sábado, 28 de noviembre de 2009

John G. Morris: An Interview with the Most Influential and Experienced Photo Editor in History

Interview and Indicated Pictures: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA . Paris (France). September 12, 2009

John G. Morris inside the library of his home in Paris, a city he greatly loves and where he has lived since 1983. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Throughout a distinguished photojournalist career which began in 1938 and during which he was Life´s Magazine Hollywood correspondent, Life´s Magazine picture editor during Second World War, Ladies´ Home Journal photo editor, Magnum´s Photos first picture editor, picture editor for the Washington Post and the New York Times and a corresponding editor for National Geographic, John G. Morris became the most experienced picture editor of all time, working through decades with the foremost photographers in the world: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert
Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, David Seymour Chim, Werner Bischof, Gjon Mili, George Rodger, Bob Landry, Ralph Morse, Carl Mydans, Elliot Elisofon, Hansel Mieth, Elliot Erwitt, Phillippe Halsman, Eugene Smith, Cornell Capa, Inge Morath, Dmitri Kessel, David Douglas Duncan, Fritz Goro, Myron Davies, George Silk, Peter Stackpole, John Florea, Hans Wild, Frank Scherschel, Dave Scherman, Ernst Haas, Lee Miller, Bill Vandivert, Ruth Orkin, Sol Libsohn, Esther Bubbley, Gordon Coster, Larry Burrows, Eve Arnold, Burt Glinn, Erich Hartmann, Dennis Stock, John Phillips, Erich Lessing, Marc Riboud, Kryn Taconis, Bill Snead, Ernies Sisto, Barton Silverman, Neal Boenzi, Edward Hausner, Jack Manning, Don Hogan Charles, Peter Magubane, Michel Laurent, David Turnley, Peter Turnley, and many more.

John G. Morris had always the highly important job of choosing their best images for publication in a number of the most prominent magazines and newspapers on earth, a high percentage of them becoming legendary icons with the elapse of time. And he always managed to increase the photographic picture edition and prestige of all the world class media for which he worked, also becoming a key factor in the increase of sales.


But aside from his impressive background as picture editor and journalist, John G. Morris, an authentic living encyclopedia perfectly remembering all kind of anecdotes, data and events from thirties to present time, has steadily kept through his professional lifetime a praiseworthy comradeship to his job teammates, specially to photographers, whom he has always defended to his utmost, fighting strenuously to get the best working conditions, salaries and picture payings for them, often even facing some of the most powerful editors and publishers in defense of their rights.


This is the man who along with Cornell Capa, Julia Friedmann, and Edith Capa helped bury Robert Capa on June 11, 1954 in the Quaker cemetery at Amawalk, New York, in the middle of very deep grief.


This is the man who made twelve trips to Tucson (Arizona) to see W.S. "Bill" Johnson, Eugene Smith´s personal curator, fighting to his physical limit trying to preserve - what he obtained - the economical future of Eugene Smith´s sons, specially three of them who had become very poor after Gene´s demise in 1978.


There would be many more examples clearly depicting the exceptional humanity of John G. Morris, who often risked his own job defending photographers all over the world and the huge significance of pictures in modern photojournalism and different media related to it.


John G. Morris speaking in depth about pictures, with the same enthusiasm than in 1938, when he began his professional career as a photojournalist working for the legendary Life magazine published by Henry R. Luce. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

When did your career begin?

John G. Morris: In 1937, during my third year at Chicago University. I created a monthly student magazine called Pulse, trying to follow the line of Time regarding its news section and candid type pictures in the style of Life. While staying as a student, Robert Maynard Hutchins, President of the University of Chicago, imbued me with the idea that the best education in photojournalism stems from working in the field.

But my professional activity in photojournalism started in March 1938, when I began working in New York in Life, the weekly picture magazine founded by Henri R. Luce in 1936, already then the best in the world and selling by millions.

My first important work came at the end of July 1939 as a substitute researcher in Life´s sports department.

I had the chance of meeting Gjon Mili, an actual genius photographer, when we had to make a reportage of Alice Marble, recently proclaimed champion of Wimbledon. We went to Mili´s studio of 6 East Twenty-third street in New York and he made a great work using his tremendous mastery of stop-action pictures using stroboscopic lights and freezing Alice´s strokes hitting the ball with her racket.

I worked hard. In May 1940 I was elected research assistant to Alexander King, and just before Christmas 1940, I was named assistant to Wilson Hicks, one of the two executive editors in Life.

Times of glory: Dennis Stock, Elliot Erwitt, Esther Bubbley, Robert Frank, Ruth Orkin ... The prestigious Life Young Photographers Contest became a springboard for future world class photographers. John G. Morris worked with vast majority of them, editing their best pictures for decades.

Which were in your opinion the basic ingredients that turned Life into the best weekly picture magazine publication in the world during its existence between 1936 and 1972?

John G. Morris: To begin with, it excelled at its world picture coverage and quick distribution through newsstands in less than a week. We always looked for the best photographers and the quality and impact of the pictures were the core of the success, along with well thought captions, because it was more important to write appropriate words than measuring them.

As to pictures, there was a moment in which to be a Life photographer was a symbol of excellence.

Besides, Life reigned supreme when it came to photographs, because newspapers were faster but were then in need of the coherent display space and high quality of reproduction, without forgetting that it was always of top paramount importance for Life to find the most appropriate images to follow narrative of the stories.

Needless to say that vast majority of times Life worked with original negatives or high quality master prints, in such a way that when sometimes it republished the best newspapers pictures, readers frequently thought they were seeing them for the first time.

During its thirty-six years of existence between 1936 and 1972, Life was the best weekly picture magazine in the world. John G. Morris worked in it as a picture editor between 1938 and 1945, a period in which this legendary publication had some of its greatest halcyon days.

To keep a steadfast high quality, each editor was asked to fulfil overproduction in his own department, in such a way that two or three new picture stories were ready every week. And it was top priority that the photographs were great.

On the other hand, during second half of thirties, Life magazine opened its doors to many top-notch European photographers fleeing from Fascism, who found in United States a second homeland where develop better future professional opportunities.

It must also be added that Life was printed in first class heavily coated paper with a quality / price ratio virtually unbeatable, with a selling price of ten cents for readers

And last but not least, we must bear in mind that from scratch Life had a formidable directive team constituted by the famous trio Wilson Hicks, Daniel Longwell and John Shaw Billings. Hicks was the executive director whose task was assigning photographers; Longwell, the other executive editor, had great talent to create ideas able to fill some magazines; and managing editor Billings selected the stories to run.

Subsequently, a fourth man would join them: the great Edward K.Thompson, in my viewpoint probably the best picture editor in history, and under whose long tenure Life would reach many of its halcyon days. One example will suffice to prove his mastery in his work: Alfred Eisenstaedt
once said to me that he could read a picture from an upside down negative while in the sodium hyposulfite as fixing agent. Ed, who began his career in Life in 1937 as assistant picture editor, was a great professional with a tremendous knowledge on photographs and loved by everybody and his image with his turned up sleeves when watching pictures became an identity sign of Life through many years, subsequently becoming managing editor and editor in chief until his retirement in 1970.


John G. Morris working at his home in Paris, inside his impressive library containing a very comprehensive assortment of books on the best photographers in history. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.

Who were the photographers that mostly impressed you during your stage as Life Magazine picture editor?

John G. Morris: There were many.

Alfred Eisenstadt was truly an extraordinary photographer, the first who was hired by Harry R. Luce for the Life staff. He came to United States from Germany in 1935, being 37 years old, and featuring a very high expertise acquired during his activity for Pacific and Atlantic, the Berlin affiliate of Associated Press, for which he had worked as a photojournalist since 1929, making pictures of world celebrities like Charles Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Yehudi Menuhin, Richard Strauss, Jascha Heifetz, Marlene Dietrich, George Bernard Shaw, aside from political events during thirties, the League of Nations in Geneva, Mussolini greeting Hitler in Venice and different social reportages like the prostitutes of Les Halles and the High Society in Saint Moritz.

Highly inspired by Dr Erich Salomon, Eisie was the very embodiment of Life, very energetic, always enthusiast and exceedingly deft conveying the essence of a story in a single image, very often capturing his subjects unguarded and bringing about a sense of intimacy.

Carl Mydans, who was sent in 1939 to cover the heroic Finnish defense against the Soviet Union.

Phillippe Halsman, who was a flagship contributor, managing to get more than one hundred covers, including his portrait of Albert Einstein, who was used for a U.S postage stamp.

Dmitri Kessel, who had worked in Life since 1937, and specialized in big photographic productions like the wedding of the Shah of Iran, the Sistine Chapel.

Peter Stackpole, whose real interest lay in shooting the most important Hollywood movie stars, though he could make great pictures of almost anything. For instance, he made a wonderful Golden Gate Bridge photograph which made Life cover and before working for Life, he had shot a series for Time with candid pictures of former president Herbert Hoover taking a nap on a commencement platform.

Eliot Elisofon, who made pictures of the evacuation of U.S citizens of Japanese descent from the West Coast to detention camps, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and would subsequently become one of the best II World War photographers. Even, I covered with him the first desert
manoeuvers of General George S. Patton First Armoured Division. Later on, he made great reportages in Africa between 1947 and 1973, where he took roughly 80,000 images about the life on that continent.

Eliot Elisofon, Myron Davis, John Phillips, Peter Stackpole, William Vandivert and many more famous Life photojournalists had always confidence in John G. Morris´s wise picture editing ability as a support in their careers.

When were you transferred to Life Hollywood Bureau?

John G. Morris: It was during the spring of 1941, when Ed Thompson told me that Harry R. Luce had decided to send me to Life in Los Angeles, because they needed to foster the magazine scope in that area, specially the photographic one related to blossoming Hollywood industry and its world famous movie stars.

I made a long train trip with my wife Dèle from New York to Los Angeles, crossing the U.S.

On arriving at Los Angeles Union Railway Station, we were greeted by Dick Pollard, Life Hollywood correspondent, who took us by car to Time/Life office beyond Beverly Hills, in Sunset Boulevard.

This Californian stage was fairly interesting for me. Life had enormous prestige and power in Hollywood, and nothing less than thirty-three Life photographers covered the movies during the 36 years of lifespan of the legendary weekly magazine: the already quoted Peter Stackpole pioneering the candid approach to movie reports and featuring a unique ability to charming his
way into the most difficult contexts; Bob Landry, who made the remarkable picture of Rita Hayworth in a black lace nightgown for Magda Maskel, press agent for Columbia Pictures, and many more.

David Scherman and Margaret Bourke-White´s pictures were also very frequently edited by John G. Morris, who could realize the astounding high quality of prints attained by Bourke-White with her large format Graflex 4 x 5 cameras.

Margaret Bourke-White was known for the very high standards of quality she always wished for her prints. Did you have the chance of watching it during your stay in Life?

John G. Morris: Yes. She had a special contract with Life, through which she was given a personal darkroom, two qualified printers and two assistants.

Before being hired by Harry R. Luce for Life in 1937 (one of the first four photographers working for Life together with Alfred Eisenstaedt, McAvoy and Peter Stackpole), during her stage as an industrial photographer for Fortune magazine (also hired by Luce) she had already made extraordinary pictures in the Soviet Union between 1931-1933, and many of her enlargements on
photographic paper made from her large format 4 x 5 negatives shot in Magnitogorsk blast furnaces were perhaps the world spearhead in quality, along with the pictures made by Lewis Hine of the Empire State Building construction between March 1930 and May 1931.

But since her arrival to Life, Margaret Bourke-White strove after getting an even bigger technical thoroughness and imposing level of quality in her prints.

She was a full-fledged overshooter, ordering excellent 11 x 14 inch enlargements from complete large format 4 x 5 negatives, though she was flexible if the editors needed to crop something her pictures.

It was truly a relish to use Margaret Bourke-White´s pictures for publishing in Life magazine, because either working from her original black and white negatives or amazing big prints, it allowed to preserve a great deal the quality of image also on the top class heavily coated paper of the publication. Results were fantastic.

However, this was a very interesting period in which albeit vast majority of Life photographers continued to use large format 4 x 5 cameras (mainly the mythical Speed Graphics ), the small and lightweight 35 mm Leica rangefinder cameras with their top-notch high luminosity lenses, were beginning to prove their unsurpassed aptitude for photojournalism and handheld shots without flash, it being epitomized within Life by Alfred Eisenstaedt and Thomas D. McAvoy, the latter having taken already in 1934 a candid series for Time, revealing the casual things President Franklin D. Roosevelt did at his desk while signing a trade agreement: reading a letter, whispering to his secretary, lighting a cigarette, smoking, etc, and he captured it all with a Leica, while the regular White House photographers were making the traditional, posed "just one more" s with their 9 pounds large format Speed Graphics and flash. They kidded McAvoy about shooting " in the dark ", without a flash, using only available light, but they all ate their hats when Time ran three pages.

Paris, 2009. John G. Morris holds in his hand a portrait of Robert Capa made in the French capital by Ruth Orkin in 1952. Fifty-seven years later, Bob´s glorious photographic legacy is more alive than ever, as was always wished by his brother Cornell. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

When did you meet Robert Capa for the first time?

John G. Morris: It was in October 1939, when Bob arrived in New York with his mother Julia Friedmann, his brother Cornell and his wife Edith. They lived in a brownstone on West Eighty-ninth Street in New York. Robert Capa was already a famous photographer and Cornell worked in the lab of Pix, which was Bob´s agency. This house became soon a rendezvous point for many future photographers like Eileen Darby, Ralph Morse, Yale Joel, Phil Schultz, and sometimes up to twenty-seven people gathered.

Is it true that you once directed Alfred Hitchcock in Los Angeles?

