla and one year in Shanghai, China before being released as part of a POW exchange in December of 1943. Despite having been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, he bore no ill will towards the Asian nation, and even headed Time-LIFE’s Tokyo bureau with his wife after the war.

Commuters read about JFK assassination. Photo by LIFE photographer Carl Mydans.
Commuters in New York City read of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November of 1963. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
General MacArthur wades ashore at Lingayen Gulf. Photo by Carl Mydans.
General Douglas MacArthur (C), General Richard Sutherland (L) and Colonel Lloyd Lehrbas (2L) wade ashore during the American landing at Lingayen Gulf. The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Japanese sign surrender documents on USS Missouri, ending WWII. Photo by LIFE photographer Carl Mydans.
Senior Japanese delegate Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the official surrender documents aboard the US battleship Missouri, ending World War II.  The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images