I guess every photographer has a “starting point” early in life, a key event that actually made him want to become a photographer or -as in my case- even a press photographer.
For me, it’s easy to pin-point that event in my life. Back in the 1970s, when I was in my early teens, my parents purchased a coffee table book, “The best photos of LIFE” (German edition). On 304 large pages it presented a superb collection of the finest press photos available, most of them in black & white, shot by some of the best press photographers the world has seen. All the big names were there, and we know today that these are the pioneers of photojournalism: Alfred Eisenstaedt, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Andreas Feininger, George Silk, just to name a few. Of course, I did not know anything about them or photography or journalism at that time. But I did like what I saw.
680 press photos from all areas of life, exploring the entire LIFE archive of more than 18 million photos! Ralph Graves, LIFE’s final editor-in-chief, explains in the introduction that it was “a nightmare, and a privilege, to make the selection”. He covers the period from 1936 to 1972, the short lifespan of LIFE magazine. Despite the enormous amount of photos available, the twenty chapters of the book help to structure the selection, from “The Moment” to “The Telling Picture” and “Fun in Life”. And the editors did not just focus on the big moments in photo journalism; they also show simple yet beautiful details of everyday life.
Anyway, I saw this book, and I was hooked. I knew immediately that THIS was what I wanted to do for a living. Photo journalism meant notonly to be in the middle of the action and to capture the most important moments for the history, but also to show the people and their lives as they were. This job enabled a single individual to present his (sometimes limited) view to the world. An idealistic view of our job, sure, but fascinating nonetheless.
Life went on. I entered photography. And I forgot about the book.
When we moved to our new house a couple of months ago, I found it in the basement between other books. I opened it – and was hooked again, after all those years. I spent an hour looking at the superb photos. That old feeling came back, and I knew I had done the right thing. :-)
Thanks to the Internet, you can probably not only snatch a copy of this book on eBay or Amazon*, you can also view the most important photos online, in the TIME & LIFE picture archive, where the images are presented in cooperation with Getty Images.
There is some truly amazing stuff to be found there, even more so if you think about this being an “all film” archive coming from a time with no (or very little) automatic camera functions. Breathtaking.
I swear, this book is worth its money. You won’t regret it.
*Ralph Graves (Ed.)
Die besten Photos aus LIFE