John G. Morris: Yes, shortly after Pearl Harbour, the White House suggested that Life dramatize the jeopardies of loose talk, so Sid James, Los Angeles Bureau chief, and me enlisted Alfred Hitchcock, who was willing to create a fictional story titled Have you heard? with the basic message "Loose lips sink ships" based on a starting false rumour, followed by a true one which reaches Axis ears. For the next scene, we chose a bar in Santa Monica where a spy hears by chance a talk on departing troopship. Remembering that Hitchcock usually took part fleetingly in his films, I cast him as a bartender, a role he kindly performed.

The pictures were made by Eliot Elisofon.

John G. Morris, picture editor at the Life office in London during the D-Day, June 6, 1944. Photo: John G. Morris Collection.

When did you go to London as Life picture editor during Second World War?

John G. Morris: It was in October of 1943, after a short stage in Washington from February 1943 relieving Life´s Washington D.C editor Ray Mackland. But I desired to approach more to the action, and it dawned on me that there was going to be a need for a similar post in London, where the buildup of forces for the opening of a second front was already under way.

Wilson Hicks had bestowed upon me the title of Life London Picture editor, and told me not ever forget that I was in charge and it was my neck if we didn´t get those pictures on the big day. He was referring to D-Day in order to keep me alert, because the following year on June, having the pictures of that journey action with the Allied forces landing on European soil would be one of the most important missions in history.

Time & Life Ltd office was on Dean Street in Soho and had around 35 employees.

The Life´s photojournalists assigned to coverage the D-Day, posing a week before the massive attack on Normandy beaches: Bob Landry, George Rodger, Frank Scherschel, Robert Capa, Ralph Morse, John G. Morris and David E. Scherman. Photo: Life Magazine.

Who were the Life photographers you worked in London with the months before June 16, 1944, during the D-Day and the following weeks?

John G. Morris: During my stay in the British capital I worked with a great team made up by six great Life photographers: David Scherman, Bob Landry, Frank Scherschel, George Rodger, Ralph Morse and Robert Capa.They all sported a lot of previous experience as war photojournalists.

Frank Scherschel was a photographer boasting a great technical background, always in the cutting edge of the new technological breakthroughs, and during thirties, had formed with "Eddie" Farber a legendary binomium in the Milwaukee Journal, adapting Harold Edgerton´s MIT strobe technology to press cameras. After the outbreak of the II World War, he had been four months in the North Atlantic, covering supply convoys during the German blockade of Leningrad, including a very dangerous voyage to Murmansk, and also made frequent hazardous coverage of the Eighth Air Force, flying a lot of missions with B-26 bombers to top secret targets across the channel.He had arrived in London in August 1943 to cover the U.S 8th Air Force, which was flying with the Royal Air Force in massive air attacks. Even, Frank Scherschel flew once making pictures from inside a B-17 bomber in a mission to Stuttgart in which thirty-five U.S aircraft were destroyed by German flak and fighter attacks.

Frank Scherschel and George Rodger developed an intense activity for Life during the II World War and his pictures were very often edited by John G. Morris. Scherschel has shot the crowd protecting themselves as they can on the floor of the Pont D´Arcole while Vichy snipers are firing from some roofs in the middle Charles de Gaulle Paris Liberation Parade in August 29, 1944, while George Rodgers has photographed in London the moment in which some firemen and civilians help to transport a casualty of a German V-1 flying bomb which has just exploded in City downtown.

Bob Landry had been photographing the unprecedented buildup of munitions and supplies for the invasion, and before it, he had been the only press photographer with the Pacific Fleet during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, following with the coverage of the British Eighth Army´s desert combats against Erwin Rommel, an essay on South Africa, a reportage on the invasion of Sicily by American troops and managing to make four Life covers.

Robert Landry, Fremont´s best, another outstanding Life photographer, who made five covers during his first year. John G. Morris had met him in July 1941 in Los Angeles, when he was already a famous Hollywood celebrities photographer, though later on he turned into a versatile photojournalist, whose images were very often edited by John G. Morris. He was the only Life photographer who was in Pearl Harbour during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, and from then on he would make a lot of stories, both in the Pacific Theatre and in Europe. Here he has captured the moment in which some French Resistance men are surrounding a collaborationist.

Ralph Morse had endured the hardships of Guadalcanal Battle and had taken one of the most gruesome images ever published by Life: A Japanese soldier´s skull on a tank as a trophy of war.

George Rodger had joined the Life staff in 1940, during the Battle of Britain, and had been covering the war in three continents.

David Scherman had been in London since 1941, specializing in luxurious photo essays enhancing the values the Allies were fighting for.

John Florea and Ralph Morse, other two important Life photographers who were immersed in the maelstrom of II World War. John G. Morris along with Sidney L. James, Life assistant managing editor in Los Angeles, were Florea´s discoverers, having been testing him shortly before Pearl Harbor attack, while Ralph Morse had been since the end of 1939 one of Capa´s many friends who often gathered at the West Eighty-ninth Street brownstone in New York, and would gain fame thanks to his coverage of Guadalcanal Battle and specially the story of a wounded soldier injured in Europe and treated in French and English hospitals, one of the best ever appeared in Life. John G. Morris was decisive in convincing Wilson Hicks in November 1944, after coming back to New York with Morse´s pictures, to publish that story.

From my arrival in London, I realized that the Allied invasion of Western Europe was a lot of months ahead, so I focused on stories related to the great amassing of troops for it. For example, in February 1943 I flew to Belfast (Northern Ireland) with Frank Scherschel to cover the 101st Airborne Division, in the middle of great security measures, because keeping the secret was essential.

Robert Capa arrived in London in late February 1944, coming from Italy, where he had done eight successive stories on the Allies´ Italian campaign. He had previously shot in September of 1936, during the Spanish Civil War, the picture of a lifetime, one of the most important images in the history of photography, depicting a Spanish loyalist anarchist militiaman just at the moment in which he is killed by an enemy bullet piercing his heart. It was firstly published in French magazine Vu on September 23, 1936 and a year later in Life. From then on, Capa, a Paris-based freelancer until the end of 1939, would make ten trips to Spain during the civil conflict, apart from having arrived at China in January 1938 with Dutch moviemaker Joris Ivens, making outstanding stories on the battle for Tai ´erzhuang (Xuzhou Front) between Chinese and Japanese troops in April 1938, along with a series made by Capa during the Japanese air raids on Hankow on July 19, 1938 ( published in Life October 17, 1938) including four images printed from Kodachrome slides shot by Bob, probably the first color pictures of war ever published.

Robert Capa D-DAY, a very interesting book essentially being Capa´s image story of that landing, with text both in English and French. It´s a treat to read and watch alike, and John G. Morris explains in it all the circumstances related to the absolutely important mission attained by Robert Capa: the taking of real combat action pictures during the Allied D-Day landing on French beaches to open a Second Front in Europe and the subsequent sending of those photographs to United States before the deadline for Life June 19, 1944 number. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

What happened exactly with the four strips of 35 mm negatives taken by Capa in Omaha Beach on D-Day while some American soldiers managed to advance and others were killed by machine gun fire?

John G. Morris: Surely you refer to the darkroom accident in London. That Tuesday June 6, 1944 was the most fidgety day one can imagine. After a lot of previous months waiting for it, Life needed as soon as possible, with maximum urgency, pictures of the first landings on the beaches of Normandy. We were perfectly aware that a lot of men would be killed while trying to put their feet on the French shores, and the photographers would share great death risk with combatants. Stress was indescribable inside Life office in London.

The whole Tuesday until well advanced the night, we were waiting but there weren´t any pictures.

Acme Newspictures´s Bert Brandt came with a non interesting picture of a very quiet landing on a point of the Frencg coast, made from the bow of the landing vessel he was on board. It was too static and lacking impact.

On the other hand, none of the six AP photographers landed that day.

Bob Landry reported that he had lost his shoes and his film.

So, we did utterly depend on Bob. However incredible it may seem, the most important photographic assignment in the history of the empire created by Harry R. Luce, and for which a lot of photographers from different media had been preparing for months in London and United States, was in the hands of only one photographer.

We knew that Capa had secretly reported to the headquarters of the 1st Infantry Division´s Regiment on a country state near Weymouth and was given permission to board the U.S Coast Guard transport Samuel Chase, and there he had found officers studying a giant model of a French beach codenamed " Omaha", but we didn´t know whether he had landed or not. We could only hope that he had been able to make the absolutely important pictures, capturing live action and to come back alive.

All the Life personnel, specially the darkroom staff composed by five men, and me were increasingly nervous and could barely sleep the night of June 6, 1944. We hadn´t any good picture of the D-Day yet.

The following morning of June 7, 1944 there wasn´t any news. The anxiety was bigger and bigger. Life magazine needed desperately those pictures. Hours ticked away, until at around 6:30 in the evening there was a telephone call from a channel port: Capa´s spools were on their way to London and were supposed to be at Life office within one or two hours.

Approximately at 9:00 h in the night, a sweating messenger arrived with Capa´s package: six rolls of 6 x 6 cm format film that he had shot in England and during the crossing of the English Channel and four spools of 35 mm films, the most important ones, made by Bob with a Contax II rangefinder camera, and in which the action photographs were.


At the same time, Bob had included a handwritten note explaining that picture taking conditions had been very rough, that he had been bound to come back to England with evacuated wounded soldiers and that he was returning to Normandy.

Very fast, our lab chief Braddy gave the four 35 mm spools to Dennis Bank to develop them. Photographer Hans Wild looked at them wet and called me to say that though grainy they looked great. I answered him that we needed the contacts as soon as possible, because because I had to choose the best pictures and all the managing editors in New York were waiting for them.

Some minutes later, Dennis Bank came running up the stairs, wholly disturbed, crying and shouting that all Capa´s film was spoiled. I couldn´t believe his words and went down at full blast to the darkroom with him, where he explained to me that he had hung the films, as always, in the wooden locker used as a drying cabinet which was heated by a coil on the floor, but because of my order to make everything as soon as possible, he had become nervous and had inadvertently closed the doors, so the lack of ventilation had melted the black and white emulsion.

I decided to check the four rolls holding them up one after the other. In three of them, all the frames had gone, but on the fourth roll there were eleven frames with perfectly discernible images. And what´s more, the apparent grain - Bob took the pictures at dawn - was decisive in making them among the most dramatic war photographs ever made.


There was very little time left to deliver Capa´s pictures before the nine o´clock in the morning of June 8, 1944 deadline for Life magazine most important issue ever, which was bound to be in newsstands on June 19, 1944, with a portrait of General Dwight G. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, as cover and whose content epicenter would be Bob´s images taken live in full battle during the first landings on Omaha beach, so I ran at full speed through London taking with me Capa´s photographs and some hundred pictures made by Dave Scherman of matters just before the landing, and running into the Service Supply Headquarters I managed to give everything to a courier a few minutes before 9:00 h of Thursday June 8, 1944.

June 19, 1944 number of Life magazine in whose pages apperared the action photographs made by Robert Capa risking his life with his rangefinder Contax II camera and Sonnar 50 mm f/1.5 lens during the first wave of American soldiers landing in Omaha Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944, in the middle of enemy machine gunning and some U.S soldiers dying around him.
John G. Morris received the pictures the following day Wednesday June 7, 1944, approximately at 21:00 h in the night, and there was a darkroom accident that spoilt three of the four Capa´s 35 mm b & w rolls including the action pictures, so 11 frames survived. But it was enough. Those photographs, though grainy, are among the best combat pictures ever made and after an ordeal of five hours waiting at the Ministry of Information to get the censor stamp on all the images and driving at full speed through London morning traffic, he managed to arrive at the Service of Supply headquarters near Grosvenor Square at almost 21:00 h in the night of Thursday 8, 1944, and gave a package containing Capa´s negatives to a courier, so they could be transported by air to New York Life main headquarters.

Two days later, just after Life´s Saturday night close, the editors cabled to us in London saying that day had been one of the greatest picture days in Life´s office when they received Capa´s pictures of the landings in Omaha Beach.

How was the Paris Day of Liberation?

John G. Morris: It was on August 25, 1944. There was great joy everywhere. I was still in London, but all six Life photographers entered the French capital that day.

August 25, 1944: Liberation of Paris Military Parade.

Robert Capa and the Time/Life chief correspondent Charles Wetenbaker rode into Paris in the second jeep after General Leclerc. George Rodger also entered with the French.

But ease was not complete at all. Though General Omar Bradley had given strict orders to his commanders, forbidding the use of artillery which would turn Paris into ruins, the German troops were not totally cooperative, and many garrisons held out with soldiers heavily armed with machine guns and grenades.

Though Paris was liberated without battle for the city as had happened with so many other cities during II World War, there were frequent skirmishes with snipers until August 30, 1944. Here we can see a G.I watching some balconies while two Red Cross women walk through the street.

General von Choltitz surrendering at the Gare Montparnasse on August 25, 1944.

There was still combat action. Capa went quickly to photograph the French Resistance and French marines storming the Chamber of Deputies; David Scherman arrived at the Gare Montparnasse in which General von Choltitz, after having surrendered, would take orders from General Charles de Gaulle; and Ralph Morse shot the capture of German prisoners under the
Eiffel Tower.

That weekend in London, I edited the roughly 1300 frames taken by Life photographers during the Liberation of Paris, sending the best pictures to New York.

Life number of September 18, 1944, which included many pictures on both the Liberation of Paris and the previous skirmishes, made in Paris by different Life photographers and some underground French ones, and edited by John G. Morris after his arrival at the French capital on August 30, 1944.

When did you arrive in Paris and which remembrances have you got of first stay in 1944?

John G. Morris: I had to go to Paris because the events which were taking place there were very significant. A lot of famous and interesting people were gathering there and it was necessary to make pictures of as many things as possible and above all to coordinate everything operating as picture editor in Paris in the same way I had made it in London. Besides, I needed to contact with French photographers, specially those who had risked their lives to work underground during the German occupation.

