Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan

THIS IS WAR


 

Duncan eventually gathered his Korean coverage into a single volume, This Is War! which was published to great acclaim in 1951. It was his first book and, to further honor the men he photographed and fought alongside, he arranged for all his royalties to go to a fund for the widows and children of the Marines who did not make it home.

 

 

It was perhaps inevitable that the combat photographer would return to an American battle zone once more, even though seventeen years had passed. Having reported upon the failure of the French to oversee the governance of Indochina in 1953, Duncan was not surprised to see the region plunge into prolonged warfare once more. With the backing of Life and ABC-TV, Duncan returned in 1967 to report on the escalating war in Vietnam. Ultimately two new books would emerge from Vietnam to complete his “war trilogy” – I Protest! (1968) and War Without Heroes (1970) – delineating the lives and deaths of his fellow warriors while challenging the American government’s handling of the war itself.

It is often easy to forget, when seeing a photograph which encompasses powerful subject matter such as war or anguish, just how much artistry must go into both the composition of the exposure and the making of the final print. The professional photographer, while undergoing the conditions of the moment he is recording with his camera, must simultaneously call upon his mastery of aesthetics, his knowledge of his equipment and his understanding of the photochemical properties of the medium. That Duncan could consistently employ his artistic sensibilities and technological expertise while documenting events during which both he and his subjects were in danger of losing their lives is a testament to his extraordinary clear-headedness.

Equally important was the creation of the final print, which Duncan has always paid meticulous attention to. As he has always pointed out: “There’s nobody between you and the print. Nobody. It’s you and the subject and the final print. And if you get it published that way, you’ve said it.”

 

 

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