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Remembering Paul Fusco Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

17 July 2020

Magnum photographer Paul Fusco who photographed the mourners who came to see Robert F. Kennedy's funeral train pass through their towns died on Wednesday from complications related to dementia.

Born in 1930, he worked as a photographer with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Korea from 1951 to 1953. Returning to civilian life, he studied photojournalism at Ohio University, graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1957. He began his career with Look magazine as a staff photographer, remaining with the publication until 1971 when it ceased publication.

His RFK funeral train images were a Look assignment.

We featured his work in Revisiting SFMOMA's 'The Train', our review of 25 of his images exhibited in 2018. As we wrote then, Look wanted a color story so he shot with Kodachrome 64 and a few rolls of Ektachrome 400, both slide films. He used two Leica M rangefinders and a Nikon SLR. But it wasn't easy shooting slow film from a moving train in the late afternoon and evening.

The catalog describes what he captured:

Fusco's images of different individuals, communities and families holding farewell signs, saluting and praying captured an astonishing and poignant portrait of the American people. Even as the light of day began to fade, Fusco continued to photograph, using a panning motion that allowed him to isolate certain people and scenes. In addition to the remarkable light in each photograph, there is a blurriness that heightens the sense of the train's motion, as well as the sorrow expressed by the American public that day.

But Look, which published a week after Life, killed the story, preferring a retrospective on the life of RFK. So the photos didn't see the light of day until Magnum got them published in George magazine on the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination in 1998.

Working for Look took him all over the world. He covered stories in England, Israel, Egypt, Japan, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. He also made an extended study of the Iron Curtain countries from northern Finland to Iran.

His coverage of American social issues included the destitute miners in Kentucky, Latinos in New York City, cultural experimentation in California, African-American life in the Mississippi Delta, religious proselytizing in the South and migrant laborers.

Fusco also documented the National Farm Workers Association's 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966.

He became a Magnum associate in 1973 and a full member in 1974. He was published in Time, Life, Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones and Psychology Today, among other publications.

Magnum president Olivia Arthur noted he also "covered stories ranging from police brutality in New York to the long-term effects of the Chernobyl disaster and people living with AIDS in California."

She added, "Magnum Photographers from across the generations remember him for the inspiration his work gave them as well as his generosity within the community. His presence will be missed and his legacy will be remembered."

The Guardian has published a slide show of his work. And Magnum has published a few more images.

Many of his photographs are in the Magnum Photos archive currently held at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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