Keith de Lellis Gallery presents a selection of over fifty photographs assigned by the editors for the pages of Life Magazine, one of the most renowned picture magazines in the world. Published weekly from 1936 to 1972, the magazine chronicled in image and word every historical event both big and small that impacted the lives of Americans north, south, east and west. Life revolutionized how readers experienced these historical events by pioneering the photo-essay, where narratives are told through the power of pictures while words take on a less significant role. This exhibition captures the wide-ranging themes published in Life Magazine including politics, war and race to popular culture, major sporting events and everyday moments that were at the heart of American culture in the twentieth century.
Henry Luce, the founder of Life, declared the mission of the magazine was to allow the American public “to see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events…to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed…”. Through this visionary mission a new generation of prodigious photojournalists emerged who documented the most important events felt across the nation, such as Ralph Morse’s (1917-2014) photograph of twenty-two-year-old Cassius Clay celebrating his momentous victory over Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing world title in 1964. In stark contrast are two images by Jack Jenkins and Joe Scherschel (1921-2004) that reveal the cruel realities experienced by young black students as crowds of white supremacists taunt them in protest of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case which outlawed segregation in schools in 1954.
Compelling images of President John F. Kennedy are highlighted in this exhibition, including documentation of the nation’s first televised presidential debates between Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 and the more intimate moments he shared with his wife Jacqueline and daughter Caroline at their summer home in Hyannis Port. Also on view are the famous stills from Abraham Zapruder’s (1905-1970) footage of president John F. Kennedy’s devastating assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
On display in That’s Life are the emblematic NASA images of astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon in 1969 and a significant photograph of the distinctive mushroom cloud that emerged from the many nuclear explosion tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1946. The striking portraits of historical figures taken by Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002), credited as one of the greatest portrait photographers of his time, capture Pulitzer Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill. Also on view are images of cultural icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russell, Dorothy Dandridge, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Artists in the exhibition include Gordon Parks (1912-2006) who was the first African American staff photographer for Life Magazine, Margaret-Bourke White (1904-1971) who served as the first female war correspondent to work in combat zones during World War II and the magazine’s first female photojournalist along with Cornell Capa (1918-2008), the distinguished photographer who served as president of Magnum Photos until 1960 and founded the influential International Center of Photography in 1974.
With an incredible staff of star photojournalists, it is unsurprising that many went on to create stunning works of art in their own right, such as Flip Schulke’s (1930-2008) innovative underwater images of Muhammad Ali or the scenes by Marvin E. Newman (b. 1927) that masterfully abstract the visible world through high-contrast black and white film. The remarkable photographs on display in That’s Life continue to speak for themselves in the same way as when they were first published, making it clear that it was the pictures that defined Life Magazine.