On August 29, 1944 I took a twin engine courier aircraft and landed in the morning around 160 miles from Paris. Hitchhiking in Army jeeps and command cars I managed to reach Paris well after midnight, sleeping at the Hôtel Scribe, which was now accomodating Allied correspondents.

The next day, I came across Bob and Wert in a large room on the first floor of the hotel which had been turned into Time/Life office.

Capa, Walton and the Wertenbakers quickly moved to quarters in the more select Hôtel Lancaster, though Hôtel Scribe went on being the press headquarters until the end of the war, and his bar was often frequented by William L. Shirer, Ernest Hemingway, the New Yorker correspondents Janet Flanner and Joe Liebling, Time/Life photographers Lee Miller and David Scherman, etc.

On August 31, 1944, Bob told me that he had a friend who would help me. He was a photographer from Paris and could speak English. He already knew New York. His name was Henri Cartier-Bresson. He had been living underground in Paris during the German occupation and he knew everybody.

John G. Morris with Henri Cartier-Bresson. Photo: René Burri.

The next day in the morning, at the door of Hôtel Scribe, Bob introduced me a thin young man with blue eyes and a soft voice who had come on his bicycle. He was Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was already a famous photographer from before the war, but I was nicely surprised by his great cordiality and modesty, offering himself to find French underground photographers who had made pictures in German ruled Paris between 1940 and 1944.

This way, Henri Cartier-Bresson introduced me to Robert Doisnaeu (who gave me pictures of Paris inhabitants breaking up pavements to make barricades), René Zuber and Pierre Roughol (who supplied photos of men and women on barricades and a housewife with helmet, pistol and two hand grenades) and Roger Benson (who delivered me a picture of a Resistance sniper on a rooftop).

Even, Henri Cartier-Bresson took me to his family´s apartment in Paris, at 31 rue de Lisbonne, near the Parc Monceau in the Eighth Arrondisement, and later on, he took me to meet Brassai.

David Seymour "Chim" was also in Paris. When we met, he asked me about the whereabouts of his friends Capa and Cartier-Bresson and if they were alive. I told him that both of them were alive and also in Paris, and suggested him to go that very afternoon to a cocktail party I had been invited by Bob and would be held at the apartment of Michel de Brunhoff, editor of Paris Vogue.

Times of Glory. The Paris 1944 mythical cocktail party at the Vogue editor Michel de Brunhoff ´s apartment, with presence of Robert Capa, David Seymour "Chim", Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lee Miller, Bob Landry, John G. Morris (behind Robert Capa), etc. Photo: John G. Morris Collection.

This was a wonderful meeting, because there were a lot of hugs and toasts. Henri Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Chim, Bob Landry, Lee Miller and me. There were three of the four main photographers (George Rodger was in Belgium with the Bristish Forces) who a few years later would create Magnum Agency.

Some days after this party, Capa went to Toulouse with Wertenbaker to make contact with Spanish exiles who were plotting Francisco Franco overthrow. George Rodger and Ralph Morse had respectively been covering the British and Patton´s Third Army offensive, needed to rest and to attain it, they were relieved by John Florea and George Silk, who had just arrived from United States.

How was your meeting with Marlene Dietrich in Paris in 1944?

John G. Morris: I heard that Marlene Dietrich had arrived in Paris to entertain the troops, and I thought it could be a good story. I phoned her at the Hotel Ritz where she was. I explained her things and she told me to stop by. When I arrived at the Ritz desk of Place Vendôme, they said: " Miss Dietrich will be right down". A few minutes later, she walked down the stairs, greeted me and said that she had a date with Willie Wylder, but he hadn´t appeared yet, so we could go to the bar and talk. This way, we went to the famous little bar on the rue Cambon side of the Ritz.

It was crowded with a mixture of military officers and bylines, but with Marlene Dietrich on my arm, both of us were quickly given a table. Her presence, as always, irradiated elegance, glamour and charm.

She told me how glad she was to return to Paris, her old home, after a lot of years, and began talking about different friends in New York, Hollywood and London. She was really at ease, and constantly repeated " dear, dear Paris ".

Finally, Willie Wyler arrived, greeted Marlene Dietrich and me and sat down beside us. Shortly after, I said them good-bye in order that they could speak about their matters.

How was your life as a picture editor going on after coming back to Life New York from Paris?

John G. Morris: On November 20, 1944, I came back to United States on military piston engine propelled planes. It was a twenty-six hour voyage until I landed at La Guardia Airport in New York.

On arriving at Life office, Wilson Hicks greeted me warmly, and before Christmas Life published a great story with Raph Morse´s pictures I had brought with me, showing a wounded soldier from the moment of his arrival at a battalion aid station in Lorraine through treatment at field hospitals in France and England. Morse would follow him home.

Shortly after, my next assignment was the Chicago Bureau, as Life MidWestern editor, though not for a long time.

The war in Europe hadn´t finished yet and Life photographers kept on making pictures and risking their lives.

Hitler had launched a great offensive in the Ardennes, and tremendous engagements began between American and German units in what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Bob was there and was about to be killed by a G.I who suspected he was German, because some hundred English speaking SS men had infiltrated in our lines with American uniforms.

After this, Capa jumped with American paratroops, crossing the Rhine and making a lot of action pictures, including " The last man to die" in Leipzig, when he captured an American machine gunner on a balcony, killed by a German sniper.

John Florea documented the grisly "Malmedy massacre", when an SS officer ordered the execution of 159 American prisoners, and along with George Silk, he pursued the retreating Wehrmacht.

Bill Vandivert met the Russians at the Elbe river and went on to Berlin, entering Hitler´s bunker.

George Rodger photographed the surrender of the German armies in the north to General Montgomery.

At last, war came to an end in Europe on May 8, 1945, but many thousands of Americans were dying in the Pacific in the war against Japan.

I was reported that Eugene Smith had been about to be killed by mortar fire in Okinawa on May 21 1945 and was in hospital very seriously wounded.

My real problem was what next assignments I could do for Life, because though I had the utter support of Ed Thompson, I couldn´t know in which city or country I´d work as picture editor, since I had left the Chicago Bureau of Life when I was called to briefly collaborate with Impact magazine as picture editor, with the purpose of enhancing the morale and effectiveness of aircrews still fighting in the Pacific Theatre, and now, Life and Time were facing a massive return of employees who had gone to the armed forces, without forgetting the return of many war correspondents from overseas.

In 1946, Bruce and Beatrice Gould, editors of Ladies´ Home Journal, then the best magazine in the world for women and also a legendary publication in terms of high quality in all conceivable parameters and originality, chose you as a picture editor of their beloved publication. Which did this new professional activity mean for you?

John G, Morris: It was an unexpected turn in my work, both regarding topics and the way of working, which allowed me to acquire further experience.

It all began when Roger Butterfield, national affairs editor of Life, told me that the owners of Ladies´ Home Journal were looking for a good picture man.

I mentioned the idea to Ed Thompson and he convinced me to accept, saying that it was the best magazine of the Curtis Group.

This magazine was highly innovative and pioneering at its time, because it addressed women followers in the millions and proclaimed itself "the magazine women believe in". The standard of quality was amazing, with top-notch photographers, formidable illustrators led by Al Parker, very good quality of paper and reproduction of images and a high number of pages, often exceeding two hundred. It was greatly made in an artisan way, with great love and hard work by all the staff.

Bruce and Beatrice Gould edited and lived the Ladies´ Home Journal for twenty seven years between 1935 and 1962.

The magazine frontispieces had traditionally favoured fashions, brides and babies, but I introduced a new look, offering photographers 2,000 dollars for each cover accepted - plus a 500 dollars fee to the woman - of unknown American beauties, young women who were not professional models.

The first one for a Ladies´ Home Journal Cover was a Ruth Orkin´s candid 35 mm color slide of a New York housewife called Geraldine Dent buying in a fruit and vegetable stand. I chose for the March 1950 number one picture in which she forgot that she was being photographed when her bag of fruit was broken. It was a great success, quickly solding out.

The famous cover of Ladies´ Home Journal March 1950 number with a picture made by photographer Ruth Orkin of a New York housewife. It was a great success based on a John G. Morris´s idea of showing non professional models, and at the same time it was one of the first covers to clearly prove the superb quality a 35 mm Kodachrome slide was able to deliver, a path which had been anticipated by the pioneering photographers shooting 35 mm Kodachrome transparencies: Charles Cushman (from 1938), Walter Bosshard in Yan an (China) and published by Life in its August 8, 1938, number; Robert Capa in Hankou (China) in 1938 and published by Life in its October 17, 1938, number of that year; the photographers covering in color the American life for the Farm Security Administration Project (approximately a total of six hundred images taken with Kodachrome between 1937-1942, highlighting rural areas and farm labour), etc.This frontispiece of Ladies´ Home Journal March 1950 features an overt historical significance, because this magazine was bought and read by millions of women and John G. Morris´s brainstorm choosing this image took place approximately 25 years before the worldwide consolidation of color, since until mid seventies, the carefully composed meticulously printed black and white photograph was the standard for the medium, and color had been deemed as something amateur or reserved for advertising.

The dawn and use of 35 mm Kodachromes by the aforementioned pioneers had already taken place since 1937, but for the subsequent decades 
the thought that colour was not suitable for artists and professional photographers because it was too "literal" would be more or less a widespread concept until mid seventies, and most pros worked in black and white, while colour was regarded more as a tool for commercial photography, popular movies and amateur picture taking.

The use of color in this 1950 cover photograph made by Ruth Orkin and selected by John G. Morris greatly brings about a direct psychological and emotional interaction of the viewer with the image of the woman in the fruit shop, and even an absence of the photographer. There are a lot of factors at stake: sells, impact, beauty and originality of the picture, quality obtained in print for the size of the cover, and to be able to transmit the readers the desired message, all of which is achieved, mainly because this is a representative photograph.

It is relevant, because in the fifties, sixties and even seventies, the b & w negative film flexibility to match the light´s contrast by 
adjusting the developing phase in the darkroom and its immense possibilities of interpretation and tonal elegance will greatly go on getting the upper hand, something very strongly supported by the previous tradition of b & w photograph, including the virtually unbeatable levels of quality in great sizes and tonal ranges achieved by large format cameras and monochrome film.

John G. Morris chooses Ruth Orkin´s color Kodachrome image through his accurate visual gift and experience as picture editor. He is a photojournalist with a tremendous knowledge on images, and provides us with his concept of picture quality, which is not focused on impeccable technique but above all in managing to precisely convey the meant message, what one wants to say, and besides, he strives for obtaining as much a commercial product as possible, which he attains, getting impact, higher sales for the magazine and helping to both launch the photographers´ career and then get progressive maximum feasible money paid for their pictures, something which was always top priority for him.

When this cover of Ladies´ Home Journal is seen in the newsstands, we are in 1950, with a market overwhelmingly dominated by B & W photo magazines like Life and Look, and still in the infancy of colour photography, far from the second half of fifties and sixties with Saul Leiter´s distinctly painterly, subtly modulated Kodachromes in fine art context; far from the amazing Kodachrome 4 x 5 fine tuning and exceptional levels of quality achieved by Dr Eliot Porter during the second half of fifties and specially the sixties, shooting different species of birds and intimate landscapes with his large format Linhof camera, setting new artistic standards and becoming one of the first photographers filling the gap between photography as a fine art and its roots in science and technology, as well as pushing the color to its maximum boundaries as a way of expression with his mastery of the dye transfer method enabling him a complete control over the print quality by means of the saturation of color and the amount of contrast; and we are even farther from William Egglestone, Stephen Shore, Meyerowitz and others who in mid seventies codified the bold " New Color " in photography.


In 1950, 26 years more must elapse for William Eggleston exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of New York, an event which will mean a turning point in the acceptance of colour photography, enhanced by other color mavericks like David Graham, Lucas Samaras, William Larson, etc. 


And even more years will have to go by for the advent of the "New Photojournalism", a different route of color photography, both with a very saturated color and use of chiaroscuro made by Constantin Manos and Alex Webb and the overblown chromaticism of Carl de Keyzer, fostering intricate compositions and odd instants.

John G. Morris´s approach for choosing this image is a down-to-earth one, taking the decision to explore the color as an expressive medium, realizing its great potential for the cover of a magazine read by hundreds of thousands of women, becoming a pioneering editor in the use of color for one of the best magazines in the world then, in a moment in which newstands almost utterly lacked the explosion of color photography we see today. And it works.


The Goulds, Mary Bass and me had got three operation bases: New York, Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Railroad with trains every hour in both directions. Though most of the work was made in New York, on Thursday we used to take the 8:00 o´clock train to Philadelphia, while at least two editors came from that city to New York every week to make the rounds of agents and authors.

We went on keeping the basic framework of the magazine (with the best feasible presentation of special features enabling to sell the magazine, like the one depicting Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret at Buckingham Palace, but the story being reported by Marion Crawford, the governess who raised both of them), but I hired Dave Stech as art director. He was a kind of magician in his work, letting the design flow from pictures and not inversely on a previously thought pattern.

I fought in order that the photographers had more and more specific weight in the posh Ladies´ Home Journal magazine.

In 1947, I edited a series titled "Baby´s First Year", with pictures made by photographer Wayne Miller. It began with images of the birth of Miller´s third child, and from there on I asked him to record every major event of the new baby´s first twelve months. It was a toil for a whole year but it paid off and the magazine went on greatly increasing its sales.

Later on, we made a story called " The Unwed Mother " based on the then statistic that inside USA, out of every twelve babies there was one born out of marriage. And to illustrate it, I rented twelve high chairs and booked eleven one year old children with authorization of their parents, along with one baby born out of wedlock. All were gathered for a group portrait in Gjon Mili´s
Twenty- third studio in New York. Nobody was told who was the baby brought to life outside marriage. Mili proved once more his tremendous mastery of artificial lighting, the photograph was great and the caption was "One of these babies was born out of wedlock". It was a very simple picture editorial, but it worked, conveying a message of sympathy with all the twelve beautiful babies without an exception.

