Military testing at Fort Totten, L.I., 1937.
Military testing at Fort Totten, L.I. This image appeared in the Dec. 13, 1937 photo essay: Army Defends The U.S. From Air Attacks With These Three Types of Guns.Carl Mydans—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Military testing at Fort Totten, L.I., 1937.
Frightened Finnish villagers taking cover in the woods during a Russian air raid, 1940.
Male nurses bringing sick casualties into the hospital dug-out in Chungking, China, 1941.
Men ladling tin from the furnace into ingot molds to cool off. Singapore, 1941.
School at Japanese internment camp, Tule Lake, CA. 1944.
Old farmers relaxing at a Szechuan teahouse after market day in a village near Chengtu. This image appeared in the May 1, 1944 feature: "LIFE" Looks at China—Through the blockade one of its correspondents brings this firsthand report.
American soldiers passing refugees fleeing the fighting somewhere in the mountains of Italy during WWII. 1944.
Filipinos wearing burlap clothing. This image appeared in the January 22, 1945 photo essay: The Battle Begins for Luzon.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur (C), Gen. Richard Sutherland (L) and Col. Lloyd Lehrbas (2L) wading ashore during American landing at Lingayen Gulf. This image appeared in the February 19, 1945 photo essay: U.S. Wins Heart of the Phillippines.
American soldiers of 6th Ranger battalion and Filipino guerillas returning from a misssion during which they freed Allied POW's. This image appeared in the February 26, 1945 photo essay: The Rescue At Cabanatuan—Rangers and Guerillas free Survivors of Bataan.
Friends using a baby carriage to transport a wounded woman to an aid station during the fight to reclaim the city from occupying Japanese troops. This image is an outtake from the March 5, 1945 photo essay: Santo Tomas is Delivered.
Two emaciated American civilians, Lee Rogers (L) John C. Todd, sitting outside a Japanese prison camp following their release by Allied forces liberating the city. This image appeared in the March 5, 1945 photo essay: Santo Tomas is Delivered.
Allied officers and crew crowd decks of US battleship Missouri as senior Japanese delegate Mamoru Shigemitsu signs official surrender documents ending WWII. This image appeared in the Sept. 17, 1945 feature: Japan Signs the Surrender.
Building collapse during an earthquake in Fukui, Japan. This image appeared in the July 12, 1948 photo essay: Disaster in Japan—LIFE Correspondent Caught in Fukui Covers Earthquake from Start to End.
Two of Sunchon's bereaved women mourn a loyal Korean who fell before a rebel slaughter squad as the rebellion began. This image appeared in the Nov. 15, 1948 photo essay: Revolt in Korea—A New Communist uprising turns men Into butchers.
US troops making an amphibious landing at P'ohang-Dong. This image appeared in the July 31, 1950 photo essay: Yanks Hit A Beach in Korea—The 1st Cabalry lands without opposition after a 700-mile voyage to reinforce U.S. defenses and provide first good news of the war.
Communist prisoners stripped down to their underwear are marched to the rear by Marine guards. This image appeared in the Oct. 9, 1950 photo essay: Seoul and Victory—Here is record way South Korea was retaken.
Korean mother nursing her baby as she transports all her belongings in a washbasin balanced on her head while retreating southward from Seoul. This image appeared in the Jan. 15, 1951 photo essay: We Head For Another Perimeter.
US troops and supplies moving through a village. This image appeared in the March 12, 1951 photo essay: Gen. Matt and Gen. Mud—Waterlogged Marines join U.N.'s Operation Killer.
Exhausted Marine catching a nap while sitting on a cart full of ammunition. This image appeared in the March 12, 1951 photo essay: Gen. Matt and Gen. Mud—Waterlogged Marines join U.N.'s Operation Killer.
Military testing at Fort Totten, L.I. This image appeared in the Dec. 13, 1937 photo essay: Army Defends The U.S. From A
... VIEW MORE

Carl Mydans—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
1 of 20

Photographer Spotlight: Carl Mydans

Carl Mydans credited his camera with getting him a job as one of LIFE Magazine's first photographers.

