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An opportunity to see some of the best US photographers of the 20th Century in action
on 21 July 2012
In its time, Life magazine was the virtual equivalent of today's 'Hello' or 'OK', a mix of news and celebrities but without the big money payments for coverage of someone's wedding. Life employed some of the best photographers working in the USA then available and examples of many are included here. A mini-listing of about a dozen is included on the back cover and it is by no means complete. The nearest British competitor at the time would have been 'Picture Post' which, like life, no is longer published.
Life had several phases and closed more than once, only to be relaunched in a slightly different form. The final re-launch was subsequent to its acquisition by and merging with Time magazine, creating Time-Life which was later absorbed by Warner Bros. Originally launched in the 1880s as a text-based magazine, from 1936-72 it took the form which is most remembered, the weekly pictorial magazine. For a few years it was infrequently published before becoming a monthly that ran from 1978-2000. For about 4 years from 2004, it was issued as a supplement to some newspapers and later assumed an on-line entity only under the Time-Life banner.
Just as with National Geographic magazine, although the two served a substantially different readership, there were similarities in that some of the published articles were dictated by its editors, some were projects by a specific photographer and the remainder open assignments. Most of the images included relate to the period when it was a weekly pictorial magazine, 1936-72 which was historically important as it included the recovery from the Great Depression of 1929, World War 2, the Korean and Vietnamese wars that followed and the assassinations of the two Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King.
Most of the images are black and white and rather few are in colour. Many would easily classify as 'News', several as 'Celebrity' or 'Portraits' and the remainder as 'general interest'. It is quite substantial, at over 600 pages and there is at least one image on just about every page, including the brief introduction. The internal organisation is alphabetical by the photographer's name and therefore there is no chronological sequence. In many instances, there are quotations presumably by the photographer to explain the circumstances of certain images, but by no means all.
For its photography, historical relevance and for the fans of the magazine in its heyday (I only ever saw a few random copies which had been sent by a relative who was a 'GI bride'), I would suggest that this might be a valuable addition to a book collection.