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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Life Photographer Dies 

A great photographer has passed.     For those interested, here is but one of a brief gallery of Mydans' work.     A search on the 'web will bring you many more.

Famed Life Magazine Photographer Dies

NEW YORK (AP) - Carl Mydans, who photographed 20th century events from the Great Depression to wars and politics and was a charter member of the Life magazine staff that pioneered magazine photojournalism, has died.     He was 97.

Mydans died Monday night of heart failure at his home in Larchmont, according to his son, Seth.

Mydans traveled the world with his cameras, witnessing and recording landmarks of history - the gaunt faces of 1930s dust-bowl farmers, Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore on his return to the Philippines in 1944, Frenchwomen having their heads shaved as punishment for "collaboration" with the Nazis, and the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri a year later.

Among his more memorable photos was one showing homebound rail commuters on Nov. 22, 1963, reading newspapers with the headline "President Shot Dead."

His wife, Shelley Smith Mydans, was also a journalist, and they often teamed up.     During World War II, they were imprisoned by the Japanese for nearly two years.

His habit of carrying a camera enabled him to combine words and pictures; in later years as a photographer he was known for keeping detailed diaries, and he had a parallel career as an author of books.

Among these works was a 1959 book about photojournalism titled "More Than Meets the Eye," in which Mydans captured "the gut level sense of the small moment symbolizing a larger conflict," said Marianne Fulton, former curator of the George Eastman House collection in Rochester, N.Y.

Mydans first attracted attention in the mid-1930s for his work as a photographer for the federal Farm Security Administration.     His stark black-and-white portraits of Arkansas farm families dramatized the plight of rural people victimized by the Depression.

When Life magazine came into existence in 1936 as a bold new experiment in pictorial journalism, Mydans was the fifth photographer hired, joining icons Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole on the staff that would set new standards for news and feature photography.

Mydans' first assignment was a photographic essay on the hardscrabble life in tiny Freer, Texas.

He met his wife in 1938. In 1941, they were assigned to cover the war in China and were in Manila, Philippines, when Pearl Harbor drew the United States into war with Japan.     Captured and imprisoned, Mydans later said he refused a Japanese offer of freedom if he would take photos for them.

Later moved to a prison in China, the couple were repatriated in a 1943 prisoner of war exchange.     Mydans returned to the war, this time in Europe where he covered Allied invasions in Italy and France.

At war's end he was back in China with forces that liberated Shanghai's notorious Lung Hwa prison.

Based in Tokyo, Mydans covered the postwar U.S. occupation, and the Korean War, and in subsequent years continued to roam the United States and the globe for Life.

Born May 18, 1907, Mydans grew up in Medford, Mass., and joined The Boston Globe as a reporter while still a student at Boston University.     In addition to his son, a New York Times reporter, Mydans is survived by a daughter, Misty Mydans.    His wife died two years ago.

As a photographer myself, I have been influenced by artists like Carl and Shelley Smith Mydans.     They captured pure, raw human drama in a time when the human element was a gripping view of the country in a different time.

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