David Douglas Duncan
David Douglas Duncan (born January
23, 1916) is an American photojournalist and among the most
influential photographers of the 20th Century. He is best known for
his dramatic combat photographs.
Duncan was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where his childhood was
marked with interest in the outdoors, which helped him obtain the
rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts at a relatively young age.
Duncan briefly attended the University of Arizona, where he studied
archaeology. While in Tucson, he inadvertently photographed John
Dillinger trying to get into a hotel. Duncan eventually continued
his education at the University of Miami, where he graduated in
1938, having studied zoology and Spanish. It was in Miami that his
interest in photojournalism piqued. He served as picture editor and
photographer of the university paper.
His career as a photojournalist had its origin when he took
photographs of a hotel fire in Tucson, Arizona where he was then
studying archaeology at the University of Arizona. His photos
included one of a hotel guest who made repeated attempts to go back
into the burning building for his suitcase. That photo proved to be
newsworthy when the guest turned out to have been notorious bank
robber John Dillinger and the suitcase to have contained the
proceeds of a bank robbery in which he had shot a police officer.
After college, Duncan was commissioned as an officer in the US
Marines and became a combat photographer. After brief postings in
California and Hawaii, he was sent to the South Pacific on
assignment when the United States entered World War II. Though
combat photographers are often close to the action, they rarely
fight. However, in a brief engagement at Bougainville Island, Duncan
found himself fighting against the Japanese. Duncan would later be
on board the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender.
His war time photographs were so impressive that, after the war, he
was hired by Life to join their staff upon the urging of J.R.
Eyerman, Life's chief photographer. During his time with Life he
covered many events including the end of the British Raj in India
and conflicts in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Perhaps his most famous photographs were taken during the Korean
War. He compiled many of his photos into a book called This Is War!
(1951), with the proceeds going to widows and children of Marines
who had been killed in the conflict. Duncan is considered to be the
most prominent combat photographer of the Korean War.
In the Vietnam War, Duncan would eventually compile two additional
books I Protest! (1968) and War Without Heroes (1970). Here, Duncan
stepped out of his role as a neutral photographer and challenged how
the US government was handling the war.
Aside from his combat photographs, Duncan is also known for his
photographs of Pablo Picasso to whom he had been introduced by
fellow photographer Robert Capa. Eventually, he was to publish seven
books of photographs of Picasso.
In 1966 he published Yankee Nomad a visual autobiography that
collected representative photographs from throughout his career. In
2003 this was revised and published under the title of Photo Nomad.