Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

email signup Blog Video Facebook Twitter Instagram

David Douglas Duncan


previous / index / next

Follow link for an enlarged imagePhoto Nomad (2003) / view images from this book

Nearly forty years later the “Nomad” returns to tell his own story again. Duncan’s Photo Nomad — another self-published triumph which he executed with the expertise of the Mondadori printers and designers in Verona — covers nearly seven decades of photographing the world. This time Duncan compiles his images and stories into a 464-page “novel format” word-and-photo autobiography. The resulting publication is a more compact, portable and affordable volume — a departure from his many stunning but larger picture books — which he hopes will reach students as well as a larger and more diverse audience. It is now one of the most compelling and insightful renderings of the photographic life, lived to its fullest and told anew.

* * *

From the book jacket text:
In the world of photography the work of David Douglas Duncan is a magisterial legacy. Here, in a unique format, it is presented as a symphony, ranging from the most quiet and serene of life-notes to smashing crescendos of war, and so much that falls between the two.

Born in 1916, Duncan took his first picture with a 39-cent plastic camera (of the most-wanted gangster in America) — an eighteenth birthday gift from his little sister. By the late 1930's he was selling photo-stories to nationwide newspapers and National Geographic magazine while developing skills that would carry him to worldwide recognition during the following seven decades.

A Marine combat photographer in World War II, he fought with Fijian guerrillas behind enemy lines on Bougainville, and recorded Japan's surrender aboard the USS Missouri — his home state. As a Life photographer he covered civil wars in Palestine and Greece, migrated with nomads in Central Asia, recorded the end of British Empire and birth of the Iron Curtain, Ava Gardner in Rome filming "The Barefoot Contessa," spent years roaming the then-serene World of Allah, and even immortalized the "ghosts" of Mercedes-Benz racing cars. His coverage of the Korean War was later acclaimed by Edward Steichen: "the highest tide that combat photography has achieved" — heart-wrenching images that became icons of the time and then This Is War!, his first of now twenty-four books.

It was of dual historical significance, because every Life photo was made with an unknown lens (Nikon) fitted to a Leica — now credited with triggering the revolution that later swept the camera world.

From Picasso's private life and his unknown paintings to never-photographed treasures in Moscow's Kremlin, to America's historic 1968 Presidential Conventions (also NBC's first photo-news one-man report), the results of Duncan's exuberance and keen eye are finally assembled in Photo Nomad, giving us indelible images of his tireless curiosity and almost limitless range as a photographer.

In 1967-68, then as senior as the commanding general in Saigon and with perhaps almost as much exposure to warfare, he returned to battlefields — Vietnam — for Life and ABC. He produced two books on that tragedy (which he protested while President Johnson and General Westmoreland were still in power), just as he foresaw "Indochina All But Lost" in a 1953 Life essay nine months before the fall of Dien Bien Phu. His report created an astonishing confrontation with Henry Luce, Life's founder and editor-in-chief, recorded here word-for-word. For the next three decades, Duncan photographed and published books on subjects as diverse as Van Gogh's sunflowers in Provence, an ethereal prismatic vision of Paris, the head-over-paws love story of a giant German Shepherd, to the ashed universe of a Holocaust and forest fire-survivor-neighbor who rebuilt his life for a second time, wrote a bestseller of profound inspiration and later saw Michael York play his real-life role for Hollywood. One man, Martin Gray, with one code . . . "Never Quit!"

That is but a partial glimpse of the world remembered in this one-of-a-kind, novel format, photo-autobiography — written, designed and produced by the author.