LIFE, the largely all-photographic American
news magazine, gave as much space and importance to images as to words

LIFE was first pub­lished in 1883 and it quick­ly became a vehi­cle for tal­ent­ed illus­tra­tors and car­toon­ists and humorists. In 1936, when pub­lish­er Hen­ry Luce bought LIFE mag­a­zine, he described to the mag­a­zine staff his vision of his new­ly acquired publication.

He told the staff that LIFE mag­a­zine was to focus on pho­tographs that would enable the Amer­i­can pub­lic “to see life; to see the world; to eye­wit­ness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the ges­tures of the proud; to see strange things — machines, armies, mul­ti­tudes, shad­ows in the jun­gle and on the moon; to see man’s work — his paint­ings, tow­ers and dis­cov­er­ies; to see things thou­sands of miles away, things hid­den behind walls and with­in rooms, things dan­ger­ous to come to; the women that men love and many chil­dren; to see and take plea­sure in see­ing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed…”

That’s what LIFE became. The mag­a­zine was a suc­cess for about 35 years, chang­ing with the times, tak­ing sides in pol­i­tics and inter­na­tion­al affairs, in arts and enter­tain­ment, and always demon­strat­ing the pow­er of photography.


LIFE’s cov­er, Novem­ber 18, 1940, marks the re-elec­tion of Franklin Roo­sevelt to his third term as pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States.

  “A newspic­ture mag­a­zine lives on new pic­tures. The face on this week’s cov­er is cer­tain­ly not new to LIFE’s mil­lions of read­ers. But to a major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans it is a face that they cher­ish and admire. Though in the past eight years it is a face that has been pho­tographed thou­sands of times in almost every con­ceiv­able pose and from almost every con­ceiv­able angle, it remains one of the inter­est­ing and expres­sive faces to appear before U.S. newscameras.”

LIFE’s cover, November 18, 1940


LIFE’s cov­er, March 1, 1963 fea­tured the remark­able pho­tographs by LIFE pho­tog­ra­ph­er Nina Leen illus­trat­ing her essay on snakes.

“Prob­a­bly the most remark­able pho­to­graph­ic feat of the sto­ry appears on page 46, in the pic­ture of a spit­ting cobra in the fierce act of dis­charg­ing its ven­om. Cobras spit with incred­i­ble accu­ra­cy, aim­ing their blind­ing ven­om at the eyes of their ene­mies with such speed that there is scarce­ly time to blink, let alone press a shut­ter. Nina resolved to do that.”

LIFE’s cover, March 1, 1963

Human interest:

LIFE’s cov­er, July 21, 1961 was a sequel to a pho­to­graph­ic essay “Freedom’s Fear­ful Foe: Pover­ty” (June 16) detail­ing how 12 year old Flavio da Sil­va sym­bol­ized the enor­mous prob­lems of Latin America’s impov­er­ished millions.

“Touched by Flavio’s plight and brav­ery, Amer­i­cans took up the cause. Let­ters and mon­ey poured in. The Children’s Asth­ma Research Insti­tute and Hos­pi­tal in Den­ver offered to take Flavio as a free emer­gency case and try to cure him. Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Gor­don Parks, who did the orig­i­nal sto­ry, went to Rio to bring Flavio back.”

LIFE’s cover, July 21, 1961

International Affairs:

LIFE’s cov­er, June 2, 1967 por­trays a moment dur­ing China’s Red Guards’ demon­stra­tion in Peking’s Tien an Men Square.

Pho­tographs illus­trate Ma Stinson’s account of his expe­ri­ences dur­ing China’s Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion and how he escaped.

“Ma was one of China’s fore­most musi­cians, a com­pos­er of inter­na­tion­al rank whose works have been per­formed in many coun­tries, a vio­lin­ist who until his flight was pres­i­dent of the nation’s top music school. His account of his expe­ri­ences illu­mi­nates with ter­ri­ble clar­i­ty the sav­agery and mind­less­ness of Mao’s Great Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion.”  

 International Affairs:  LIFE’s cover, June 2, 1967 portrays a moment during China’s Red Guards’ demonstration in Peking’s Tien an Men Square.

LIFE featured the best in photo-journalism.
Advertising agencies quickly saw the opportunity to feature their clients’ products in dramatic photographs.


Advertisements in LIFE magazine complemented the photography that made LIFE so popular


The use of the ever improv­ing print­ing tech­niques and the avail­abil­i­ty of heav­i­ly-coat­ed glossy paper that allowed LIFE to tell the facts with pho­tos, chal­lenged adver­tis­ers to dis­play their prod­ucts in a fash­ion not then pos­si­ble in gen­er­al and com­pet­i­tive pub­li­ca­tions and cer­tain­ly not in newspapers.

printers devil

Vis­it the web­site to enjoy many of the pho­tographs from the cov­ers and the pages of LIFE