Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan


Photo by Tony Vaccaro

 

From photography’s very start in the mid-nineteenth century its practitioners have been aware of the power of the photograph to narrate, depict, reveal and persuade. And, when the camera image could be effectively combined with the written or recorded word, the power of both could be amplified a thousandfold. From its earliest beginnings, through its photomechanical and mass media revolutions near the turn of the century, and finally with the rise of the picture press immediately before and after World War II when it first became a true profession, photojournalism has found its greatest champions among those who had a head for the business, a heart for its challenge, and an eye for its creative possibilities.

All three elements coalesced brilliantly in David Douglas Duncan. Through the decades he has brought back photographs which reveal both the agony and the nobility of war, both the beauties and the mysteries of many lands, both the generosity and the limitations of humankind. There is something of the poet in his soul – always searching for the romantic and the heroic in the everyday world around us. You will find in nearly all of Duncan’s photographs and writings an eye for revealing the human spirit in a consistently bold and breathtaking fashion. They are the terms of living by which he survives and excels – a vitality not for everyone but certainly embodied within his very being. A note appears in one of his notebooks from 1971: “Some days a darned good business . . . and every day a fabulous life.”

 

 

 

 

...and every day a fabulous life

Had he not chosen to become a photojournalist, it seems certain that someone very like David Douglas Duncan would have been created by the profession itself. In too many ways this energetic and talented Midwesterner – born in Kansas City, Missouri (“You don’t get much closer to the heart of the country than that!”), on January 23, 1916 – came to embody the spirit, resourcefulness and enthusiasm which characterized photojournalism at the midpoint of this century. Even his monogram – DDD – has been seized upon by editors and critics alike, as it seems to express both the unique spirit and the uncomplicatedly direct nature characteristic of the profession.

 

 

 

 

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