[versão em português aqui] | interview by ignacio aronovich / lost art


John G. Morris is the world's most experienced PHOTO EDITOR. In his distinguished career he has been Hollywood correspondent for LIFE, picture editor for LIFE (*) during World War II, the first picture editor for MAGNUM Photos, picture editor for the Washington Post and The New York Times, and a correspondent editor for National Geographic.

1) What is the question you are most asked when interviewed?

I'm most frequently asked to tell the story (*) of Robert Capa's D-day pictures.

2) Your career is part of the history of photojournalism, not only as a witness but also as a key participant in defining the visual memory of the last century. How does it feel to have individually chosen the published images that will forever stand as the icons of our time?

Frustrated, as I feel that the world did not learn as much from reading
those publications as I had hoped-we still have conflict today.

3) At a time before television, as photo editor at LIFE you were responsible for the visual content of "America's Most Powerful Editorial Force". As an editor, do you feel you were able to manipulate public perception of events through your selection? How conscious were you of this during the process?

I was quite conscious that we were part of the war effort.

4) You spent time with Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Chim, Werner Bischof, Erwitt, Sebastião Salgado, W. Eugene Smith, just to list a few of the greatest photographers you edited. Do you have a personal favorite photographer?

I have often said that I learned most from Capa in personal ways (he
brought me Paris, for example); he was a superb photojournalist; Henri
taught me to judge photos as art and to think about them. Gene Smith
infected me with his passion. I loved them all, and you could add Ernst
, a truly great photographer who has been neglected.

5) You edited iconic images which had great impact worldwide. Images such as Eddie Adams' (*) execution photo, (*) just to cite one example. Which photo you edited do you think caused the most change in an issue?

Perhaps the Eddie Adams, which shocked Americans into a realization of how brutal that war was.

6) You photographed a captured German soldier at the siege of the Port of Saint-Malo. A few minutes before this soldier was shooting at you. When you took his picture you thought, "you poor kid". Do you have any information about the soldier in the picture after this fact?

No. I don't know for sure that HE was the one who shot at me; he was one of a group and one of them had probably shot at me.

7) The time after the liberation of Paris was unique. You met Cartier-Bresson and he introduced you to Doisneau and Brassai (among others). You also met Marlene Dietrich at this time. How did you feel when you discovered/met these amazing photographers at this time?

Very fortunate.

8) You have stated "being depressed about the failure of the public to respond to what we have done so far". After a century of strong images, humans are still at war, torture still occurs, and atrocities continue. We are bombarded daily with an endless amount of images from all over the world. Have humans become desensitized? Can images still create change even if "the child of the future can become a picture editor by simply choosing from a daily menu"?

Those are good questions and I don't know the answers.

9) Most media has shifted from news coverage to entertainment. Celebrities sell more magazines than world issues. Medicins Sans Frontieres just released a report titled "The Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2006". "Untruth lies in the things unphotographed". Do you think documenting these stories can bring change?

That has always been my hope. One thing I find encouraging is that we are now more likely to see BOTH,or ALL sides of a conflict.

10) In France (and in Brazil) droit d'auteur
(*) and an increased perception of personal rights have made it increasingly difficult for photographers to operate. Brazilian photographers have been sued for publishing photos of people in public. As a result, some are going to the extreme of photographing people from behind their back so they may not be identified and subsequently sue. Candid photography is threatened and documentation projects are subject to legal action. More and more places restrict photography and limit its use. Even the nocturnal illumination of the Eiffel Tower has been copyrighted. Is there an end to this or will all photographers just have to ignore/work around these restrictions (and pay the consequences)?

This is a terrible problem, especially if it inhibits photojournalists from
taking pictures of REAL life instead of setup situations.

11) Digital photography and the internet have changed the world. We now have instant coverage of worldwide issues not only by professional media but with the popularization of digital cameras also by amateurs. Individuals are now able to report as they wish without foreign intervention. However, digital manipulation and recent cases of altered photos have cast a shadow of doubt on the trustworthiness of some of this information. Everyone can be their own editor, what now?

Professional picture editors are more needed than ever. A huge percentage of the huge number of pictures now taken are junk and don't deserve publication. Alteration is a problem but photos have always been retouched.

12) In 1991 you and seventeen american expatriates formed Americans for Peace in an attempt to stop the Gulf War and find other ways of punishing Saddam Hussein. He is now dead. Bush is sending more troops to Iraq. Are you still able to remain optimistic about the future?

I am more concerned about my country's actions around the world-foremost in Iraq-than ever in my 90 years. I am for withdrawing from Iraq and for disarmament-starting with the U.S.

13) After all these years, do you have any regrets?

I regret not having been able to convince people that "People Are People, the World Over." There should be no hatred based on religion, race and nationality.

14) What is the best venue/magazine(s) today to publish/view photography in?

In my view newspapers have eclipsed magazines. I think today's New York Times does a superb job with photos. I give World Press Photo some credit; press agencies now do a far better job than they once did.

15) Favorite photographic exhibition space?

Hard to say. I love the big outdoor exhibitions that have been pioneered by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

16) Do you photograph? Do you take any photos for yourself? Nowadays?

No, very seldom. I don't regard myself as a photographer.

17) Favorite restaurant in Paris?

I'm not a gourmet. I eat just across the street in a very popular place
called Chez Janou.


18) Is the John G. Morris collection in the University of Chicago Library available to the public?

It will be available to scholars, but probably not until late 2007 or early 2008. It takes time for them to put it in order,and the papers have not even arrived there yet.


19) Any comment on Magnum today?

The miracle is that Magnum survives, while many of its best clients have fallen (e.g.Life and yesterday Time fired many people).


20) With digital transmissions from the field, photjournalists have become their own editors. As the most experienced photo editor in history, what would be your advice for their editing?

Some very good photographers are poor editors, which I have never understood. They fail to analyze the MESSAGE conveyed by the photo. Others ignore FORM-I learned most about editing from that standpoint by working with Cartier-Bresson. He learned from going to museums and studying art.






John G. Morris LINKS:

NPPA : It's Just One World

NPPA: A Letter from Paris : John G. Morris Remembers Perpignan

Beyond Words : John G. Morris

Photo Quotes : John G. Morris

Village Voice : Bonjour Bourget by John G. Morris

Get The Picture Book Review by Marianne Fulton

Nieman Reports : Harvard University : Get the Picture by John G. Morris


Get the Picture by John G. Morris

The University of Chicago Press


copyright © 2007 Lost Art

LOST ART | see also: Robert Young Pelton Interview