Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Spring 2004 Newsletter

The Complete Duncan


The Center's prodigal photographer is making news again. David Douglas Duncan has published Photo Nomad [W. W. Norton & Company; December 22, 2003; $29.95 cloth], a photo-autobiography that spans the twentieth century in a compact volume wonderfully interspersed with alternating text and imagery. Duncan traverses time through images rich with poetic captions, sidebars, letters, and mini-essays that capture and convey an impressionistic view of the events that shaped his work.

From his beginnings with a 39-cent plastic camera his sister gave him as an eighteenth birthday gift and continuing with his famous Leica with Nikon lens, Duncan captured the memorable images of soldiers, artists, actors, friends, and landscapes that graced the covers and pages of Life Magazine, National Geographic, and his twenty-four acclaimed books.

Photo Nomad documents Duncan's unforgettable photos of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Here are his famous photos taken while fighting with Fijian guerrillas behind enemy lines on Bouganville and, later, his record of Japan's surrender from aboard the USS Missouri. Here are his legendary Life covers of marines toughing it out in Korea. Here also are his heart-wrenching images of civilians, like a wounded Korean mother nursing a child whose father has just been killed, and a tortured Greek shepherd nearly blinded by his neighbors.

On other pages, Picasso grins gleefully from his bathtub or gazes piercingly, his two eyes taking up the whole page. Henri Cartier-Bresson becomes the subject, for once, poised with his own Leica before him; Ava Gardner and Robert Redford don or lift the mask of glamour; and the young Pat Metheny and the cast of "Jesus Christ, Superstar" let the photographer backstage.

In landscapes of breathtaking beauty, Duncan reveals the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, the moors of Ireland, and the sunflowers of Provence bowing their heads before the setting sun.

Throughout 464 pages of vibrant color and arresting black and white, Photo Nomad presents us with the vivid mosaic of Duncan's work, his distinctive vision of the world. We see ourselves at our best and worst, our ugliest and most beautiful, our most mundane and most spectacular. Photo Nomad is a sweeping record of the twentieth century and of a life in images -- a fitting "birthday gift to myself" by an extraordinary artistic mind.  

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