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News Release — February 2, 1999

Ransom Center and LBJ Library Museum to Present
David Douglas Duncan: One Life, A Photographic Odyssey

The blank stare of a weary Khe Sanh defender...the raised fist of a combative Richard Nixon...the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri...a jubilant Eisenhower clowning in Greece...a demure Ava Gardner preparing for a shoot...a boisterous Pablo Picasso conjuring mythic animals with hasty brushstrokes.

These and hundreds more of the most searing images of the 20th century will be on display in the retrospective exhibition David Douglas Duncan: One Life, A Photographic Odyssey opening March 6, 1999 at the LBJ Library & Museum. Co-sponsored by the Ransom Center and the LBJ Library, the exhibition celebrates the landmark career of photojournalist David Douglas Duncan, who recently donated his $15 million archive to the Ransom Center.

David Douglas Duncan: One Life, A Photographic Odyssey is free and open to the public. An exclusive press preview led by Mr. Duncan himself will be held Wednesday, March 3, at 10:00 a.m.

David Douglas Duncan is one of the century's greatest photojournalists. A veteran of the days when photojournalism came of age, Duncan is responsible for some of the 20th century's most recognizable photographs. As a Marine photographer, a photojournalist for LIFE magazine, and a freelancer, for the past 60 years Duncan's images of the world's great events and people have been etched into popular consciousness. Highlights of his career include award-winning coverage of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars; a close friendship with Pablo Picasso resulting in several intimate portraits of the artist; becoming the first Westerner to train his camera on the Kremlin's treasures; and piercing coverage of the tumultuous 1968 political conventions.

Exhibition Content and Highlights

David Douglas Duncan: One Life, A Photographic Odyssey covers 2,500 square feet of gallery space and features 400 items including original prints of Duncan's award-winning photographs, galley proofs of his publications, correspondence between Duncan and his editors, and the cameras, lenses, and field equipment used by Duncan throughout his career.

The exhibition is organized in loose chronological fashion, following Duncan through the major phases of his career.

  • The "amateur" period (1930s) when Duncan began to acquire and hone the skills that photojournalism demands.
  • World War II, where Duncan served as a Marine combat photographer in the Pacific theater.
  • The LIFE years (1946 to 1956), which took Duncan around the globe covering the major events of the day.
  • The Korean and Vietnam Wars, where Duncan captured some of the most powerful images ever of men in war.
  • The 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions, held during one of the nation's most turbulent periods and covered by Duncan for NBC News
  • The Picasso portraits, displaying the revealing images resulting from Duncan's close friendship with the artist. In addition to photographs, this section of the exhibit contains never-before-seen drawings by Picasso, given by the artist as gifts to Duncan.

David Douglas Duncan: One Life, A Photographic Odyssey was curated by Roy Flukinger, Senior Curator of the Ransom Center's Photography and Film Collection; Lisa Royse, Curator for the LBJ Library & Museum; and Liz Murray, an Archivist in the Ransom Center's manuscript collection.

The David Douglas Duncan Archive at the Ransom Center

David Douglas Duncan donated his personal archive to the Ransom Center in 1996. Valued at $15 million, the archive began to arrive in October, 1996. Major shipments were later received in November, 1997 and August, 1998.

The archive contains all of Duncan's wartime photos and negatives, including his award-winning coverage of both the Korean and Vietnam wars. In addition, the collection includes the total body of writing, editing, and design work Duncan undertook to produce his war trilogy--This is War! (1951), I Protest! (1961), and War Without Heroes (1970)--and the production materials (correspondence, contracts, text, dummies, layouts, and proofs) for each of Duncan's twenty-one books. The collection also houses extensive correspondence between Duncan and his family and friends, editors at LIFE, and numerous notables of the twentieth century. Finally, the archive contains Duncan's lenses, cameras, and other photographic equipment.

The archive is expansive and unique, and will serve as a major resource for the study of photojournalism at the University of Texas and beyond. According to Roy Flukinger, Senior Curator of the Center's Photography and Film Collection, "Acquiring David Douglas Duncan's prestigious archive brings the Ransom Center's overview of photojournalism's impact into the modern age."

The Duncan Endowment for Photojournalism

In appreciation of Duncan's generosity in donating his archive, the Ransom Center committed to raise $300,000 to establish the Duncan Endowment for Photojournalism. With gifts from the Effie and Wofford Cain Foundation and the Inman Foundation, the Endowment is near its halfway mark.

The Duncan Endowment will enhance the study of photojournalism by supporting exhibitions, public events, research, and new acquisitions at the Ransom Center. In partnership with related academic departments, the Center will seek to maximize the educational and public benefit of these activities, extending the Endowment's benefits to the University community and beyond.

David Douglas Duncan: A Short Bio

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1916, David Douglas Duncan began his career as a photojournalist at the age of 18. While a student at the University of Arizona majoring in archaeology, he snapped the fleeing victims of an early-morning hotel fire using a 39-cent camera, a birthday gift from his sister. He was later surprised to learn that one frantic guest captured on his film was Americaƕs Public Enemy No. 1, the infamous John Dillinger.

From this serendipitous beginning, Duncan went on to become one of the world's greatest wartime photographers, capturing highly acclaimed and poignant images in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Of his combat photography, Duncan himself wrote, "I wanted to show the way men live and die when they know death is among them."

Commissioned as a U.S. Marine Second Lieutenant in 1943, Duncan earned numerous decorations for the aerial photographs he boldly snapped from the belly of a P-38 fighter plane. Duncan also linked up with Fijian guerrillas, fighting the Japanese from behind enemy lines, and was in China before Peking fell to the Communists in 1948.

As a civilian photographer for LIFE magazine, Duncan rejoined the Marines in Korea, photographing nameless battles, the liberation of Seoul, and the Marines' harrowing Christmas retreat from the Yalu River. Through Duncan's stark black-and-white photographs, the epic saga of the "Forgotten War" came alive, piercing America's collective memory. Today, that memory remains vital, due largely to what Edward Steichen, former Curator of Photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, called "the greatest photographic document ever produced showing men at war."

Though retired from the military with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Duncan again rejoined the Marines in Vietnam, most notably photographing the siege of Khe Sanh. In 1968, Duncan flew straight from the besieged outpost to hand-deliver the negatives for the photographs that were to comprise I Protest!, his broadside denunciation of the war.

While perhaps best known for his wartime photographs, Duncan has aimed his camera at a wide-range of subjects. He provided the first coverage from behind Iron Curtain and, with the approval of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, spent three years photographing Russia's Kremlin treasures. His long and intimate friendship with Pablo Picasso and his family produced one of the most exclusive and revealing portraits of the artist and his world. Seven books by Duncan capture these insights including the best seller, Picasso's Picassos (1961).

In 1972, Duncan set a new standard in photographic achievement, becoming the first photographer to hold a one-person exhibition at New York's prestigious Whitney Museum of Art. His career, aptly described by the esteemed foreign corespondent John Gunther as "tough, audacious, and original," produced a number of legendary images that the Ransom Center will proudly preserve for scholarship, public viewing, and posterity.

 

 
 

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