From The Library Of 'Life'

Looking Back At The Great 'Life' Photographers

Life really has an unfair advantage when it comes to curating art books. At least in the photography category, it has one of the most extensive, impressive archives from which to cull. For decades the pages of Life were home to the best photographers, and it was just about every amateur photographer's aspiration to be in those pages.

Some of the photos you've seen, like the sailor kissing the nurse on V-J Day in Times Square. Others you may not know, but can instantly appreciate: Kennedy and baby Caroline, Jackie Robinson rounding third base at the World Series, Picasso painting with light — and in a bathtub.

The Great Life Photographers
Time Inc.

So add The Great Life Photographers to your list of holiday gift books. The paperback edition of the 2004 visual encyclopedia was released in October and contains 600 pages of Life's best photography. Daunted by the prospect of making an even smaller edit, I asked Barbara Baker Burrows, director of photography at Life Books, to pick some of her favorites. Her edit and commentary constitute this gallery. But you can see more Life classics on the Life Books website.

  • Although many had a speciality, Life's photographers were a versatile group. One of the founding four, Margaret Bourke-White's work showed that range: She shot the magazine's first cover, a minimalist architectural view of Fort Peck Dam. But she also caught the intimate details of the lives of those who built it. My preference is for these more personal photographs: the Louisville bread ...
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    Although many had a speciality, Life's photographers were a versatile group. One of the founding four, Margaret Bourke-White's work showed that range: She shot the magazine's first cover, a minimalist architectural view of Fort Peck Dam. But she also caught the intimate details of the lives of those who built it. My preference is for these more personal photographs: the Louisville bread line, Buchenwald and Gandhi. Waiting for bread during the Louisville flood, 1937
    Margaret Bourke-White/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • As a significant event and a famous picture, you might expect to see here Alfred Eisenstaedt's sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. Of course it is in the book, but unseen in that photograph is the quality that guided Eisie's photography: anticipation. And so it was at a puppet show in Paris; he anticipated the slaying of the dragon and captured the young audience's surprise and delight. Pup...
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    As a significant event and a famous picture, you might expect to see here Alfred Eisenstaedt's sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square. Of course it is in the book, but unseen in that photograph is the quality that guided Eisie's photography: anticipation. And so it was at a puppet show in Paris; he anticipated the slaying of the dragon and captured the young audience's surprise and delight. Puppet show, Tuileries, Paris, 1963
    Alfred Eisenstaedt/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Also momentous was the rush to develop nuclear weapons.  Several of our photographers worked in the terrible aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bomb also produced a number of deceptively beautiful photographs such as those of an artificial dawn over the blue Pacific. On U.S. soil, J. Eyerman showed a darker view of man's accomplishment. Civil defense officials watching an atomic-bomb ...
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    Also momentous was the rush to develop nuclear weapons. Several of our photographers worked in the terrible aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but the bomb also produced a number of deceptively beautiful photographs such as those of an artificial dawn over the blue Pacific. On U.S. soil, J. Eyerman showed a darker view of man's accomplishment. Civil defense officials watching an atomic-bomb test seven miles away, Yucca Flat, Nev., 1953
    J.R. Eyerman/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Bob Landry's photograph of Rita Hayworth — given an accidental depth by both a misfired flash and a reporter's teasing remark — became the War's universal pinup. Life reveled in Hollywood, and Hollywood reciprocated by giving Life unique access.
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    Bob Landry's photograph of Rita Hayworth — given an accidental depth by both a misfired flash and a reporter's teasing remark — became the War's universal pinup. Life reveled in Hollywood, and Hollywood reciprocated by giving Life unique access.
    Bob Landry/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • What could be more important than life itself? Lennart Nilsson is as much a scientist as he is a photographer. His 1965 story about the "Drama of Life Before Birth" was a decade in the making, and was like nothing we had seen. The pictures of a well-formed fetus floating as if in space sparked a fresh debate about when life begins. When I directly asked Lennart the question, he demurred:  "Perh...
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    What could be more important than life itself? Lennart Nilsson is as much a scientist as he is a photographer. His 1965 story about the "Drama of Life Before Birth" was a decade in the making, and was like nothing we had seen. The pictures of a well-formed fetus floating as if in space sparked a fresh debate about when life begins. When I directly asked Lennart the question, he demurred: "Perhaps, with a kiss."