That idea may sound obvious, but—as Mydans expressed it in a 1992 oral-history interview—he meant it literally. Mydans was working as a writer for The American Banker, a special-interest publication, in the early 1930s. On his lunch break, he would go out and take pictures of street scenes. One day, he happened to see a man speaking on Wall Street on an actual soapbox; the man turned out to be Eugene Daniell, a rabble-rouser famous for having gotten tear gas into the ventilation system at the New York Stock Exchange. Thinking his pictures of Daniell might be newsworthy, Mydans tried to sell them to newspapers and wire services. The only publication that bit was TIME—and the image of Daniel that ran in the April 1, 1935, issue became Mydans' first published photograph.

But the camera, and not just the photo, caught the eye of the editor at TIME. Mydans—who was born May 20, 1907—used a small 35-mm. at a time when most photographers were still shooting with much larger cameras. A smaller camera meant the photographer could move around more easily, capturing the world as it was spinning. The early adopters of 35-mm. technology were just the people Time Inc. had in mind for something they were calling "Project X." That project would turn out to be the new LIFE Magazine, which launched in 1936. Mydans came on staff almost immediately.

"Making pictures and telling stories with my camera has been the center of my life ever since," Mydans said in 1992. That life, with the camera at its center, would prove to be one of the 20th century's most fascinating.

MORE: LIFE With MacArthur: The Landing at Luzon, the Philippines, 1945

Though Mydans' first assignments for LIFE were softer domestic stories, he had a way of colliding with world news, as these photographs from LIFE's archives make clear. Shortly after he met his wife Shelley, who was a LIFE researcher, at a company holiday party in 1937, World War II started. The two were off to France—with a pit stop for Mydans to have an emergency appendectomy on the way—and they would barely stop moving for the rest of their lives.

As TIME put it in a review of his 1959 book More Than Meets the Eye, "Mydans, living and working in a time of violence, [saw] more of history than most men."

MORE: JFK’s Assassination: Portrait of an Era When Newspapers Mattered

Time Inc. ArchivesAn undated map of the warfronts covered by Carl Mydans for LIFE between 1939 and Dec. 1943, found in the Time Inc. archives Time Inc. Archives 

During World War II, Mydans worked on the Finnish-Russian border and in Sweden, Britain, Italy, France, China, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. At one point, he was mistaken for a German paratrooper, accused of being a spy and arrested. When the Philippines were seized by the Japanese, Carl and Shelley were trapped, first interned on a university campus and later in China, prisoners of war for nearly two years. After they were repatriated in 1943, they hardly paused before returning to the field. Carl Mydans would be one of three American correspondents on board Gen. Douglas MacArthur's ship for his famed return to the Philippines, an episode that produced one of the photographer's best known shots, and he captured the wreck that was Hiroshima only two weeks after the bomb was dropped.

The 1945 Battle of Luzon, during which MacArthur led the Allies to victory in the Philippines, highlighted how close he was to the news: Mydans accompanied the troops liberating prisoners of war at camp Santo Tomas, the very place where he and his wife had been interned. The memorable headline in LIFE quoted one of the prisoners he saw rescued: "My God, it's Carl Mydans!"

The end of World War II did not mean an end to Mydans' work, a fact he would explore in The Violent Peace, a 1968 book he co-wrote with his wife about the post-war world. Not only did war continue (Mydans covered the Korean War for LIFE) but, even without a battlefield, the world was unsettled—sometimes literally, as during the earthquake he covered in Japan in 1948. Serving as Tokyo Bureau Chief and Moscow Bureau Chief, he worked for LIFE until the magazine ceased weekly publication in 1972, after which he worked mostly for TIME.

MORE: World War II in Color: The Italian Campaign and the Road to Rome

Mydans died in 2004, remembered by his friends and colleagues as a man who had witnessed the worst of humanity but remained to the end gentle and friendly and a consummate professional. The camera had gotten him a job at LIFE, and it had shaped the arc of his own life. And, as his body of work clearly shows, he did the camera justice.

"Marked by pride and delight and excitement in what we were doing under the new name 'photojournalists,'" he once wrote in a draft for an unpublished memoir, "we became storytellers and recorders of our times in pictures."

TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.