Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan

SHOWING US AS WE ARE

While Duncan was selling his Vietnam work at NBC News in New York, Reuven Frank, the president of the network, conceived the idea of Duncan shooting the upcoming 1968 national conventions in Miami Beach and Chicago. Frank commissioned Duncan to produce still images on a daily basis of any aspect of the convention’s activities that he chose, and then to present them in a three-to-five minute television spot at the end of each day’s broadcast with Duncan’s narrative in the place of captions. These “photo-essays of the air” required a massive amount of work throughout the conventions – ultimately involving twenty-hour workdays and thirty to fifty still photos for each daily prime time broadcast.

It also challenged Duncan in other ways. A large-scale still image presentation for television broadcast had never really been attempted before. Duncan had to reschool his eye to shoot almost exclusively horizontally in order to accommodate the presentational format of the television screen. Perhaps most surprising of all, despite all his years of experience in photojournalism, the conventions were the first professional story that Duncan had shot in his native America.

The results were remarkable on all fronts. Delighting broadcasters and audience alike, they ultimately contributed new understanding of a turbulent and monumental time in the nation’s history. In his landmark 1969 book, Self-Portrait: U.S.A, Duncan remarked, “ . . . I feel my convention photographs show us as we are – close up: shot during the gathering of our great political clans . . . our best, worst, most mediocre . . . I shot my pictures as I found them, rooting for no one, favoring nobody, thrilled with much of what I found, reflective because of new responses discovered within myself and grateful to this experience that released them.”

 

 

 

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