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New Compilation Captures 'Life' In Photographs

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New Compilation Captures 'Life' In Photographs

Art & Design

New Compilation Captures 'Life' In Photographs

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Think of some of the photographs that we all know instantly. A World War Two sailor grabs a nurse and plants a kiss on her in the middle of Times Square. Can't you just see that image? Here's another one, a beaming Harry S. Truman holds a newspaper up in the air, the headline, Dewey defeats Truman. You had that one before I finished the sentence.

America got its first look at those photos in the pages of Life Magazine. Well, last year, Life, it died. But Life books is taking over where the magazine left off. A new compilation of Life's most indelible images is out. It's called "Life: The Classic Collection." Bobbi Baker Burrows is the director of photography for Life books, and she joins me from NPR's New York studios. Hello.

Ms. BOBBI BAKER BURROWS (Director of Photography, Life Books): Good afternoon.

SEABROOK: This is just an amazing array of photographs in this book. We have a slide show of them on our website, npr.org. People can follow along there. The one I want to start with is on page 100. Let's turn to that. It was taken from the point of view of a puppet show looking at the kids watching the puppet show.

Ms. BURROWS: St. George and the Dragon.

SEABROOK: And the faces of these children express the whole range of human emotion it feels like. You've got wonder and amazement and joy and even a little fear all at once. It's just this living, vibrant photograph.

Ms. BURROWS: Yes. And this was what was so special about our photographers. I see who shot this, Alfred Eisenstaedt in 1963. It's in Paris in the (unintelligible) park. He was actually shooting the puppet show, and like a lot of the great photographers, he would wonder, what angle don't I have. What should I shoot that no one else is shooting? And anticipation, he always said anticipation was so important, so he anticipated that these children would react like that at the end of the show.

SEABROOK: You could almost look at this picture forever and just find new emotions in it. It's almost, you know, an analog for the entire book itself because across all of the photos in this book, you see such a range of emotions. Page 26, there is a fabulous portrait of Salvador Dali.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURROWS: Yeah.

SEABROOK: I don't even know how you do this picture. As my producer said, this is photoshopped. But, of course, it's not.

Ms. BURROWS: No, it's not.

SEABROOK: It's Dali, standing by one - his easel. And there is water shooting out of one side of the picture and falling into the ground and three black cats being thrown across this picture. It's just unbelievable. It's just so surreal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURROWS: Well, Salvador Dali was just so eccentric himself, and Philippe Halsman was known for his - you may have heard of the jump book. He got all these famous people to jump for him, including the duke and duchess of Windsor. And through that technique, everybody let their hair down, so he took it to another extreme with this photograph.

SEABROOK: It's just fantastically difficult to figure out.

Ms. BURROWS: It was six - it took them six hours, and I think they threw everything 28 times, and everybody at the end of this photo session, everybody was completely collapsed. The only live thing that was still jumping were the cats. They were just all set to go again.

SEABROOK: It's great. Let's go on to two radically different views of the Kennedys. Starting with this picture, you've - it's a Hank Walker shot, he was the photographer, of Jack and Bobby Kennedy talking in a hotel room sitting across from one another, and it's backlit so that you just see the silhouettes of this two men, but you can tell so easily who they are.

Ms. BURROWS: It's a very intimate moment between Jack and Bobby on the campaign trail. It was in the Los Angeles hotel in 1960, and I believe they were discussing Lyndon Johnson being on the ticket, and that was not sitting well with Bobby. And, you know, the interesting thing is photographers, this is the trust that our subjects had. Our photographers were allowed in when sometimes the most personal conversations were taking place, knowing full well that this would remain private.

SEABROOK: This next photograph gives me chills. It's on the next page. It's the moment after Bobby Kennedy has been shot and is lying on the...

Ms. BURROWS: It's in the kitchen at the Los Angeles Hotel.

SEABROOK: And there's a busboy crouched by Bobby Kennedy's head, and the busboy is, you know - Bobby Kennedy is sort of...

Ms. BURROWS: Juan Romero is his name.

SEABROOK: Bobby Kennedy's face is half lit, and the busboy is - looks up at the camera in this, just in the moment that he realizes, you know, the world has ended.

Ms. BURROWS: Yes. There was a moment there where everything was clear around him, and Bill Eppridge, who shot this picture, being very sensitive and knowing - this is his friend, not just somebody who's running for president. This was his friend lying on the floor. In one second, Bill had to make that decision. He was there to document it. There were other people there that could try to save him, and the crowd parted. He shot two frames. One was a little blurred. In this one, the busboy just looked at him. He saw that stare, snapped the picture, and it all closed in again.

SEABROOK: Mm. Bobby Baker Burrows, after looking at all these beautiful, awe inspiring photos, it's kind of a shame that Life Magazine doesn't exist anymore to document our culture.

Ms. BURROWS: It really is, and I'm forever hopeful, you know. I'm a pollyanna. I think, Life - why do we have that name, Life. You can't kill it. It'll come out again. Well, we're starting a website which will, you know, that will be interesting and fun. And who knows? There may be a place for it again some time, somewhere, and I'm always forever hopeful. I say never, never say it's gone for good.

SEABROOK: Bobby Baker Burrows is the director of photography for Life Books. The new compilation of photographs is called "Life: The Classic Collection." Thanks so much for joining us.

Ms. BURROWS: Well, thank you for having me.

SEABROOK: Check out that slideshow on our website with Bobbi Baker Burrows talking about a few of the classic images from the book. It's at npr.org.

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