One day, the Goulds told me that they wanted to offer the readers a vision of life as it was being lived in America at that moment in all aspects related to food, habits, wears, daily worries, etc.

So, the series called How America Lives was born. To achieve it we had to choose people from different areas of the States, with the constant challenge of winning their confidence and being able to go into their homes.

Mary Bass produced this series, who needed highly throroughly coordinated teamwork, with previous labor of a researcher and once a family was selected, a writer and a photographer were assigned to the main story.

This project had been pioneered in 1940 by the great Martin Munkacsi, the Hungarian genius photographer who was hired by Ladies´ Home Journal for 4,000 dollars per story, and shot roughly sixty-five families until 1946.

Mary Bass showed me an assortment of astounding prints made by Alfonso Iannelli of the family made up by a coal miner, his wife and seven children living in a four room hut in Harlan County (Kentucky), after having spent some weeks with them.

Pictures were so good that Iannelli and me could do the layout of the eight page story which resulted in a milestone for the Ladies´ Home Journal.

This sort of photojournalism was utterly different to the one I had made in Life, where commonplace was covering the extraordinary, not the usual.

Each photographer wanting to submit stories for How America Lives series, was offered 1,500 dollars per portfolio plus expenses if accepted, with full support of the Goulds, who believed that " the best journalism is that one showing life as it is".

For this great project I chose photographers more for their sensitivity and ability to develop a rapport with people than for their technical talent, something in which great photographers like Esther Bubbley, Alfonso Iannelli, and Sol Libsohn excelled while working for Ladies´ Home Journal, though geographical location was important to make work easier, and I hired other great photographers as Victor Jorgensen (Northwest), Gordon Coster and Myron Davies (Midwest), the Hagels brothers (California), etc.

In 1947, the Goulds decided to fulfil the "People are People the World Over" series, which would run for a complete year in Ladies´ Home Journal and would be also published in the German picture magazine Heute the following year. Within some years, Edward Steichen inspired on this in 1955 to make " The Family of Man ", a great photographic exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of New York.

Another landmark in the history of Ladies´ Home Journal was the great photographic reportage made by Robert Capa titled "Women and Children in Soviet Russia" , with captions by John Steinbeck and published as a sixteen page picture story in the February 1948 number, which was a further great success and sold out very fast.

Capa´s photographs showed an unknown Soviet Union: children playing chess in the park, herding geese, studying piano, traffic policemen, Volga boatmen, farm women dancing barefoot after the harvest, priests, etc. Something very different to the customary propaganda pictures before the II World War of magazines like USSR in Construction or the Sovfoto series from battlefronts during the II World War.

Bob had shot some hundred pictures with black and white film and around twelve rolls of Ektachrome slides, and I chose for the cover one of the color slides showing a peasant woman clad in her babushka, knelt while working in a field and looking directly at the camera.

In 1949, you were invited to teach at the first Missouri Workshop. Which has been in your viewpoint the significance of it in the history of photojournalism?

John G. Morris: Decisive, without any doubt, and pioneer in a number of things, to such an extent that it revolutionized the teaching of photojournalism.

Through its 60 years of existence, the Missouri Photo Workshop has become a
world class meeting week of photojournalists who every year set out to document life
in a different city of Missouri State and have to create a picture story idea based on actual research in the town.

John G. Morris was teaching at the 6th Annual University of Missouri Photo Workshop in Mexico (Missouri) held between 18-24 May 1954, and the morning after the workshop ended an early call by Inge Bondi reported him that Werner Bischof had just died in the Peruvian Andes. That same day in the evening, John G. Morris received a long distance call from a Life foreign news researcher telling him that Robert Capa had just died in Thai Bhin (Vietnam) after stepping on a mine.

In the spring of 1949, Roy Striker told me that he needed my help in Missouri to give classes in the first program of photography and photojournalism created by the University of Missouri´s School of Journalism founded by Professor Cliff Edom. This was for me a great honor.

The POYi (Pictures of the Year International) is the oldest and most prestigious photojournalism program in the world, and it launches every year its Annual Photojournalism Competition. It was founded in 1944 by Professor Cliff Edom and his wife Vi, who also founded the College Photographer of the Year in 1945.

In association with the National Press Photographers Association, it was quickly created a national competition for Pictures of the Year, which has kept on till currently.

The University of Missouri Photo Workshop has been holding for 61 years, with more than 2,000 student photographers having attended it.

That 1949 Workshop was unforgettable: Edom and Stryker had also invited Rus Arnold, a great lighting expert and portrait photographer, and Harold Corsini, an Standard Oil freelancer, while the picture editors were Stan Kalish of the Milwaukee Journal and me.

Broadway and Eight in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, where the first University of Missouri Photo Workshop was held in 1949. John G. Morris was one of the teachers invited to that event.

We had twenty-three students from various areas of United States, most of them using 4 x 5 large format and 6 x 6 cm medium format cameras and only one worked with 35 mm film.

Cliff Edom put the basic premise: to capture truth with the camera, no setups, telling things as they were, letting the stories develop, watching and being respectful with subjects´ intimacy.

Every night the faculty selected pictures from the day´s work for projection and debate, and students were also allowed to speak if they wanted, to set forth their aims or ideas, and each Friday all the students were asked to take their pictures and make a magazinelike layout of one to four or even more spreads, trying to achieve coherent form and content supporting the story, after which an open debate on the made layouts developed. It greatly paid off: vast majority of the students took the best pictures of their lives during their weekly stay in the University of Missouri Photo Workshop.

On the other hand, this famous annual event proved also to be instrumental in finding future world class photographers. This happened with the genius Elliot Erwitt, whom I sent as a very brilliant prospect to Roy Striker. Time would side us when on November 26, 1951, Erwitt won the second prize of the prestigious Life Young Photographers Contest in its Picture Story
Division.

In 1976, Cliff Edom published a book titled Photojournalism which has become a classic and is taught worldwide. Besides, he has always stated that not only the photographers, but also the picture editors are photojournalists. I do agree with him.

News Pictures of the Year 1951, a classic book edited by Cliff Edom including the most remarkable photographs from the Eighth Annual News Pictures of the Year Competition and Exhibition jointly sponsored then by the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the Encyclopedia Britannica. The number of different topics tackled by the pupils was highly comprehensive and the book also has very good captions.

In 1957, this competition merged with one hosted by the National Press Photographers Association.

It´s also important to underline the significant role performed by Vi Edom in the development of the University of Missouri Photo Workshop, firstly as a team with his husband Cliff, and after his death in 1991, keeping on her annual attendance until the 50th MPW in Boonville in 1998, being awarded the Gold Medal Award of the Missouri School of Journalism and an Honorary Life Membership in the National Press Photographers Association.

Which did Korea War mean for photojournalism?

John G. Morris: That war was covered with great intensity by photographers like David Douglas Duncan and Carl Mydans, who often used top quality fast Japanese Nippon Kogaku lenses on German RF bodies , which gave a new technical dimension to 35 mm camera reportage, though they were going on using black and white film for its greater technical flexibility than colour.

John Rich also made more than a thousand excellent colour Kodachrome photographs with a Japanese Nikon rangefinder camera and lenses given to him by the Nikon president while visiting the factory with David Douglas Duncan (who also received a camera and some lenses) in 1950, and during his three years covering the Korean war, he made these images, unknown till last year, which are a clear example of why photographers had a such a big penchant for Kodachrome slides with its vibrant crimsons and garnets, and an assortment of them appeared in November 2008 number of Smithsonian Magazine.

The Korean War gave a new technical dimension to 35 mm reportage, with the advent of the excellent Japanese Nippon Kogaku rangefinder cameras along with their top quality lenses, the latter ones often beating the best Leitz and Carl Zeiss Jena RF lenses at that moment, as proved by David Douglas Duncan and Jun Miki in black and white and John Rich with Kodachromes. John G. Morris met David Douglas Duncan during forties, and realizing his talent, recommended him to Life executive editor Wilson Hicks, who after Duncan´s
brilliant combat reportages in the South Pacific during II World War, subsequently
hired him in 1946 also urged by J. R. Eyerman, Life´s chief photographer. 


Later on, David Douglas Duncan would publish a great book titled This is War! (1951) including his best pictures taken during the Korean War. John G. Morris met him again during the August 5-9,1968 Republican National Convention in Miami, where Duncan was invited by Nixon to photograph the meeting of party leaders who elected Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew as Vicepresident candidate.Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.

On the other hand, censorship was not highly stringent, and it allowed photojournalists to report atrocities by both sides.

But above all, this war meant a change in the American notion of the war,mainly thanks to David Douglas Duncan´s Life reportage on the retreat of American troops from the border of North Korea just before 1950 Christmas, which clearly depicted their suffering.

When did you begin to work as Magnum Agency picture editor?

John Morris: It was in early January 1953, when I resigned from the Ladies´ Home Journal, receiving at every moment warm support from the Goulds after eight years working with them.

A Bert Stern 1957 group portrait of Magnum in 1957: Inge Morath, Olga Brodsky, Allen Brown, Elliot Erwitt, Seemah Battat, Sam Holmes, Trudy Felieu, Eve Arnold, Erich Hartman, Inge Bondi, Dennis Stock, Ernst Haas, Cornell Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Burt Glinn and John. G. Morris.

To celebrate my arrival at Magnum, Capa and I met for lunch at the Oak Room restaurant of the Plaza Hotel and I was named executive editor.

Already in 1944, during an encounter with George Rodger in the Italian Front, Bob had told George about his postwar dream of a picture agency where photographers would be their own bosses, and retention of negatives would be the basic principle.

The foundation of Magnum had taken place in 1947 by four great photographers: Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour " Chim " and George Rodger. Even, Bob invited me on May 22, 1947 to have drinks at Bill and Rita Vandivert´s apartment to celebrate the launch of the international cooperative agency, which had been agreed upon several weeks earlier at the Members´ Penthouse of the Museum of Modern Art, and for some time, Magnum New York office was Bill Vandivert´s studio at Union Square, while Magnum Paris office was Maria Eisner´s (who had founded Alliance Photo in 1934) apartment at 125 rue de Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

The beginnings of Magnum were hard and profits scarce, but with Bob at the helm, his stamina and illusion, they had managed to go ahead, and I had kept contact with Magnum members from scratch.

In 1948, Henri Cartier-Bresson won his first Overseas Press Club Photographic Competition with his extraordinary reportage made in India covering the last days of life of Mahatma Gandhi and his burial after being assassinated, while "Chim" succeeded in getting a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) assignment to cover the " Children of Europe" and Capa went firstly to Israel and then to Budapest.

In 1949, Maria Eisner married and came to live to New York. This fostered even more my relationship with Magnum, to such an extent that during my stage in Ladies´ Home Journal, Magnum Paris sold my "People Are People" photographic series to Heute in Germany and a story about the 1950 congressional elections to Epoca in Italy.

Little by little, Magnum had been growing up, and two excellent photographers: Werner Bischof and Ernst Haas had joined the four original shareholders.

Bob was determined to ensure Magnum´s future by all means and fought to his physical limit to attain it. Capa always told everybody that " Magnum was doing things right and he not, that after five years of existence Magnum was solvent and he was bankrupt". Until his death in 1954, Bob was always the booster motor of Magnum and his spiritual guide, always being beloved and highly admired by the rest of members. He didn´t want to put Magnum in the hands of businessmen, so he decided to approach someone who shared his journalistic convictions.

Therefore, Bob asked me to be Magnum´s chief executive and told me that I would be paid twice more than any previous Magnum bureau chief had received and only 2,000 dollars less than my annual salary at Ladies´ Home Journal. My mission would be selling Magnum pictures worldwide, not only to U.S press.

The gamble was risky, but it worked, mainly based, as always, on Bob´s courage and illusion, but also with the labor of a formidable team of photographers making up Magnum staff, namely:

- Ernst Haas, who had arrived in New York in 1951. I had given him an assignment for " How America Lives ", and some months later he went to New Mexico to make pictures for Magnum " Generation X" project, and then went on making photographs through the whole state shooting Kodachrome slides, though fewer than he wanted because of the high cost of this emulsion then.

Pictures were great, and Sid James, Life´s acting manager editor, gave the story six pages. Haas was a genius, both in black and white and color, but he was a world pioneering in color photography in many respects, a scientist of Kodachrome transparencies. Life editors became highly impressed on watching Ernst Haas´s images, and gave him loads of Kodachrome slides. This was essential for the Austrian genius, because he was steadily researching in-depth the different image properties of Kodachrome slides, which always fascinated him. This way, something incredible happened: Haas was roaming New York streets for a lot of months with different cameras and shooting tons of his beloved Kodachromes, turning Gotham familar urban scene into photographic poetry, and when he finished, he spent days with light box and projector, editing his thousands of slides into a tray or two, and with his usual thoroughness he rehearsed for the final projection session which was a tremendous success and amazed Ed Thompson to such an extent that he agreed to publish twenty-four color pages divided between two numbers, something unprecedented to that day.

- Eve Arnold had been a student of Alexey Brodovitch, the Harper Bazaar´s art director who taught at the New School for Social Research. She was a great specialist on people and social topics, and through years, managed to capture with her camera the viciousness of senator Joseph McCarthy and movie stars such as Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, James Cagney, Marilyn Monroe, etc.

- Erich Hartman arrived at Magnum in 1951 and got celebrity with his pictures on the Great Lakes in wintertime, which were his first cover and portfolio in Fortune. Later on, he became a preeminent industrial journalist very deft interpreting high-tech subjects.

- Werner Bischof was one of the best photographers in history, an artist of great sensitivity, featuring a penchant for creating intemporal masterpieces. His black and white prints were sublime.

