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, 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, 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, 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.”
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.