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New Compilation Captures 'Life' In Photographs

Nov 2, 2008 (All Things Considered)

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In its heyday, Life magazine gave America its first look at some of the most iconic images of the 20th century: A World War II sailor smooching with a nurse in the middle of Times Square. A cleaning woman stiffly holding a mop and a broom in front of an American flag. A beaming Harry S. Truman brandishing the Chicago Daily Tribune story of his "defeat" at the hands of Thomas Dewey.

But the magazine published its final issue in April 2007. Now, Life Books has taken over where the magazine left off, assembling some of its most indelible images in a compilation called Life: The Classic Collection.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook spoke with Bobbi Baker Burrows, Life Books' director of photography, who offered her insights into some images in the collection. She also shared anecdotes about the photographers and their subjects, such as Alfred Eisenstaedt's shot of children at a puppet theater in Paris.

"This is what was so special about our photographers," Burrows said. "Like a lot of the great photographers, [Eisenstaedt] would wonder, 'What angle don't I have? What should I shoot that no one else is shooting?' And anticipation — he always said anticipation was so important."

Life's photographers were often granted intimate access to their subjects' lives, Burrows said. She cited as an example a Hank Walker photograph of Jack and Bobby Kennedy speaking in a hotel room on the campaign trail in 1960.

"I believe they were discussing Lyndon Johnson being on the ticket. And that was not sitting well with Bobby," she said. "This is the trust that our subjects had. Our photographers were allowed in when sometimes the most personal conversations were taking place, knowing full well that this would remain private."

At least for a while.

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