    Lennart Nilsson/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • After being driven by the Japanese from the Philippines in the early days of World War II, General MacArthur (center) famously vowed to return. Almost three years later, in 1945, a photography-aware MacArthur made sure that Carl Mydans was there as he splashed ashore.
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    After being driven by the Japanese from the Philippines in the early days of World War II, General MacArthur (center) famously vowed to return. Almost three years later, in 1945, a photography-aware MacArthur made sure that Carl Mydans was there as he splashed ashore.
    Carl Mydans/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Gene Smith was our master essayist and a troubled perfectionist.  Relatively late in life, his essay on mercury poisoning in Minamata (Japan) awakened an environmental movement, but years earlier his story-telling ability produced the "Country Doctor," "Spanish Village" and "Nurse Midwife." "Country Doctor" Ernest Ceriani, Klemmling, Colo., 1948
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    Gene Smith was our master essayist and a troubled perfectionist. Relatively late in life, his essay on mercury poisoning in Minamata (Japan) awakened an environmental movement, but years earlier his story-telling ability produced the "Country Doctor," "Spanish Village" and "Nurse Midwife." "Country Doctor" Ernest Ceriani, Klemmling, Colo., 1948
    W. Eugene Smith/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Life exclusively owned the personal stories of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Ralph Morse was there at the beginning to take this photograph of Alan Shepard on his way to becoming the first American in space; he was also there the first time John Glenn orbited the earth. Fla., 1961
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    Life exclusively owned the personal stories of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts. Ralph Morse was there at the beginning to take this photograph of Alan Shepard on his way to becoming the first American in space; he was also there the first time John Glenn orbited the earth. Fla., 1961
    Alfred Eisenstaedt/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Larry started out in the darkroom, and early in his career became expert in the exacting skill of photographing the paintings of the old masters and the art collections of Europe. What he learned he took to his own photography for there is a painterly quality in his work.  Much of that work is at war, and in Vietnam he produced the first icon of war in color.U.S. Marine gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah P...
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    Larry started out in the darkroom, and early in his career became expert in the exacting skill of photographing the paintings of the old masters and the art collections of Europe. What he learned he took to his own photography for there is a painterly quality in his work. Much of that work is at war, and in Vietnam he produced the first icon of war in color.U.S. Marine gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Purdie moments after learning that an exploding shell had killed his commanding officer and another man, Nui Cay Tre, South Vietnam, Oct. 1966
    Larry Burrows/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • In his story on Flavio, a chronically ill Brazilian boy from Rio's favelas, Gordon Parks personalized the poverty of a continent.  Contributions from Life's readers provided two years of treatment for Flavio at a hospital in Denver, a new home in Rio, and built a drainage system for the whole favela. He survived, and Parks — photographer, filmmaker, musician, author and poet ... would lo...
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    In his story on Flavio, a chronically ill Brazilian boy from Rio's favelas, Gordon Parks personalized the poverty of a continent. Contributions from Life's readers provided two years of treatment for Flavio at a hospital in Denver, a new home in Rio, and built a drainage system for the whole favela. He survived, and Parks — photographer, filmmaker, musician, author and poet ... would look back on their time together as "some of the most tender moments of my life." Flavio da Silva, Rio de Janeiro, 1961
    Gordon Parks/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography
  • Loomis Dean grew up around the circus and had a marvelous sense of humor. Despite the mistaken first impression that might come with seeing Donald and Trigger, to me it is warm, whimsical and fun — just like the man behind the lens. Donald, who habitually convinces dogs to retrieve him from water, rescued by Trigger, Yakima, Wash., 1949
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    Loomis Dean grew up around the circus and had a marvelous sense of humor. Despite the mistaken first impression that might come with seeing Donald and Trigger, to me it is warm, whimsical and fun — just like the man behind the lens. Donald, who habitually convinces dogs to retrieve him from water, rescued by Trigger, Yakima, Wash., 1949
    Loomis Dean/Little, Brown and Company/Selected and with commentary by Barbara Baker Burrows, Director of Photography

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