Pho­tog­ra­phy edi­tor John G. Mor­ris’s in­deli­ble im­ages of D-Day and Viet­nam helped de­fine the craft.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MATT SCHUDEL matt.schudel@wash­post.com

John G. Mor­ris, a pho­tog­ra­phy edi­tor who shep­herded Robert Capa’s in­deli­ble im­ages of the D-Day land­ing in 1944 into print at Life mag­a­zine and who later selected two shock­ing im­ages from the Viet­nam War for the front page of the New York Times, help­ing to turn pub­lic opin­ion against U.S. in­volve­ment in the con­flict, died July 28 at a Paris hos­pi­tal. He was 100.

His death was con­firmed by a friend, Robert Pledge, the pres­i­dent of Con­tact Press Im­ages photo agency. The cause was not dis­closed.

Be­gin­ning at Life mag­a­zine in the 1930s and later as ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of the Mag­num photo agency, Mr. Mor­ris su­per­vised such ac­claimed pho­tog­ra­phers as Capa, Henri Cartier-Bres­son, Al­fred Eisen­staedt and W. Eu­gene Smith.

Mr. Mor­ris was not a pho­tog­ra­pher him­self — ex­cept for a few weeks in France in 1944 — but his ed­i­to­rial vi­sion was in­stru­men­tal in defin­ing the craft and aims of mod­ern pho­to­jour­nal­ism.

“A pic­ture has to say some­thing, has to have an idea,” he told the pho­tog­ra­phy mag­a­zine Black & White in 2014. “From my stand­point, it has to have pas­sion, it has to have hu­man feel­ing. It also should be well com­posed, be­cause that’s how the idea comes through. A pho­tog­ra­pher has to have a head, a heart and an eye.”

One pho­to­jour­nal­ist who pos­sessed all three qual­i­ties was the Hun­gar­ian-born Capa, who gained renown dur­ing the Span­ish Civil War in the 1930s and was work­ing for Life dur­ing World War II. Mr. Mor­ris was Life’s Lon­don-based photo edi­tor and was nom­i­nally Capa’s boss.

On June 6, 1944, Capa was aboard a trans­port ship in the first wave of the Al­lied D-Day as­sault on Nor­mandy’s Omaha Beach. Wad­ing chest-deep through wa­ter and hold­ing his cam­era above his head as bul­lets struck all around him, Capa shot the first im­ages of the ini­tial phase of the in­va­sion.

He turned his back to­ward the Ger­man forces fir­ing at him and U.S. troops to cap­ture the face of a young sol­dier crawl­ing through the wa­ter to­ward the shore. Af­ter 90 min­utes, Capa boarded a med­i­cal trans­port boat and helped care for wounded sol­diers on the re­turn trip to Bri­tain.

His film reached Mr. Mor­ris at Life’s Lon­don of­fice on the night of June 7. Capa had hastily scrawled a note: “John, all of the ac­tion is in the four rolls of 35-mil­lime­ter.”

Mr. Mor­ris had less than 12 hours to de­velop the film, an­no­tate the im­ages and se­cure the ap­proval of Al­lied cen­sors. To meet Life’s dead­line, the pho­to­graphs had to be in the hands of a courier no later than 9 a.m. the next day, June 8.

Mr. Mor­ris shouted at a photo as­sis­tant to hurry. In the process of dry­ing the film, the as­sis­tant closed the doors of a closet-like space in the dark­room, over­heat­ing the emul­sion on the film.

“They’re ru­ined! Ru­ined! Capa’s films are all ru­ined!” the as­sis­tant said, run­ning to Mr. Mor­ris.

“I held up the four rolls, one at a time,” Mr. Mor­ris wrote in a 1998 me­moir, “Get the Pic­ture.”

“Three were hope­less; noth­ing to see. But on the fourth roll there were eleven frames with dis­tinct im­ages. They were prob­a­bly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire 35-mil­lime­ter take, but their grainy im­per­fec­tion . . . con­trib­uted to mak­ing them among the most dra­matic bat­tle­field pho­tos ever taken.”

Mr. Mor­ris had sev­eral sets of prints made and rushed to the cen­sor­ship of­fice, which ex­am­ined the pho­tos for sev­eral hours be­fore ap­prov­ing them for re­lease.

“I left the min­istry at about 8:45 and drove like a ma­niac through the scat­tered morn­ing traf­fic, down the lit­tle side streets, reach­ing the edge of Grosvenor Square at 8:59,” Mr. Mor­ris wrote. “I ran the last fifty yards and found the courier . . . about to pad­lock his sack. ‘Hold it!’ I shouted, and he did.”

The courier took the pho­tos to an air­plane, which flew to an air­field in Scot­land, where the pho­tos would be put on a larger plane bound for the United States.

Capa’s pic­tures were pub­lished in the next is­sue of Life. Blurred, shaken and prac­ti­cally echo­ing with burst­ing ar­tillery shells and the shouts of dy­ing sol­diers, they showed the tu­mult of bat­tle with heart-stop­ping in­ti­macy.