- Burt Glinn was at the beginning working both for Life and Magnum, the latter as a stringer. Within time, he became a full time member and probably the biggest money earner in the history of Magnum, being president three times. Now and then he covered hard news, but he excelled making annual reportages attracting important corporate accounts.

- Elliot Erwitt became one of Magnum´s most successful photographers of all time, very brilliant in his versatility, sporting a tremendous talent, and also within time would be president of Magnum.

It was very important to supervise the future of Magnum in Europe, and on May 17, 1953 I flew from New York to Paris. Bob was waiting for me at Orly Airport and took me to Magnum office in Paris. Henri Cartier-Bresson had left Paris the day before for a Holiday assignment, taking with him his wife Elie and Inge Morath as a researcher, and Werner Bischof arrived in Paris on May 19 with his wife Rosellina.

Paris became my operating base, and I started to make the rounds of our agents, clients and photographers in Germany, Italy, Switzerland and England.

My first flight was to Munich, where I was met by Erich Lessing, then Magnum´s Vienna correspondent photographer and later full member, and introduced me to Paula Wehr, the old time agent who then represented Magnum, operating from her home.

John G. Morris speaking with David Seymour "Chim" at Magnum office in 15 West Forty-seventh Street. Photo: Burt Glinn / Magnum Photos.

During my visit to Milan I was with "Chim", who showed me the whole city and introduced me to Arnoldo Mondadori, head of the house that published the picture weekly Epoca magazine. Milan was the epicenter of Italian publishing, and in the same way as with Rome - Italy was a kind of adopted country for him-, "Chim" knew the city better than anybody and had always a very good seat at La Scala.

Coming back to Paris, I stopped in Zurich trying to see Werner Bischof, but he had gone to Finland to make a Holiday assignment, so his wife Rosellina introduced me to some interesting people of the photographic ambients in Switzerland.

Some days later, I knew that Werner Bischof would go to London to cover for Life the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.

In December 1953, Werner and Rosellina Bischof came to New York for the first time and spent Christmas with me and my wife Dèle in our apartment in Armonk. Werner Bischof told us that he wanted to make pictures in North and South America to complement the comprehensive archive he had with images made in Europe and Asia.

At the beginning of 1954, Bob received a very interesting offer by Mainichi, the great Japanese newspaper chain: they wanted to create a magazine called " Camera Mainichi ", and invited him for six weeks. He could shoot different stories at will and all the expenses woulb by paid by them. Besides, Capa would be constantly supplied film and the best latest Japanese cameras and lenses.

Bob accepted the offer and began his flight to Tokyo, stopping shortly in Rome to see friends, including Lauren Bacall.

Since his very arrival to Japan, Capa made a lot of pictures of children everywhere he went. He was happy and wrote a letter to Magnum Paris office in which he said that he loved the country, that making photographs there was exciting and that he had already been given five cameras, fifteen lenses and a lot of bunches of flowers. He also reported that he had made a number of speeches.

What was the aftermath of the untimely deaths of Robert Capa and Werner Bischof in May 1954?

John G. Morris: That was a very sad, unexpected and harmful situation for Magnum in particular and world photography generally speaking, with the added drama that both Bob and Werner died exactly the same day May 24, 1954, in Thai Binh (Vietnam) and the Peruvian Andes respectively.

Everything began when while having lunch with Ray Mackland of Life, he told me that he had to find a substitute for staff photographer Howard Sochurek, who was covering the war between the French and the Vietminh. Being aware that Capa was in Japan, Mackland asked me if Bob would be willing to make pictures there during the four weeks´ resting period in the States Sochurek needed to recover. He offered 2,000 dollars plus expenses.

I cabled to Bob in Tokyo explaining him the offer, hoping that he would turn it down, and on April 30, 1954, he cabled back to me saying that he accepted the assignment.

I was horrified and decided to call him in Tokyo. The quality of the connection was poor. I yelled him not to go, because that was not our war, and he answered me not to worry because it would be only four weeks.

Capa´s legend was not in Bob´s head. He never considered himself superior to other photographers, but Bob´s competitive instinct was strong. Schurek belonged to a new generation of photographers. David Douglas Duncan was also in Vietnam, so probably he thought he should be there too, as always, getting the pictures approaching his subjects to the utmost.

The next day, May 1, 1954, Bob wrote me from the Time/Life office in Tokyo his last letter, in which he told me that he had taken the assignment with great pleasure, that he´d likely have to shoot very complicated subjects but that it was his life, his own alley, his way of making things and earning a living, and though sometimes frustrating, Indochina would be a good story anyway.

A few days later, I received an undated Bob´s letter from Hanoi, the last one, in which he told me that he had just come back from Laos and was trying to make a further story.

Some days later, I was for a week as an invited teacher of the 6th University of Missouri Photo Workshop.

The following day after the end of the workshop, I received a call from Inge Bondi, Magnum New York. She was crying and reported me that Wener Bischof had died in the Peruvian Andes when his car went over a cliff.

John G. Morris reading some documents in the library of his home in Paris. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

This was exceedingly shocking for me and a mixture of memories came to my mind: the Christmas we had spent together in New York, the baby Rosellina and he were waiting, the trip through South America Werner had designed, trying to finish in Tierra del Fuego, etc.

Once at my home in Armonk, New York with my wife Dèle and my children, on May 24, 1954 I received a call from a Life Foreign News researcher telling me that Bob had died a few hours before in Thai Binh (Vietnam) after stepping a land mine.

This was too much. I couldn´t believe it. Two of the best photographers in history had died, almost simultaneously, the same day. One day later, on May 25, 1954, Daniel Werner Bischof, Rosellina and Werner´s son, was born in Zurich.

The tragedy was almost unbearable for Magnum staff in New York and Paris. There was commotion and unutterable grief and pain in everybody. The bereavement was utter.

The memorial service both for Werner and Bob was made on next Sunday afternoon. The place was full of people and Edward Steichen made a brief praise for them. There were testimonies of respect and grief from different countries, and also a telegram from Ingrid Bergman. Cornell Capa and Julia Friedman (Bob and Cornell´s mother) were in dismay, overwhelmed
by sorrow.

On June 11, 1954, Cornell Capa, his wife Edith, Julia Friedmann and me buried Robert Capa in the Quaker cemetery at Amawalk, New York, with even stronger bereavement. Dirck Halstead, a 18 years old photographer, took some pictures of the burial of his most admired photojournalist. From then on, Dirck Halstead would go on his career to become one of the best photographers of Vietnam War and later on a prominent photojournalist, editor and publisher.

June 11, 1954. Robert Capa´s burial in the Amawalk Quaker cemetery, New York. Cornell Capa, his wife Edith, Julia Friedmann (Bob and Cornell´s mother) and John G. Morris (on the right of the frame, with his back towards the camera) surround Capa´s coffin durin the last moments before his interment. Photo: Dirck Halstead

September 12, 2009, 55 years later, John G. Morris holds one of the photographs taken by Dirck Halstead during Capa´s burial. Impossible to express with words the emotional intensity lived. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

These two deaths changed everything in Magnum. Capa had been the driving force of Magnum and Werner Bischof was one of its greatest flagships.

It was necessary to take decisions soon. Therefore, on June 30, 1954, Magnum members gathered in Paris, in the rue de Lisbonne apartment of Henri Cartier-Bresson to speak about the future.

Three vicepresidents were named: "Chim" was elected president for finance, George Rodger vice president for Paris operations and Cornell Capa vice president for New York.

At this meeting we also voted membership for five young American photographers: Eve Arnold, Elliot Erwitt, Dennis Stock, Erich Hartmann, Burt Glinn and the Dutch photographer Kryn Taconis

Specially praiseworthy was the role performed by Cornell Capa, because after the events of May 25, 1954, he decided to greatly abandon his own career as a photographer and preserve his brother´s and Werner Bischof ´s photographic heritage. This way, he helped to steer Magnum through some difficult times and eventually created the International Center of Photography
in New York.

These eyes have seen and edited a high percentage of the most important and worlwide famous photographs of XX Century. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza.

In 1955, we voted membership for three more photographers: Inge Morath, Erich Lessing and Marc Riboud.

The labor of Inge Morath was instrumental in the worlwide spread of Magnum from mid fifties, because she could speak ten languages and had learnt to make pictures watching Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ernst Haas during her researcher stage. Bob always had great confidence in her professional gift and had proposed her to Cartier-Bresson as a researcher in 1950.

Regarding Marc Riboud, Bob took over his journalistic education in 1951, also sending him to London to improve his English and make new contacts. His sense of timing was amazing, a trait shared with Capa. He became one of the best photographers of Magnum and made excellent stories all over the world.

David Seymour " Chim" died on November 10, 1956 in Egypt, when the jeep in which he went with photographer Jean Roy of Paris Match was machine gunned at an Egyptian road control.

It was Burt Glinn who told me the news, calling from Israel to my New York apartment in Armonk.

This was a further tremendous and irreplaceable loss for Magnum. The legendary "Chim" was always the most cultured member of Magnum, together with Cartier-Bresson and Inge Morath. It was known that when he made the reportages of Bernard Berenson and Arturo Toscanini at their respective homes, he kept classical music and artistic deep conversations with them.

"Chim" was a man of great sensitivity and charm, intuitive, unselfish and always helping his teammates, passionate for photography and absolutely beloved by everybody in Magnum and making friends wherever he was. An example will suffice: Nobody in Rome knew more different people than "Chim", a living legend in himself, with unique and unforgettable personality, who had been making pictures in Spain with Bob and Gerda Taro during the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War and had been one of the four founders of Magnum in 1947.

What has meant in your viewpoint the photographic work of Henri Cartier-Bresson for Magnum and photography in general?

John G. Morris: Cartier-Bresson is a giant in the history of photography. His methods were unconventional, unique, and his special style of taking pictures allowed him to use most times only a 50 mm lens. Such was his mastery of distances and composition when making street photography and real life reportages.


He was much less sentimental than "Chim", but truth is that Cartier-Bresson, though not being an administrator, saved Magnum in its most critical moments, specially between 1948 and 1950, mainly through the revenue obtained with his two Life assigned superb stories on Gandhi´s death made in India in January 1948 and a further one made in China in 1949, covering the last stage of the civil war between the Kuomintang administration and the Maoist People´s Republic.

He shot only black and white film and excelled using 35 mm Leica rangefinders always making pictures handheld with available light, giving great importance to the use of 35 mm contact sheets to study the quality and impact of photographic stories.

The Decisive Moment, a great 1952 book by Henri Cartier-Bresson, including 126 black and white pictures and a remarkable preface written by himself.

His excellent book The Decisive Moment, including 126 monochrome pictures, became an instant classic and a reference photography work since its very launching in 1952, greatly complemented by the huge significance of the preface written by himself.

You were also a friend and direct witness of Eugene Smith colossal photographic production and his rather convulsed life. Which aspects would you highlight in his personality and way of working?

John G. Morris: I met Eugene Smith for the first time in December 1939. He was very young, only 21 years old, and we made a story in Ellis Island on the " Columbus Internees", the crew of a liner with base in Hamburg.

He was already a semiprofessional photographer covering sports for Wichita newspapers "The Eagle" and "The Beacon" when his father shot himself in 1936.

He had always a very disordered life, utterly devoted to photography. The day hadn´t enough hours for him. He was tremendously self exacting and thorough in his work, a full-time perfectionist always exhausting up to his last drop of stamina trying to get the prints and results he wanted, being a world class photographer and a superb darkroom connoisseur alike.

Throughout almost his entire life, he was subjected to a lot of stress because of familiar problems, health progressively deteriorating and the suicide of his father, who deeply affected him. It´s true that he sported a strong character and a complex personality often taking him to a kind of self destructiveness, perhaps only Life had the resources to be able to afford the tremendous level of perfectionism he longed for his pictures, including the very high standard of reproduction of his photographs he wanted in the magazines and newspapers he worked for, without forgetting his leisurely rate of performance and his expensive habits, because he always wanted to have a darkroom assistant and the best equipment, but he was a highly humane and sympathetic man, something which is reflected in many of his pictures, which are often imbued with social compromise and reporting of injustices.

During the II World War, he was a war correspondent between 1942-1945, and made great pictures in the Pacific Theatre in Saipán, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa , where loyal to his lifetime approach to his work, he threw into the action and was about to die in 1945, when he was very seriously wounded by mortar shell fire, and had to suffer two years of convalescence in hospital.

But from 1947, Gene began to publish his impressive essays in Life. They were photojournalism conceived in-depth, the essence of it. Eugene Smith devoted a lot of hours and hard work to achieve those extraordinary results with remarkable stories like Country Doctor (1948), living during many weeks with Dr Ernest Ceriani of Kremmling (Colorado), stuck to him minute by minute while he visited different patients of all ages and fought to heal them. Gene also reflected masterfully the anxiety and sufferings of the patients´ relatives; Nurse Midwife (1951) showing Maude Callen, a remarkable black woman, making a praiseworthy work, namely to visit all the needed people she could - ailing men and women, women giving birth to children, etc - in an almost impossible context, and at the same time pointing at racism; A Spanish Village (1951) depicting the life of the small rural town of Deleitosa, with an ancient traditional way of life; A Man of Mercy (1954), a photo essay on Dr Albert Schweitzer´s humanitarian work in French Equatorial Africa.

Gene was so talented to steadily touch the viewers emotions. He immersed himself in the lives of his subjects, always trying to reveal the true essence of them.

Pittsburgh (1955-1958), is a clear example of his way of working. It should have taken not more than a month to make the assignment, but Gene used five months in 1955 and a few weeks in 1957 trying to complete it, though he couldn´t. Nevertheless, the 11,000 negatives belonging to the series Pittsbugh are among the best of his production. The problem was that he invested all of his economical resources in this colossal project and besides, he always tried to make a master print in miniature of each picture, so he finished physically worn-out.

