Life Magazine Stories with Michael Durham

This past week in Process & Skills, we met Michael Durham, a former photographer, reporter, and researcher at Life, who came to speak to our class about his experiences working for the magazine.  As we are all currently working on a photo essay, this provided us with a wonderful opportunity to learn from a professional and find inspiration.

Listening to Mr. Durham’s stories about working at the magazine was like listening to a real-life Forrest Gump.  When he began his talk with a story about how he was hired by Life after his coverage of a tuna tournament in Massachusetts was spotted by an editor from New York, I knew he was going to be interesting.  I did not quite expect, however, to hear that over the course of his 11 years at the magazine, he would meet Malcolm X, the Beatles, or the leader of the KKK, and report on the Birmingham riots and the March on Washington in 1963, the 1968 Olympics, or the gay liberation movement of 1972. He was one of the first reporters on the scene after President Kennedy was shot, and very nearly got an interview with Martin Luther King Jr.–if only he bought the Birmingham rioters whistles to divert the police dogs (rule #1–journalists shouldn’t get involved in the story they are reporting on!).  It was incredible to hear these familiar historical episodes from someone who had witnessed them so closely.

The main takeaway from all this was most certainly that reporting, and getting “the” photograph, are a lot of hard work.  Sometimes, too, it is all for naught–Mr. Durham also recounted a story of how he and a fellow photographer had made a particularly demanding trip to Antarctica for six weeks to do a story for the magazine, during which his friend fell off a mountain and nearly died, and the story never ran.  So many stories that he worked on, in fact, never ran.  Countless hours, trips, miles, and money spent for a story never to see the light of day.  I think that, for us young designers, this is a very important lesson to learn; sometimes, as students, we might spend hours, days, or weeks working on a project, for it not to work out.  We might be out there taking hundreds of photos for our essays, to only come up with 10 that carry the message we want to convey.  It’s tough work.  But hey, who’s to say that somewhere along the way, we won’t meet some amazing people and witness some incredible things, like Mr. Durham?  It’s all about the process, and I think that Mr. Durham is himself an example that hard work is not without reward; at the very least, it gives you some unbelievable memories!

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LIFE Magazine : A Presentation by Michael S. Durham

Margaret Bourke - White's photograph appeared on the first issue of LIFE published in November 23, 1936. Hear more about Bourke- White and the cover story.
Margaret Bourke-White’s photograph appeared on the first issue of LIFE published in November 23, 1936. Hear more about Bourke-White and the cover story.

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WEDENESDAY, OCTOBER 14th at 7:00 PM

In The Bark Room | 2 West 13th Street

Michael S. Durham worked as a reporter, correspondent, and editor at LIFE magazine. After two years in the U.S. Army took job as reporter for Gloucester (Massachusetts) Daily Times and then joined the staff of LIFE in 1961.

Michael S. Durham after being beaten during racial violencein Jacksonville, March 24, 1964. Photo courtesy Michael S. Durham.
Michael S. Durham after being beaten during racial violence in Jacksonville, March 24, 1964. Photo courtesy Michael S. Durham.

In April 1963 was arrested and jailed with photographer Charles Moore while covering demonstrations in Birmingham. Also reported on murder of civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Mississippi voter registration campaigns. Was correspondent in Life’s Paris bureau (1965-69) and a Life editor, based in New York City; later edited Americana magazine (1973-87) and worked as freelance writer. His books include Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photographs of Charles Moore (1991); two volumes in the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America series; The Miracles of Mary (1995) and Desert Between the Mountains (1997).

Eve Arnold: Magnum Legacy Series | A New Book

From AnOther Site:

A party to introduce blacks to whites during civil rights strike in America, 1958 | © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
A party to introduce blacks to whites during civil rights strike in America, 1958 | © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

“Being a woman is just a marvelous plus in photographing. Men like to be photographed by women, it becomes flirtatious and fun, and women feel less
as if they’re expected to be in a relationship.”

So wrote pioneering women photographer Eve Arnold, subject of a new book written by her friend Janine di Giovanni as part of the Magnum Legacy series. Called simply Eve Arnold, the book is a joyous journey through Arnold’s exceptional life, notes AnOther, which tells the stories behind some of Arnold’s memorable images.

Contact Sheet showing Joan Crawford applying makeup, 1959 | © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Contact Sheet showing Joan Crawford applying makeup, 1959 | © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960 |© Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960 |© Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

John Dominis, “The Valley of Poverty” (1964)

American documentary photographer John Dominis, who recently passed away, is perhaps best known for his work with LIFE magazine. In his 1964 work titled “The Valley of Poverty”, Dominis brings attention to the fact that in the 1960s – a time when most of America had long recovered from the Great Depression of the 1920s, the people of the Appalachian region were still living through a great deal of poverty. The photo series, mostly in black and white, truly captures the dire conditions of 1960s Appalachia – may it be through the harrowing expression on the subjects’ faces or through the rural expanses of snowy countryside. Select pictures from the series can be found on LIFE.com.

PS Dominis 4

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