“Their very crude­ness gives a feel­ing of the strug­gle it­self,” Mr. Mor­ris said in 2004.

Six weeks later, us­ing a bor­rowed cam­era, Mr. Mor­ris went to Nor­mandy him­self, join­ing Capa and other Life pho­tog­ra­phers — and even­tu­ally novelist Ernest Hem­ing­way — as they ac­com­pa­nied Al­lied forces to­ward Paris as it was lib­er­ated from Nazi con­trol. His im­ages were pub­lished as a book in France in 2014.

For 70 years, Mr. Mor­ris blamed him­self for los­ing three rolls of Capa’s im­ages from Omaha Beach. Only in the past two years, as pho­tog­ra­phers and his­to­ri­ans ex­am­ined de­vel­op­ment pro­cesses and the na­ture of the film used by Capa, did a new con­sen­sus emerge. Most ex­perts now be­lieve there were never any us­able im­ages be­yond the orig­i­nal “mag­nif­i­cent 11,” as they are some­times called. The pre­vail­ing be­lief is that Capa was un­der such in­tense fire that he had lit­tle chance to shoot other im­ages or that his cam­era may have mal­func­tioned.

“I used to take the blame for the loss of Capa’s D-Day film,” Mr. Mor­ris said in 2014. “In re­cent years I’ve learned to say that I’m the one who saved the 11 frames.”

John God­frey Mor­ris was born Dec. 7, 1916, in Maple Shade, N.J., and grew up in Chicago. His fa­ther, who was born in 1869, founded a book pub­lish­ing com­pany and later worked for a Chicago-based col­lege that pro­vided ex­ten­sion cour­ses, or what is now called dis­tance learn­ing.

At the Univer­sity of Chicago, Mr. Mor­ris helped launch a stu­dent pub­li­ca­tion mod­eled on Life, which was first pub­lished in 1936. He was the pic­ture edi­tor.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 1938, he found a job in the mail­room of Time-Life publi­ca­tions be­fore be­com­ing Life’s Hol­ly­wood correspondent and then Lon­don pic­ture edi­tor. He later worked for Ladies’ Home Jour­nal and as the top edi­tor of Mag­num, the agency started by Capa and other pho­tog­ra­phers.

In 1954, he sent Capa on an as­sign­ment to Viet­nam (then In­dochina), where Capa stepped on a land mine and was killed. Sev­eral other pho­tog­ra­phers who worked for Mr. Mor­ris also died in the line of duty.

Mr. Mor­ris worked for The Wash­ing­ton Post in the 1960s and, from 1967 to 1973, was the pic­ture edi­tor at the Times. In 1968, he in­sisted that a photo by Ed­die Adams of the As­so­ci­ated Press, show­ing a South Vietnamese po­lice of­fi­cial in the act of ex­e­cut­ing a Viet Cong pris­oner with a shot to the head, be run on the front page of the Times.

Four years later, Mr. Mor­ris selected an­other photo, this time by Nick Ut, show­ing a naked, scream­ing Vietnamese girl flee­ing a na­palm at­tack. Both pic­tures won the Pulitzer Prize.

“I have al­ways be­lieved in show­ing how ugly war is,” Mr. Mor­ris told the Times in 2016, “and I have en­cour­aged news­pa­pers to take a real­is­tic view of war.”

Mr. Mor­ris’s first wife, the for­mer Mary Adele Crosby, died in 1964. His sec­ond wife, the for­mer Mar­jorie Smith, died in 1981. His third wife, pho­tog­ra­pher Tana Hoban, died in 2006. Two of his chil­dren pre­de­ceased him.

Sur­vivors in­clude his com­pan­ion, Pa­tri­cia Trocme of Paris; two chil­dren from his first mar­riage; two chil­dren from his sec­ond mar­riage; and four grand­chil­dren.

Mr. Mor­ris moved to Paris in 1983 and, for six years, was a correspondent and edi­tor for Na­tional Ge­o­graphic. He also headed the Democrats Abroad or­ga­ni­za­tion for many years. He com­pleted a 600-page book about his life shortly be­fore his death.

He of­ten trav­eled to pho­tog­ra­phy work­shops, de­scrib­ing his ap­proach to pho­to­jour­nal­ism and re­call­ing his work with Capa and oth­ers.

“I am not a pho­tog­ra­pher,” Mr. Mor­ris told the Times last year. “They did the great work; I just put it in the mag­a­zine or news­pa­per.”

“A pic­ture has to say some­thing, has to have an idea. From my stand­point, it has to have pas­sion, it has to have hu­man feel­ing.” John G. Mor­ris, who worked at Life and the Mag­num photo agency

CHRISTOPHE ENA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this file photo dated May 2, 2014, John G. Mor­ris, the leg­endary Life mag­a­zine and New York Times photo edi­tor, is in­ter­viewed by the As­so­ci­ated Press in Paris. The renowned pic­ture edi­tor was known for his judg­ment.

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