He needed friends at critical times and I had the privilege of being one of them for many years until his death.

On the other hand, during Gene´s stays in Pittsburgh, we had to turn down an assignment offered by The Saturday Evening Post and another one by Collier. Eugene Smith was very stubborn and was utterly focused on Pittsburgh, it consumed almost his entire time, and so he couldn´t do any other stories during 1955, 56 and 57 (his three first years in Magnum), with the exception of a story on the sinking of the Italian liner Andrea Doria off Nantuckett. I went there with Gene at night, to cover the arrival of survivors at dock 88 in New York.

In Magnum, for some years we made our best striving after getting publishing agreements for Gene´s Pittsburgh, but he was constantly dissatisfied with the page layouts and kept changing them.

Regrettably, the thirty-eight pages and 88 pictures Pittsburgh layout finally made by Photography Annual -a sister publication of Popular Photography- didn´t match at all the top-notch standard of quality and size of Life magazine, and Gene was highly disappointed.

Even, in 1954 Gene had already resigned from Life among other things because his very high standard of excellence in photographic documentary series, his search for utter control over his photographs and his craving for presenting the whole picture story, fairly exceeded the available space and top quality paper investments, since Gene always wanted his images appearing inside magazines as similar as possible in quality to the original master prints on photographic
paper.

In any case, the Pittsburgh project has been an outstanding achievement that did much to foster the photographic essay into a greater dimension.

Cornell Capa knew it and helped Gene, offering him in 1969 the landmark retrospective photographic exhibition Let Truth Be The Prejudice, held at the Jewish Museum, New York, which grew up until reaching the astounding figure of 542 images, along with a tray continuously projecting slides on the Pacific Theatre during II World War. This was perhaps the nearest Gene was ever to make things his way with his pictures.

What did Eugene Smith´s Minamata Story mean in the history of Photojournalism?

John G. Morris: It was undoubtedly a milestone. It was made between 1971-73, a few years before Gene´s death, when Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen moved to the Japanese fishing village of Minamata to document the plight of people who had suffered from industrial poisoning.

This was his last and probably best masterpiece series, including the famous picture of Tomoko Uemura, a very powerful image conveying a visual dialogue between photographer and subject, simultaneously sublime and terrible, showing truth and often considered his best photograph along with The Walk to Paradise Garden he made in 1946.

With Tomoko Uemura in the bath, Eugene Smith, who could never attain for him the perfection he always yearned for his photographs, made intemporal a perfect instant which maybe began to put somehow an end to his impressive career as photojournalist and also to his life.

How long were you with Magnum as picture editor?

John G. Morris: Eight years, from 1956 to 1964, and I was very happy to realize that Magnum was at last truly international. Cornell Capa was the Magnum photographer who most insisted on the need of creating an actually professional organization, both in New York and abroad, and his election in 1957 as acting president after Chim´s demise meant a turning point.

John G. Morris watching the pictures of a book containing the images of a world class photographer. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

On the other hand, it is a great success that Magnum has been able to survive after the vanishing of many of its major big four flagship customers like Collier´s, The Saturday Evening Post, Look and Life, the latter having finished its activity in 1972, after thirty-six years, which suffered the transfer of the great advertisers from mass magazines to television, which allowed an audience of amazing numbers.

Those four great picture magazines had been from the end of forties the springboard for Magnum´s getting into covering the world in photographs, and we were able to answer to any journalistic challenge, with me often caught in the middle between the photographers and the magazines, since I always thought that we had the task of both making good pictures and covering the news.

And other magazines frequently launched numbers with pictures made by Magnum photographers. That happened with Brian Brake for National Geographic, Elliot Erwitt, Burt Glinn and Henri Cartier-Bresson for Holiday and Eve Arnold for Esquire.

In 1957, Magnum covered Queen Elizabeth and his consort Phillip´s visit to United States with four photographers: Eugene Smith, Ernst Haas, Cornell Capa and Burt Glinn, placing them on different points. It was an editorial great toil, but it paid off.

Besides, from 1960 on, Capa´s great dream became into a reality, and Magnum was greatly consolidated, with many of the best photographers in the world within its ranks and a huge worldwide prestige which has continued to the present day.

John G. Morris goes on relishing the viewing of good photographs and visiting as many exhibitions as he can. Photo: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

At the beginning of sixties, Magnum did a book titled Let Us Begin on the first 100 days of John F. Kennedy as President which sold well.

In 1964 you began a new stage as picture editor for The Washington Post. Which were the main tasks you were bound to accomplish since your arrival?
At that time, the Washington Post needed to modernize and foster the picture editing and laying out, so they welcomed innovation.

I did a lot of different photographs choices and layouts with various sizes and placements.

On the other hand, I asked to improve the cameras and lenses of the staff photographers along with giving them much more quantity of film, and it was bestowed.

Since my first contact with editor Russell Wiggins and managing editor Alfred Friendly during the 1964 American Society of Newspaper editors, it had been clear that my task within The Washington Post would be to improve the look and visual content of the newspaper, supervising the Picture Desk, the Art Department and the sixteen staff photographers whose boss was Hugh Miller. Quickly both the photographers headed by Miller and me became great friends and each photojournalist was given two camera bodies and four lenses.

For years, the Art Department had systematically retouched pictures, in such a way that they lost a lot of quality and appeared nearly unrecognizable on paper pages. I managed to change this and some more important things, because I knew that Phil Graham had worked hard for a lot of years to turn the Washington Post into one of the references of U.S publishing, so the market possibilites of the newspaper were much greater and the quoted changes were urgent.

Another thing to modify was the enhancement of the number of Washington Post photographers, because until that moment it had been usual to send them only to cover social events.

In any case, I soon realized that Washington Post staff photographers were really good, with previous street experience and ability to see pictures, specially Wally McNamee who covered the Vietnam War and Dick Darcey who made a great work making the reportage of a freedom march in Selma (Alabama). Both of them and a high percentage of the rest of photographers could do almost any assignment.

On January 20, 1965 I had to cover Lyndon Johnson´s Inauguration Day after his election as President of the United States, and we made a twenty page special section on it, with the invaluable help of Dick Darcey, who did a great work making pictures from a helicopter.

In 1967 you started your tenure as The New York Times picture editor which you´d hold until 1975.

John G. Morris: This was a dream come true for me, because since late thirties I had always been fascinated by the story of both the New York Times as top class newspaper and specially the publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger (the legendary man at the helm of the paper between 1935 and 1961), whose son Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Sr. had succeded him in 1963 as publisher and
chairman.

Arthur Hays Sulzberger had been the driving force implementing the New York Times use of pictures (even he had the insight of hiring photographer Howard Hausner whom he had seen in action as an Army photographer overseas), reporting and feature articles, along with the spreading of its sections, also developing the facsimile transmission for images.

And now, his son Arthur " Punch " Sulzberger Sr was beginning to build a large news gathering staff. For me, it was a great opportunity in my professional career as picture editor.

My arrival at The New York Times, began when Manny Friedman, one of its assistant managing editors, took me to lunch at Sardi´s restaurant, telling that he wanted to know my opinion and me recommending him picture editors I knew for a new post at the New York Times. I told him some names, and at the end he asked me if I´d like to have that post.

I was very surprised at the offer and answered that I needed some time to think about it, because I had just gone out of the Washington Post, but the following week Clifton Daniel, then New York Times managing editor, called me to talk to him at his office facing West Forty-third Street.

He asked me about the way in which The New York Times played the pictures, and I openly replied him that in my viewpoint it was highly improvable. Our conversation, very friendly - I had already known Clifton Daniel during my stage in Life in forties when a portrait of him and his wife made the cover- went on for approximately an hour.

A few days later, Manny Friedman phoned me to say he wanted me to speak with executive editor Turner Catledge and managing editors Abe Rosenthal and Harrison Salisbury and on May 29, 1967 I agreed to start working at The New York Times as Picture Editor.

Assistant manager editor M. Bernstein and his assistants had been deciding the makeup and daily content of The New York Times for fifteeen years, and they had final decision on the headlines, graphics and stories being raised in the desks regarding metropolitan, national, foreign, financial, etc topics and also as to the pictures.

Cliffton Daniel wanted to change this system as soon as possible and update things. And I had to be one of the catalysts of that change.

One of the first aspects to modify was the very distant location between Art Department, wirephoto machines, photographers, lab men, Picture Desk, engraving department, etc. This slowed everything very much, specially in regard to pictures. Besides, the engraving methods used had scarcely changed since XIX Century.

This way, I was often invited to attend to Ted Bernstein´s office as an observer during the daily conference on page one, and realized that he was always very well informed and sported remarkable instinct.

Page one has probably been the most significant item in the history of The New York Times, dealing on matters of human concern, and doing maximum effort trying to always select appropriate topics and focusing on real information, accuracy in the pieces of news and quickness delivering them to the readers, something very different to the oversimplified tabloids.

That´s why page one was always and keeps on being a top paramount importance item of the paper and a delicate subject in terms of balance.

Soon after I began working at The New York Times, Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger invited me to the publisher´s luncheon on Tuesday, June 20, 1967. This was an unexpected great honor for me, because this was the daily meeting held by the New York Times executives and many presidents of different countries were sometimes present.

From then on, it was clear that my mission as new picture editor was striving after matching the scope of the New York Times reporting and the depth of its editing with a similar quality in the picture report.

Which were the most important assignments you remember while working as New York Times picture editor?

John G. Morris: The first one was when the White House announced a "summit" conference to be held on June 23, 1967 at Glassborough State College in southern New Jersey, in wich the Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin would be present. Pictures of the event were made by photographer Bill Snead, who took images of the summit preparations and transmitted them for the New York Times late edition. This was my first page one special for the newspaper.

There was another story photographed by J. Anthony Lukas on Linda Fitzpatrick, a radical terrorist who blew up herself with her own bomb. George Cowan did the layout and I chose the images. It won a Pulitzer Prize.

Some time later, on April 5, 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis.The New York Times photographer Earl Caldwell was there to cover a strike of 1,300 sanitation workers supported by Martin Luther King, and was lodged at the same Motel Lorraine, when he heard shots and saw King dead on the balcony above, after which he phoned the paper National Desk reporting the very sad news. We needed a portrait for page one and began browsing Martin
Luther King picture file. Suddenly, freelance photographer Ben Fernandez appeared in my desk bringing a picture of Dr King´s family he had recently made, and we put it quickly into the city edition. Afterwards, I chose a further picture for the late edition, showing Dr. King pensive and praying innerly, with a hand on his chin, which became very famous with the elapse of time.

Two months later, I was invited to speak at a convention of California press photojournalists to be held in Los Angeles at the end of the first week of June, so my wife Midge and me decided made up our minds to witness the last days of the Democratic party, whose action took place at the Hotel Ambassador, turned into Robert Kennedy´s headquarter. Midge and me made our way to the ball room of the hotel to listen to Robert Kennedy´s speech, and immediately after its end, some shots were heard. Everything was confusion, women crying and orders not to move given by security men everywhere. Robert Kennedy had just been shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan. I phoned to New York to report the news and dictate the text of it, unexpectedly getting a sad page one story which made the final edition.

On June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy was at the Ambassador Hotel of Los Angeles, celebrating his successful campaign in the California primary election and had just finished addressing supporters in the hotel main ballroom, when Sirhan Sirhan assassinated him in the kitchen of the hotel with a .22 caliber gun. John G. Morris was at a very short distance in the quoted ballroom, and heard the shots. Photo: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times.

Also, during the coverage of the 5-9 August 1968 Miami Republican Convention, we made a good job, with New York Times staff photographers summing up almost 50% of the total of pictures of the event run that week; and something similar happened during the 26-30 August 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, during which news was mainly in the streets because of demonstrations and riots. I had a trailer located in the press zone where we developed the film and edited the pictures made by photographers Barton Silverman, Neal Boenzi, William E. Sauro, George Tames and Don Charles.

What New York Times photographers did make a greatest impression on you?

John G. Morris: I remember a lot of very good photographers.

Don Hogan Charles managed to get great empathy when shooting New York black ghettos.

Ernies Sisto was a legend in himself at his sixties, highlighting in sports.

Jack Manning was rather versatile and featured great experience, having studied at Photo League and sporting previous magazine photography background in Pix.

Edward Hausner was an extraordinary photographer able to solve with high marks any kind of difficult feature story.

Neal Boenzi was always able to quickly read contexts with his eyes and summarize situations in very few pictures, two or three at the most. For instance, he made a " Life and Death in the City " picture story reducing it to an image of a newborn girl in her mother´s arms and one more of a corpse taken inside a morgue from near the feet.

William E. Sauro, a great general assignment photographer, thousands of his images having illustrated news articles in The New York Times during twenty nine years between 1967 and 1996, without forgetting his great pictures of the Kennedy administration during sixties.

Barton Silverman, a self made man who began his career at The New York Times as a lab technician in 1962 and in 1964 was hired for general assignments as a staff photographer and with time would become a world class sports photographer, capturing the very peak of action.

Gloria Emerson, a great professional for whom the coverage of Vietnam War became an obsession while assigned to Saigon as New York Times correspondent.

George Tames, who developed a great forty years career as a New York Times photographer betwen 1945 and 1985. A man who managed to gain the utter confidence of a lot of presidents of U.S from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, senators and comitte chambers whom he made a lot of pictures during four decades. He was always able to make images of them conveying information without betraying trust, and steadily trying to depict the best qualities of his subjects.

And many more.

Which was your more thrilling and unforgettable experience during your stay in New York Times?

John G. Morris: It was the day I went into the fourteenth floor dining-room of The New York Times building on June 20, 1967, invited by Arthur " Punch" Sulzberger, the publisher, my first important meeting with him and the manager editors of the paper.

