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Remembering Dirck Halstead Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

28 March 2022

Photojournalist Dirck Halstead who documented the Vietnam War, Nixon's trip to China as well as domestic protests for United Press International, Time magazine and other news outlets died Friday from a cerebral hemorrhage in Boquete, Panama. He was 85.

Halstead was born in 1936 on Long Island to a mother who was an advertising executive and a father who was a telecommunications engineer. They gave him a Kodak Duaflex for Christmas when he was 15.

But they also gave him a darkroom kit with which he could make contact prints. "And that was the thing that got me hooked," he remembered later in life.

He became his high school's official photographer and by his senior year even had a part-time job photographing for the local newspaper, which paid him $5 a picture.

'My job as a photographer was never about what I saw, but about how I fulfill my responsibility as a photojournalist to report history.'

The paper's owner had ambitions, though, acquiring other papers in the area. "All of a sudden I was shooting for seven newspapers," Halstead recalled, "and I was the only photographer, so that $5 per picture started to multiply."

On a trip to Guatemala when he was 16, he found himself and his camera in the midst of a civil war and became "the youngest war correspondent Life magazine ever had."

He attended Haverford College briefly before being drafted and becoming an official photographer for the U.S. Army, which allowed him shoot all over the world.

Following his tour of duty, He started a 15-year stint with UPI, working in Philadelphia, New York and Washington before he was sent to Vietnam.

His 1972 trip to China in which he was one of six photographers invited to cover Nixon's historic trip led to an offer from Time.

He'd thought working for Time would put an end to his coverage of war and politics but 10 days after signing the contract, he was back in Vietnam. Eventually Time stationed him at the White House where he covered presidents from the 1970s to the 1990s.

He worked for Time for nearly 30 years, shooting 50 covers, nearly all of it with film.

But he was fascinated by digital photography, starting the Digital Journalist online in 1997 to explore the new technology.

In a 1997 editorial for Digital Journalist, he wrote:

Think about how the camera has brought aid and life to starving people; how it has altered history by ending wars and alerted the world to the problems that must be addressed if humanity is to survive. Think also, for a moment, of those photojournalists who have paid and continue to pay, the price to serve us all.

In 1992, he was involved in the formation of Video News International, which evolved into the Platypus movement, teaching still photojournalists to cross the barrier between print and television.

Halstead was subsequently a senior fellow in photojournalism at The Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

He won the National Press Photographers Association Picture of the Year award twice; the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his coverage of the fall of Saigon; and two Eisie Awards from the Columbia University School of Journalism.

In 2002, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the White House News Photographers Association;= and in 2004 he was honored with the Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award. The University of Missouri presented him with the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism in 2007.

In 2006, he published his 352-page memoir Moments in Time: Photos and Stories from One of America’s Top Photojournalists with 300 of his photographs. The BBC showcased a number of them with its obituary.

His archives of 500,000 photographs are at the Briscoe Center. The material covers his work from the 1950s through 2001 as well as his personal papers. Memorial contributions may be made to the Briscoe Center Photography Collections to fund an internship in Halstead's name at the Center .

"I never thought of myself as a great photographer," he told one interviewer, "what I am is just a storyteller. My job as a photographer was never about what I saw, but about how I fulfill my responsibility as a photojournalist to report history."

Married and divorced three times, he is survived by a sister, Anne MacPherson.

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