Books by John G. Morris

Released: June 1, 1998

A straightforward journalistic memoir by a photo editor responsible for assigning and publishing some of the defining images of the past half-century. Morris has a clear-eyed, detached perspective on his former role as one of the key arbiters of taste for such publications as Life, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. "The picture editor," he writes, "is the voyeur's voyeur, the person who sees what the photographers themselves have seen, but in the bloodless realm of contact sheets, proof prints, and yellow boxes of slides." His self-effacing description aside, Morris was much more than a voyeur during his long career—he was one of a handful of top picture editors with the power to shape Americans' collective memory of world events, from the London air raids of WWII to school desegregation in Little Rock. Morris discovered his profession in an era when making a deadline still meant that a photo editor would drive at breakneck speed through twisting streets of some foreign land, ditch his car by the side of the road, and run to deliver film to an international carrier. Morris did all that and more, championing the images of such photographers as Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David "Chim" Seymour, George Rodger, Elliott Erwitt, and Eugene Smith. They were, to him, "the most adventurous of journalists," he writes. "Unlike a reporter, who can piece together a story from a certain distance, a photographer must get onto the scene of the action . . . nothing must stand between him and reality." Although Morris does consciously acknowledge his own role as "a fixer of ‘reality' and ‘history,' " he still sees his profession with an unjaded eye, and rarely questions the reality he was trying to fix. Although lively, Morris's book is nothing more profound than a recitation of events and anecdotes; he only rarely steps back to reflect on the practice of photojournalism in what was, admittedly, its Golden Age. (90 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >