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The Press: Life with LIFE

4 minute read

Journalism was once a word game. Even such swashbucklers as Richard Harding Davis were devoted entirely to getting the right words out of the right place at the right time. When photo-journalism began, it demanded a different kind of ingenuity and intrepidity. This week the resourcefulness and patience of good photojournalists are described in How LIFE Gets the Story&*; an illustrated view behind the scenes of 41 LIFE assignments.

The pioneer, and the biggest (circ. 5,650,000), picture magazine in the world, LIFE uses only one in 50 of the half-million pictures its editors look at every year. For the one in 50, LIFE photographers often go to extraordinary lengths. Samples: ¶ On the frozen fastness of the Canadian arctic, LIFE Photographer Fritz Goro and Reporter James Goode worked for seven weeks in silent isolation, photographing a corner of the world few men had ever seen before, where the weather extremes far surpass the farthest reaches of the arctic. Their radio could receive messages but could not send. Movement was so difficult that it once took them five days to reach a photographic objective barely ten miles from their two-tent camp. For another five days, rising water in the spring thaw completely cut them off from land. As their provisions dwindled, they lived on canned macaroni alone, because the fish they hooked were too big to land on their lines. When an airplane finally picked them off the permafrost, LIFE printed their memorable full-color photographs of the Canadian tundra.

¶To photograph islands in the South Seas, Photographer Eliot Elisofon traveled 30,000 miles, partly by copra schooner and outrigger canoe, on the island of Nuku Hiva, made an archaeological discovery of carved idols.

¶ Photographer Dmitri Kessel worked eight days to get one picture in authentic color of Tintoretto’s The Annunciation in Venice’s School of San Rocco. One of his biggest problems was to keep both his camera and the 166-in. -by-214 ½-inch framed painting, which had been on the wall for almost 400 years, dead still for a 45-minute time exposure. After overcoming the hazards of Venice’s crowded streets and ringing church bells, both resulting in imperceptible vibrations of the building’s walls, Kessel discovered another hazard that blurred his picture. The heat from the floodlights made warm air behind the painting push the canvas almost microscopically while his shutter was open. He finally prevented that by heating the painting beforehand with lights. The result was worth the effort: Italian art experts said that Kessel’s results “succeeded for the first time in reproducing photographically Tintoretto’s original colors as the artist himself must have seen them.” ¶ To photograph the rain forests of Dutch Guiana, a LIFE team, including Photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, loaded porters with ten tons of equipment including telephone linemen’s climbing spikes, seven cameras, and nearly a mile of Manila rope, built a 120-ft. tree house in the jungle to get above the trees and came back with 4,000 negatives. (LIFE used 29.) ¶ Photographer Margaret Bourke-White dangled from a cable dropped from a helicopter for aerial views of the U.S. ¶ In a Florida lagoon. Photographer Hank Walker mounted a camera on a sunken ship, connected it to shore by 4,000 ft. of cable so that he could shoot a jet plane coming head-on to a target with its rockets blazing. A direct hit smashed the camera, but left the film magazine intact. ¶ Photographer Michael Rougier, shooting pictures of Communist May Day rioters in Tokyo, suddenly found himself the main target of attack.

* Doubleday, $5, written and edited by LIFE Promotion Writer Stanley Rayfield.

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