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About four years ago, Stanley Marcus, founder of the Neiman Marcus department store, called and asked if I was familiar with the work of the great photographer David Douglas Duncan. Although it had been many years since I’d attended an exhibition of Duncan’s work in his hometown of Kansas City, the images in the exhibit had so impressed me that I instantly recognized the name. When Mr. Marcus wondered whether his archive might find a home at the Ransom Center, I resolved to do whatever I could to make it so.

After that initial phone call, I visited Duncan in the south of France, where he has lived for years, and he visited us here at the Ransom Center. By the time we had agreed that the archive would indeed be coming here, I knew that we were receiving a real gem: the accumulated vision of a matchless eye.

Duncan’s energetic presence exudes a vast, humane curiosity about the world. It is that curiosity that has led him to capture his remarkable friezes of people in situations as base as war, and as noble as peace.

Although quintessentially an American, he has also been a nomad, roaming through the heart of the twentieth century. His archive is thus especially important to us at the Ransom Center, because its range and scope - both geographically and chronologically - is unmatched by any single photographer’s archive in our collections. Duncan’s camera roves from Vietnam to the Kremlin, from Miami Beach political fights to battle scenes in the Pacific. Always a clear-eyed observer, he is able to capture the enigmatic, wordless essence of a moment, while retaining a sense of significant human dimension. This is particularly evident in his lyrical photographs of Picasso, at work and at play.

I invite you to enjoy the images contained here, and encourage you to visit the Ransom Center to view the rest of this important and moving collection of works.

Reproduction of Thomas F. Staley's signature.
Thomas F. Staley, Director
Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

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