Suddenly, on entering, I saw Arthur Hays Suzlberger, the man who during forties and fifties had turned The New York Times into the cream of the U.S newspapers, 75 years old and sitting in a wheelchair, looked after by his wife Iphigene Bertha Ochs. I was introduced to him as the new picture editor by his son and then publisher and chairman Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger Sr, who within time would take the New York Times even to higher halcyon days. This was a great honor and pride for me that I will never forget.
On the other hand, it was also very moving when five years later I saw Edward Steichen at his home in Connecticut and said him good-bye for the last time.

John G. Morris talking to Edward Steichen near his home in Connecticut during a summer day of 1972, one year before his death. John G. Morris had also been in 1969 at the Plaza Hotel in New York during Steichen´s 90th birthday party. Photo: Oliver Morris.

On February 1, 1968 The New York Times published on its first page, occupying roughly a quarter of it, the AP Eddie Adams´s picture of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of national police of South Vietnam, executing a Vietcong suspect with a shot through his head from a very short distance on a Saigon street. What did you feel on watching that image for the first time?

John G. Morris: It was something shocking, the picture is really grim, because Nguyen Van Lem´s head has just been pierced by the bullet and the man´s face is distorted immediately before death.

It came through the wire in the afternoon, and quickly, I went with it to the early news conference and suggested it for page one to all the assembled editors. Next year, Adams would win the Pulitzer Prize for it.

This photograph opened a great debate over if the Vietnam War was worth and showed bluntly what war really is.

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan of South Vietnam army summarily executing a Vietcong prisoner with a gun shot through his head in a street of Saigon. John G. Morris suggested it for page one to the managing editors of The New York Times, and everybody agreed. Photo: Eddie Adams / AP.

A gruesome and great picture alike, and undoubtedly a very important photojournalistic and informative graphic document, though it is true that forty-one years after the image was taken it goes on being hard to watch.

On September 11, 1973, day of the military coup, a member of the staff of Salvador Allende, President of Chile, took a picture of him with helmet and surrounded by two members of his personal guard holding AK-47 Kalashnikovs, and four months later it was published by The New York Times. Who did take that picture?

John G. Morris: The picture was made by one of Allende´s aides while the military aircraft were approaching the Palacio de la Moneda in the capital Santiago de Chile, at low altitude, to bombard it, and both Allende and the palace guards began preparing for the defense.

The following months, the author of the photograph was still concealed in Chile after the taking of the power by the military, so this man gave the negatives to a New York Times correspondent in Latin America, and we published the picture on January 26, 1974, and subsequently this image won the grand prize of the 1974 World Press Photo Contest two months later.

Probably because of security, the identity of the author has remained unknown, but the negatives are authentic, because we observed that on the left area of each frame appears part of a thread that surely was in the back of the camera when the negatives were exposed.

On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong set his boot on the surface of the Moon and The New York Times launched a lot of editions reporting about the success of Apollo 11 Mission. How were those days?

John G. Morris: The New York Times prepared an impressive operation for the occasion, under the global command of Abe Rosenthal. He had been after us for months to plan for the event, the most important in the history of the paper since its foundation in 1851.

At 9:32 A.M of July 16, 1969, the Apollo 11 was launched from Cape Canaveral, its aim being to become the first manned mission to land on the Moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, while Michael Collins orbited over it. The New York Times had been working hard for some weeks in preparation of the historical event.

The Apollo 11 Mission with Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin astronauts had raised huge expectation all over the world. Everybody was paying attention to it and the Sunday night July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong became the first man to put his foot on the Moon, was absolutely unforgettable.

The Apollo 11 launching team of scientists paying attention to events during takeoff on July 16, 1969.

The Lunar Module Eagle has just separated from the main spaceship and goes towards the moon surface. Within short time, Neil Armstrong will be the first man to walk on the Moon. 

Picture made by Collins from inside the command module "Columbia" with one of the two electric Hasselblads 500 EL he had and a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 250 mm f/5.6 lens.

700 million people, a world record for that time, watched the Apollo XI mission success on TV.

Inside the New York Times, during the previous weeks, fidgets was increasing day by day until July 20, 1969, from which it was even greater.

Abe Rosenthal and all of us had been working very hard for a lot of days. We knew that this was a historical event and The New York Times had to be up to the occasion.

Stress was unbearable. Because of the special context, for a few days we could only have images broadcast on TV featuring poor quality, but we did our best making a Late City Edition titled " Men Walk on Moon".

The Apollo 11 Lunar Module "Eagle" with Commander Neil Armstrong and pilot Buzz Aldrin coming back from the Moon surface, approaches Columbia Space Module for docking, being photographed from the Command Module "Columbia" by pilot Michael Collins with an electric Hasselblad 500 EL camera with a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 250 mm f/5.6 lens and 70 mm double perforated film specially made by Kodak. During the thirty orbits he made at a height of 96,500 m over the Moon surface, Collins made a lot of spectacular color photographs.A lot of prints of them would be thoroughly seen by John G. Morris during picture editing after the coming back of the three Apollo 11 astronauts to Houston National Aeronautics and Space Administration on July 27, 1969.

First page of The New York Times of July 21, 1969 titled Men Walk on Moon. One of the most important photojournalistic operations in history, under the global command of Abe Rosenthal and with John G. Morris as picture editor, Hank Lieberman as scientific news coordinator and George Cowan as art director was already working at full speed to attain the most comprehensive feasible coverage of Apollo 11 Mission, though for the moment they could only offer poor quality TV images to the readers. And the New York Times wanted as soon as possible not images taken from TV or transmitted pictures, but high quality dupes and 8 x 10 prints directly made from the original Apollo 11 Mission double perforated colour Kodak Ektachrome EF SO168 160 ASA 70 mm slides shot with Hasselblad cameras.

Things were happening very fast, and though the most important part of the Apollo 11 Mission had already finished with spatial module landing on the Moon and Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on it, the return trip was beginning and with it the most stressful stage for the New York Times coverage.

Buzz Aldrin´s footprint on the moon surface, made by himself to subsequently enable the study of the lunar surface bearing strength.

Buzz Aldrin photographed by Neil Armstrong on the moon surface. The impressive image quality obtained by a modified electric Hasselblad EL Data Camera and a Carl Zeiss Biogon 60 mm f/4 featuring top resolving power, contrast and almost zero tangential and radial distortion, was decisive to get excellent original Kodak Ektachrome 160 ASA 70 mm transparencies of the Moon surface, whose high quality dupes and 8 x 10 prints edited by John G. Morris allowed Abe Rosenthal´s dream to come true: the color first ever for The New York Times in the form of a special newsmagazine supplement inside August 3, 1969 paper.

Picture of the Lunar Module Eagle on the Moon surface taken by Neil Armstrong, whose shadow can be seen on the lower left area of the frame. In the image can be clearly discernible the glass made grid of crosses engraving making up the Reseau plate, conceived to prevent the effects of film distorsion and which was fitted very near the film plane, in the back of the camera body, the emulsion being guided by the plate raised edges. This way, the Hasselblad EL Data had actually been turned into a little top-notch photogrammetric handheld camera.

The earth emerging over Moon horizon. One can imagine the thrill and overstress felt by John G. Morris and Henry "Hank" Lieberman while watching dupes and 8 x 10 prints with images like this, while flying from Houston Johnson National Aeronautics and Space Administration Center to New York, working at full speed to choose the best pictures and captions for Abe Rosenthal´s conceived colour special supplement of August 3, 1969, the first one in the history
of the New York Times.

Crater 308 viewed from lunar orbit.

After a twenty-two hour visit of the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the Moon, Armstrong and Aldrin are already safe inside the command module Columbia. This picture shows Armstrong.

The astronauts had been making a number of scientifical tests, measurings and pictures on the moon. We needed urgently specially the photographs on moon surface that they had made with high quality medium format Hasselblad cameras and colour Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm slides. We craved for dupes and prints made from those valuable top-notch original transparencies to make new layouts the following days and get a much better quality of reproduction of the images on The New York Times paper, because Abe Rosenthal had decided to begin making very fast a colour newsmagazine supplement for the first time in history inside the New York Times for the next Sunday´s August 3, 1969 Newspaper, which would quick prove to have been a fantastic idea.

On July 25, 1969, the astronauts returned to earth, with the spatial capsule dropping on parachute at 250 miles from Pacific Johnston island, to be greeted by President Richard Nixon on the aircraft-carrier Hornet.

We were in contact with NASA scientists and officials, who reported us their nervousness on the condition of the 9 rolls of color Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm slides and the thirteen reels of 16 mm movies shot by Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin.

It was now when The New York Times began working even more full-blast.

On July 26, 1969 I flew to Houston (Texas) to meet photographer Gary Settler and cover the return of Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin to the Johnson National Aeronautics and Space Administration Center.

The New York Times Dassault Falcon 20 jet, similar to this one and turned into flying Picture Desk, took John G. Morris, Henry "Hank" Lieberman, George Cowan and photographer Gary Settle on his return trip from Houston to New York with the highly valuable Apollo 11 high quality dupes and 8 x 10 prints of the original colour Kodak Ektachrome 160 ASA slides, whose magazines had been transported in a special container from the Hornet aircraft-carrier to Ellington Air Force Base - five miles from the Johnson Space Center in Houston - and once they had been brought into the lunar receiving laboratory at the Johnson Space Center, they had been developed by some expert photographic technicians under the command of Richard Underwood - Nasa Chief of Photography of the Apollo Mission and astronauts´ photography coach-, including Terry Slezak, who handled the famous 70 mm magazine "S", accidentally dropped by Neil Armstrong on the Moon, containing the thin and Estar polyester based color Kodak Ektachrome 160 ASA 70 mm roll 40 with the one hundred and sixty Extra Vehicular Activity transparencies shot on the lunar surface. 

That magazine had been picked up by Armstrong and transferred back to the lunar module with some Moon dust stuck to it, and its images would be the core of the picture editing implemented by John G. Morris inside the New York Times jet during the return flight from Houston to New York to deliver it all to have available as soon as possible Abe Rosenthal´s brainstorm: the special color news magazine supplement focused on Apollo XI Mission mincluded inside the New York Times paper of August 3, 1969.

On the morning of Tuesday 29, 1969, The New York Times´s Dassault Falcon 20 jet with George Cowan, a production expert from the Art Department and the science news coordinator Henry Lieberman arrived in Houston.

Abe Rosenthal had ordered in New York to make things at full speed and with maximum level of accuracy, because the special color magazine supplement to appear inside Sunday August 3, 2009 New York Times number was very important and there was very little time left to make the picture editing and layout of the 16 pages before sending it to machines. We should make it on the return trip, while flying come back to New York.

This way, in the afternoon of July 29, 1969, a NASA photographic technician gave me a lot of dupes and prints made from the original color Kodak Ektachrome 70 mm slides shot by the astronauts of the Apollo XI Mission during the approach to the Moon and specially the ones taken by Armstrong and Aldrin on the very surface of it, and we took off returning to New York with those precious photographs.

Inside the jet there was layout equipment, a light box, a moviola for watching 8 mm film, etc.

While the jet crossed over Louissiana and Mississippi, George Cowan and me were making the layout while Lieberman put the words.

John G. Morris gives one of the 8 x 10 inches prints of the Moon surface directly made from original color Kodak Ektachrome 160 ASA slides 70 to Henry Lieberman, science editor of The New York Times, for him to make the text for the picture. In the far background, with pipe, is art director George Cowan. 

They all are inside the New York Times jet which is flying from Houston to New York, because they have to deliver all the edited pictures, the layouts and the texts to managing editor Abe Rosenthal, overall commander of news operations, and then to begin making the special color newsmagazine supplement on the Apollo 11 Mission to appear the following Sunday. Photo: Gary Settler / The New York Times.

Suddenly, the pilot reported us that we couldn´t land on New Jersey airport, because it was covered in fog, so we had to go to Washington Dulles airport and wait for better weather at Teterboro.

Finally, we managed to arrive in New Jersey and from there to an office of Alco Gravure, the firm which would make the engravings of the special section. We were three hours late. Abe Rosenthal was very nervous and production executive Walter Mattson literally had the jitters.

Rosenthal thoroughly watched everything: pictures, layout, captions and words for an hour and gave the go ahead.

One of the most comprehensive photojournalistic operations in history had just being fulfilled, and a very happy and satisfied Abe Rosenthal congratulated us, put his arm around me and said that we should be running color every day.

The 16 page colour newsmagazine supplement, delivering an impressive photographic quality, was a great success and the paper sold out in the twinkling of an eye on August 3, 1969.

August 3, 1969. Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin watching one of the rolls of 70 mm colour Kodak Ektachrome 160 ASA 70 mm transparency shot on the Moon surface with Hasselblad cameras after the landing of the lunar module Eagle on July 20, 1969, while Collins orbited in the Command Module.

What did the 1971 Joseph A. Sprague Memorial Award of the National Press Photographers Association mean to you?

John G. Morris: It was a great honor for me and a very nice remembrance, because I was awarded it along with my friend and highly admired extraordinary photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt. It is considered the most important honor in the field of photojournalism, along with the Erich Salomon Prize of the German Society of Photography and the POYi.

At the same time, I was very happy because a few months before, The New York Times won the Overseas Press Club Award for excellence in general photographic coverage from abroad.

When did the inception of Quest magazine and your arrival there as a photo
editor take place?


John G Morris: In 1976. I had been working for roughly two years between 1973-1975 as an editor of photography for the NYT Pictures to attend upon the needs of worldwide media, and got some important scoops as the picture of Salvador Allende I quoted before, the 1975 approach of the Khmer Rouge to Phnom Penh covered by Sysney Schanberg, and some more.

One day, in 1976, the Harper´s editor Robert Schnayerson explained to me that he had gathered a group of good photographers with the idea of launching an idealistic profile new magazine called Quest searching for top excellence in its stories.

