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Remembering David Douglas Duncan Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

8 June 2018

Kansas City native David Duncan Douglas died Thursday at his home in France at the age of 102. He had come a long way and marked his journey with an astonishing gallery of images.

In our review of his My 20th Century we recounted his career from his amateur days in the 1930s when he accidentally took photos of John Dillinger, the bank robber, returning repeatedly to a burning building to try to rescue his suitcase to his Marine Corps days shooting photographs of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War before from the point of view of the grunt to his befriending Pablo Picasso in 1956 and his career at Life magazine traveling the world, shooting in Iran, Turkey, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And published 26 books featuring those photographs.

When it's your own century, you're never out of work.

In October 1996, Duncan donated his extensive archive to the Harry Ranson Center at the University of Texas, Austin. The Center released this one-minute memorial to Duncan:

His wartime kit was spare: an exposure meter, film and two cameras. During World War II, he used a Rolleiflex, switching to Leica 35mm cameras in Korea (one of which sold for $2.79 million at auction in 2012). He later became fond of a 50mm f2 and a 135mm f3.5 Nikkor, which he at first used on the Leicas. As he neared the century mark, he relied on a Nikon Coolpix S620.

In a statement issued by Nikon today, the company noted:

When Duncan visited Japan as a Life magazine photographer in 1950, he came to discover the outstanding performance of Nikkor lenses. This eventually led to opportunities for both the names of Nikon and Nikkor to be recognized all over the world. For this, we are indebted to him.

Duncan himself described the moment he discovered what a Nikkor could do in this Nikon video presentation:

In An Extraordinary Gentleman!, Joe McNally tells the short version of the story with a nice follow-up about his visit with Duncan.

The history this man has seen! From WWII, when he served as a marine, to Korea, to Vietnam, to the Middle East and along the way becoming a friend and confidante of Picasso ... nothing short of an astonishing life. He is very matter of fact about it. "I know how to work a camera," he has said.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, Time published reminiscences by a number of Duncan's colleagues in Celebrated Photographer David Douglas Duncan Turns 100.

In that piece Rober Sullivan recalls discovering a photo essay from the 1950s about the French involvement that Duncan had both shot and written. He remembers bringing it the subject up with Duncan:

He said, with his good humor, that it nearly got him canned. Time Inc. boss Henry Luce was all for Asian interventions of any sort and when the French ambassador protested to him about the feature, Luce called Duncan on the carpet. After Luce fulminated for a bit during this private audience, Duncan said the boss obviously had one option: "Fire me." Luce, a smart editor, chose not to.

Semper Fi. Always faithful to the story and the people who lived it.

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