Name: Audrey Fitzsimmons
Professor: Cynthia Lancaster
Date: 3 November 2010
Assignment: History Research
The History and Legacy of LIFE Magazine
LIFE magazine, famous for many things, is perhaps most known for its portrait of celebrities in the entertainment industry, coverage of World War II, and its role in developing the photo essay.
Henry Luce in 1948/NY Times
The foundation of LIFE magazine can be summed up as the vision of a man aided by a technological advance. The man was Henry R. Luce; the technological advance was the 35mm camera. History As it Happened writes, “Henry R. Luce and his colleagues at Time Inc. made plans to use [the camera] for an entirely new publishing venture. Their project, shrouded in secrecy, emerged full-blown in November 1936, and journalism was forever changed.” The magazine’s eye-catching images, combined with controversial topics enhanced its audience growth in minimal time. The controversy that sometimes spiked because of LIFE’s ventures may actually have been a direct cause of success in some cases. For example, an online source reports:
LIFE was losing money from the beginning. With 80,000 subscribers in 1938, plus 1,000,000 single-copy newsstand sales at just 10 cents per issue, expenses were not being covered. In other words, the more issues that they sold the more money that they would lose. LIFE Magazine would push itself over the top through the controversy surrounding a film called ‘Birth of a Baby,’ which had been banned in New York. LIFE published a five-page article including dozens of frames from the controversial film--this issue of the magazine was itself banned in 33 U.S. cities in what turned out to be a huge publicity boon for Luce (The History).
Despite the controversies, the magazine offered something to the American public that competitors didn’t. History as it Happened writes, “The weekly LIFE brought the world home to readers in a way they had never seen or experienced before. ‘Experienced’ is the crucial word. A great picture is not merely seen, it demands an emotional response. LIFE created such responses countless times for millions of readers–and continues to do so to this day.”
Photo: Martha Holmes/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Entertainment to WWII
Perhaps one of the greatest contributing factors to the fame of LIFE is it photojournalistic diversity. The magazine could equally and efficiently cover the glamour of celebrities in movies and the horror of tragedies in World War II.
Photo: Time Life Pictures/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
LIFE Goes To the Movies declares, “From the start, LIFE and the movies were hooked by each , behaving...like partners or rivals, soul mates or outraged enemies.” This relationship between the subjects of the magazine, and the media in general is still relevant today. Sometimes celebrities love the attention; at other times it outrages them. Nonetheless, what LIFE does is capture them. LIFE has had a history of capturing movies since its beginnings. Peter Stackpole, Terry Spencer, and Edward Clark, to name a few, not only photographed the entertainment business, and its , but could relate more than one may originally contemplate. LIFE Movie Editor and Entertainment Editor, Tom Prideaux, writes, “We at LIFE and they in Hollywood were pretty much alike, racing to meet production deadlines, enjoying our work-and even the overwork” (Scherman).
Photo: Alfred Eisenstaedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
More so than celebrities of the entertainment business, celebrities of war can relate to hard work, to say the least, as depicted in the World War II photographs produced by LIFE contributors. The victories; the losses; the return home: they were all memorably represented by LIFE magazine. One of the most memorable is Alfred Eisenstaedt’s "V-J Day in Times Square." photograph of the sailor locking lips with a woman upon returning home from the war won lives on in print, and in recent movies such as, Letters to Juliet and Night at the Museum II. W. Eugene Smith, on the other hand, captures both, “tenderness and horror” (LIFE) in his photograph, “Casualties of ” which shows a Marine holding an infant casualty.
Photo: W. Eugene Smith/TIME & LIFE Pictures
However, LIFE is not only known for its photograph, but has become accredited with the development of the photo essay. History of LIFE states, “But LIFE of course does more than present discrete photographic moments. The magazine was also a pioneer when it came to telling stories in still images. LIFE, in effect, created the photo-essay.” The photo essay, or set of photographs displayed and usually containing text to tell a story, is an intricate part of photojournalism today.
In 2007, LIFE folded for its last time as a magazine, but announced a partnership with Getty for online publication (Adorama News Desk). The website was established in 2009 and offers, “instant access to millions of breathtaking photographs — for free” (LIFE). The website continues, “LIFE.com not only lets you wander through the legendary LIFE and Getty archives, but with more than 3,000 new photos added every day, it also gives you the best pictures of the people and places shaping our world now.” LIFE magazine today is just as well known for its portraits of movies and celebrities, as it is for weather disasters and foreign conflict depictions. Its success, unlike competitors in the industry, is said to built on the skill and talents of photographers, not management. History as it Happened writes, “Most magazines are built around editors and writers, but LIFE has historically been built around photographers. Being a LIFE photographer is one of the most glamorous jobs in the profession, and it attracts the best in the world.” The gifted photographers’ works are, with little argument, the primary cause of the continued success of the magazine. Today, LIFE boasts of a history of world-renown photographer contributors such as Neil Leifer, Alfred Eisenstaedt, W. Eugene Smith, Bob Landry, and many more (LIFE). It endeavors to live out the mission established by its founder, the mission to:
See life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things — machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work — his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed…. (History of LIFE).
LIFE readers and audiences can attest to the notion that the magazine, although pleasing to the eye, provides the world with more than entertainment, or infotainment. LIFE is a leader in photojournalism who’s photographs have touched the world.
A. (2007). Adorama News Desk: Life magazine folds--again. Digital cameras, all other cameras and everything photographic from AdoramaCamera.Retrieved November 03, 2010, from http://www.adorama.com/catalog.tpl?op=NewsDesk_Internal&article_num=033607-4
History of LIFE Magazine « History as it Happened. (2007, October 15). History as it Happened. Retrieved November 03, 2010, from http://historyasithappened.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/7/
LIFE - Your World in Pictures. (n.d.). Retrieved November 03, 2010, from http://www.life.com/
Scherman, D. E. (Ed.). (1975). Life goes to the movies. New York: Time-Life Books.
The History of LIFE Magazine, LOOK Magazine, and Birth of Photojournalism. (n.d.). Magazines.things-and-other-stuff.com. Retrieved November 03, 2010, from http://www.things-and-other-stuff.com/magazines/life-magazine.html