My first assignment was a story on Andrei Sakharov, the Russian dissident and father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, whom I took some pictures at his Moscow home in February of 1977, with his wife Yelena Bonner acting as an interpreter.

Within time, I´d do nine bylines.

Which has been in your viewpoint the role performed by Peter Magubane in the history of photojournalism?

John G. Morris: I met Peter Magubane during my activity of picture editor for Quest, when I made a byline called Images of Overcoming, related to this then emerging South African world class photojournalist, whose talent and perseverence have made him deserve a place in the history of photography.

Some books of the great photographer Peter Magubane have got a place in John G. Morris´s comprehensive library.

He was the son of a Soweto peddler who had learned photography working for Drum, a monthly picture magazine whose aim was to reflect topics on Africa.

For years, he made a lot of stories on gold miners, black children working till exhaustion for a lot of hours in potato fields, all kind of riots, etc, having spent two years in prison.

Within time, while working for the anti apartheid Johannesburg Rand Daily Mail newspaper, he won the South Africa´s journalism most important prize, being congratulated by the legendary CBS News broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite.

Peter Magubane always managed to take the picture with his Leica IIIG, however difficult or risky the context could be.

Throughout his astounding career, he has published eleven books, has held exhibitions in Berlin, London, Paris and New York, and his pictures have appeared in Life, The New York Times, National Geographic and Time, having won the 1986 Robert Capa Award, the 1986 Erich Salomon Prize, the Special Missouri Honour Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism in 1992, the 1997 Leica Lifetime Achievement Award given jointly by the Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography and the Leica Camera Group.

In 1981, when Herbert W. Armstrong broke the original agreement he had with Robert Shnayerson, the latter resigned and most of the editors went with him, which meant the end of Quest, and within a short time you were named National Geographic picture editor. Which did this new step mean in your photojournalistic career?

John G. Morris: It was a great satisfaction and it exceedingly motivated me, because almost for a century the Grosvenor family turned this top-notch publication into an American institution and the historical American flagship in terms of picture quality along with Life, without forgetting the high quality and scientific profile of the texts, with wonderful articles on a wide range of topics: biology, travels all over the world, archaeology,
technological breakthroughs, species of animals, climatic aspects, tribes of peoples in different countries, street photography reportages inside the biggest cities in the world, etc.

For a century, three generations of the Grosvenor family, beginning with Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, had turned National Geographic into probably the best monthly magazine in the world as to global level of pictures and words quality.

Specially decisive and glorious had been the decade under the rule of Melville Bell Grosvenor as editor between 1957 and 1969.

He was a great enthusiast of photography, increased the quality and size of the printed images in the magazine, and implemented a wide range of significant improvements, including a colour picture in every cover and the hiring of a lot of people coming from the Missouri Workshop School of Journalism.

Besides, he also looked for experienced professionals from newspapers as Milwaukee Journal photographer Robert Gilka, who became a legendary National Geographic Director of Photography for 25 years - coinciding with the great photographer Thomas J. Abercrombie- and taught photojournalism and picture editing at Syracuse University, and his predecessor the also legendary James M. Godbold, chief photographer of the Minneapolis Tribune who during his tenure as National Geographic Director of Photography, attained superb levels of picture quality for the magazine, as well as making an important labor teaching photography through his Be a Better Photographer classes at his Custom Camera Store until 1986, always promoting the steady photographic instruction and motivation compelling to reach high levels of technical and artistic ability.

During this golden era, the number of National Geographic members had raised to the figure of 5,500.000.

Melville Bell Grosvenor´s son Gilbert had been the editor between 1970 and 1980, and the first three years under the tenure of Bill Garret had been extraordinary, something which would last until his in my viewpoint abrupt firing in 1990, probably because Gilbert Grosvenor didn´t consult the adequate people. I did my best to get the reconciliation of both.

Bill Garret has been one of the most intrepid and powerful editors in the history of magazine publishing.

When I arrived at National Geographic in 1983, I quickly perceived he was a full-fledged driving force: innovator, hard working and pushing the magazine into new aims.

I had made a good friendship with him when my wife Midge and me met the Garrets and Grosvenors during the 1975 NPAA Convention (Wyoming).

Which were your most important assignments as National Geographic Picture Editor?
John G. Morris: After an agreement with Bill Garret through which I´d work for National Geographic in Paris, coordinating the editorial activities of the magazine in Europe, I was assigned my first important job as picture editor: the coverage of the balloon race that would start in the Place de La Concorde on June 26, 1983, to celebrate the 200 anniversary of both the first balloon flight by Montgolfier brothers in 1783 and the birth of International Herald Tribune, founded by James Gordon Bennet Junior in 1887.

I used eight photographers and managed to have a further picture putting an advertisement in some Paris newspapers.

Peter Turnley, whom I had given the command of the mission, reported me that Maxie Anderson and his copilot Don Ida had been killed crashing near East Germany.

In spite of the tragedy, the story made a National Geographic twenty pages.

Next year, in September 1984, I was assigned by Bob Gilka the coverage of another balloon story: this time was Joe Kittinger flying from Maine and trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean taking the flag of National Geographic Society.

It was very complex for Jean Guy Jules and Peter Turnley, the photographers I chose for the mission, to follow him, and after Kittinger flew over the Pyrenees, France and Corsica island, he landed in Italy and was rescued by the National Geographic helicopter.

In 1986, we supported at the same time two Polar expeditions: one made by Dr Jean-Louis Etienne, a specialist in nutrition and sports medicine who two years before had told me he´d try to reach alone the North Pole, by pulling a sled; and a seven men and one woman dosgsled expedition led by Will Steger, and in September Dr Jean-Luois Etienne made six pages and the Steger group thirty.

In 1989, National Geographic launched a special number titled " France Today" to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the French Revolution. I had suggested it two years before, and in December of 1988 Bill Garret arrived in Paris to interview President François Mitterrand for this special which appeared in June of 1989, in addition to a simultaneous visit of Bill Garret and Gilbert Grosvenor to the French capital for its promotion.

You have always been fascinated by Paris. When did you take the decision to move to it?

John G. Morris: It all began since my arrival in Paris after the liberation of the city in 1944. I was borrowed a bicycle and little by little I was knowing it.

Since then, I have always loved Paris, and decided to live in it some day, something which happened in 1983, when I moved to it with my wife, the photographer and writer Tana Hoban, whose pictures of children had been displayed in 1955 at the great Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and then became a world pioneer in the creation of photographic concept books for children, a total of more than fifty, which sold more than 2,000.000 copies during her professional career.

A rugged Royal Portable, made between 1926 and 1947, a typewriter for a lifetime. By it, we can see a picture showing John G. Morris with Yousuf Karsh, one of the masters of the 20th photography who excelled in portraits made with large format cameras and a sublime mastery of the light.

On the other had, from the beginning I felt very well in Paris, because since the demise of Life in 1972, it had become the most important Agency freelancers abode in the world, with for example the creation in 1967 of Gamma Agency by photographers Raymond Depardon, Léonard de Raemy, Hubert Henrotte, and Hughes Vassal, along with the arrival of Gilles Caron within short time.

Caron and Depardon were the driving forces of Gamma Agency, and the death of the former in Cambodia, in the same way as had happened with Bob regarding Magnum, gave Gamma the strength to keep on, and in 1973, the agency had got thirty-six people working in Paris and a New York office directed by Jean Pierre Laffont.

Gamma Agency has existed for a total of 42 uninterrupted years, an impressive feat, until August of this year 2009, when because of the worldwide current economical crisis it was forced to declare bankrupcy.

In 1968, it was created Sypa by a Turkish journalist called Goksin Spahioglu and his assistant Phyllis Springler, a remarkable young journalist from Kansas. This agency was quickly successful and a lot of editors, agents and photographers have worked for it since then through years.

On its turn, Vu is currently independent and has specialized in reportages made by photographers working abroad, as happened with the pictures taken by Christian Cajoulle of Chinese dissidents during the 1989 revolt in Tiannanmen Square, and whose identities are still protected.

Three years ago, it was for me a great honor to be bestowed in Paris by the great photographer Mark Riboud the Ordre National de la Légion d´Honneur, the highest and most prestigious decoration in France.

You have been a lot of times chosen for the international jury of World Press Photo. Which is in your viewpoint the influence of this prize in nowadays photojournalism?

Very high, because from sixties it has got an international dimension, a high percentage of the best photojournalists in the world compete in it, and approximately 4,000 photographers from more than a hundred countries submit their pictures, with the added benefit of the exhibition of prize winning images in thirty-eight countries.

From its creation in 1955 by the Dutch Society of Photo Reporters, World Press Photo grew more and more, and its turning point was in 1966 when the Holland magazine editor Joop Awart became its director, wisely balancing a jury made up by a mixture of Western countries, East Europe and Third World Countries.

I had the chance of talking personally to this visionary man, both in 1974, when he went to receive me to Schiphol airport in Amsterdam for the first time I arrived in Holland from New York to be a jury member for the World Press Photo Competition, and in 1989 when he invited me to chair the jury of the 1988 World Press Photo.

It is a very consolidated and important prize, featuring great international prestige.

From the beginning of nineties, there were some voices stating that photojournalism would quickly disappear before the arrival of the XXI Century. What do you think about it?

John G, Morris: Obviously those foretelling that thing were utterly wrong.

The photojournalism has gone on existing till now, when we´re about to enter the second decade of XXI Century, and it goes on alive and kicking.

Some people thought that with the arrival of firstly the TV as generator of great massive audience figures, the digital age and the very powerful advent of internet, the "obsolete" photojournalism would extinguish, but it hasn´t happened that way.

The eighties decade of XX Century brought about the genesis of a new kind of photojournalist, epitomized by Peter Turnley, David Turnley, James Natchwey, Susan Meiselas, Sebastiao Salgado, Anthony Suau, Christopher Morris, etc, id est, roving photojournalists sporting tons of courage and dedication, often risking their lives and making pictures all over the world, projects undertaken by one individual, as happened with Salgado´s highly comprehensive " Workers"
gigantic project, showing men, women and children of different countries toiling with their hands, frequently under very hard conditions.

René Burri is also a world class photographer in the tradition of the international reportage in the grand manner.

On the other hand, since 1989, the Visa Pour L´Image outstanding Perpignan (France) Annual Convention of Photojournalism has gone to great lengths gathering thousands and thousands of photojournalists from all over the world and a lot of conferences, projections and exhibitions are held there every year, some of them unforgettable as the exhibition held during 1997 Visa Pour L´Image featuring 50 pictures made by Allan Tannenbaum

Visa Pour L´Image has managed to also become a full-grown international event.

Photojournalism is necessary to attract attention on things needing it as the futility of war, the extreme poverty of inhabitants of wide areas of the globe, the threats to the environment, the social injustices, etc.

It must also be clearly said that quality of the photojournalism should be top priority, because sometimes the overwhelming quantity of photojournalists at one event can create get in each other´s way and a kind of smothering of the event itself, which may bring about a huge duplication of images.

We can´t forget either that because of the tremendous weight of the mass media, journalism is currently often mixed with various percentages of entertainment in a steady search for profitability, and it seems apparent that censorship is or less everywhere to greater or lesser extent, not only in war areas.

But in spite of all the problems and difficulties times inherent to these times of economical crisis, photojournalism appears with all of its strength and character every and other time, specially at the most critical moments, as happened during the terrorist attack on New York World Trade Center Towers on September 11, 2001.

I have devoted my whole professional life to tell the story through pictures, and I want to make use of this occasion to pay homage to the many photojournalists that went there to approach as much as possible and get the pictures of that gruesome event, risking their lives: Bill Biggart, who went in with the firemen and died when the second tower collapsed; Jim Natchwey (Time), Steve Ludlum, Judith Fremsen, Kelly Guenther Justin Lane (New York Times); Charles Krupa
(AP), Marty Lederhandler (AP); Eli Reed, Paul Fusco, Dennis Stock, Larry Towel, Susan Meiselas, Chien-Chi Chang, David Alan Harvey, Steve McCurry, Bruce Gilden, Thomas Hoepker and Alex Webb (Magnum), Allan Tannenbaum (Polaris), etc.

TV and photojournalism shouldn´t be ever rival, because they greatly complement each other, and this was proved that day.

There were a lot of photographers risking their lives to get the best possible images. In the same way as TV cameras everywhere, photojournalists were indispensable that day.

In any case, if there´s any crisis of photojournalism, it is related to editing and publishing, not to pictures and photographers.

It is also true that times have changed and because of the current circumnstances of the photographic market, nowadays good photographers are progressively turning to shoot subjects in which they are really interested, promoting themselves by producing top quality books, exhibitions, personal web pages in internet, etc, looking for the best commercial outlets, and to attain it they´ll have to be highly steady and passionate in their work.

The arrival of the new technologies has had in my viewpoint a very positive effect with the birth of more and more online magazines devoted to photojournalism, which have quickly flourished.

In this regard, world class examples like Digital Journalist, NPPA and PDN online make me be optimistic about the future of photojournalism and the genesis of future vocations, along with the audience attending to all kind of photographic exhibitions, lectures, etc, who is growing by leap and bounds, much more at present than ever.

Do you need that there´s currently a need of good picture editors?

John G. Morris: Absolutely, because an enormous percentage of the millions and millions of pictures taken nowadays are real junk and aren´t worthy of publication.

It seems that often very good photographers are poor editors. What´s the reason for it?

I don´t know, but it is frequently true. That´s why, among other aspects, the picture editor´s role is so decisive, because his mission is to study the message conveyed by the photograph, along with its visual impact. He must find the most representative image or images of a remarkable story. I always insisted in the great importance of watching the contact sheets of each spool. I miss things like this today.

Which are for you the most important ingredients that define a good photographer?

John G. Morris: Head, heart and a good eye.