David Dou­glas Dun­can went to great lengths to cap­ture stun­ning pho­tos of war and art.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - DAVID DOU­GLAS DUN­CAN, 102 BY HAR­RI­SON SMITH har­ri­son.smith@wash­post.com

To pho­to­graph the U.S. as­sault on Ok­i­nawa, a World War II bat­tle so fierce it was re­mem­bered as a “ty­phoon of steel,” David Dou­glas Dun­can lay sus­pended un­der the wing of a P-38 fighter plane.

Mr. Dun­can, a com­bat pho­tog­ra­pher with the Marines, was sealed in­side a cramped, acrylic­tipped tank de­signed to trans­port wounded troops. His cam­era in one hand, he kept a towel in the other to wipe sweat and con­den­sa­tion from the glass, al­low­ing him to cap­ture the pre­cise mo­ment at which Marine bombers dropped na­palm on Ja­pa­nese pill­boxes.

The tank was un­ven­ti­lated, and Mr. Dun­can later said the heat was so great he “lost about 11 pounds in 45 min­utes.”

Mr. Dun­can, who died June 7 at 102, was widely con­sid­ered one of the finest pho­to­jour­nal­ists of the 20th cen­tury. In Life magazine photo es­says, tele­vi­sion spe­cials and about two dozen books, he cap­tured the seem­ingly in­con­gru­ous sub­jects of war and art, trav­el­ing from the front lines of bat­tle to the treasure troves of the Krem­lin in Moscow and the French stu­dio of Pablo Pi­casso.

A self-de­scribed “photo no­mad,” Mr. Dun­can played a key role in shap­ing pub­lic per­cep­tion of World War II and the sub­se­quent con­flicts in Korea and Viet­nam. Many of his pho­tos have been ex­hib­ited by in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing the Whitney Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art and Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, both in New York. “He’s re­ally one of the gi­ants of the medium,” said Michael Car­lebach, a pho­tog­ra­pher and pho­to­jour­nal­ism scholar.

His work in Korea — pub­lished in Life, fea­tured in his 1951 book “This Is War!” and later adapted for a set of 22-cent postage stamps — was de­scribed by the pho­tog­ra­pher and mu­seum cu­ra­tor Ed­ward Ste­ichen as “the high­est tide that com­bat pho­tog­ra­phy has achieved.”

Em­bed­ded with the Marines in Korea in 1950, he pho­tographed the “thou­sand-yard stare” of ser­vice­men de­fend­ing a hill near the Nak­dong River, the de­struc­tion of Seoul as United Na­tions forces re­took the city and the Amer­i­can re­treat from Chosin Reser­voir, where tem­per­a­tures fell to 40 be­low zero. The weather was so cold, he said, that some of his film “just snapped, like a pret­zel.”

Mr. Dun­can shot in black and white, with light­weight Le­ica cam­eras and Nikkor lenses, made by the Ja­pa­nese com­pany Nikon, that he helped pop­u­lar­ize in the West. He fo­cused on the eyes and in­ner an­guish of such Marines as Capt. Ike Fen­ton, whose men ran out of am­mu­ni­tion dur­ing one en­gage­ment with the en­emy, and Cpl. Leonard Hay­worth, a ma­chine-gunner re­duced to tears.

“This Is War!,” Mr. Dun­can’s first book of pho­tos, was ded­i­cated in part to Hay­worth, who was killed in ac­tion one day after see­ing his por­trait in Life.

“I felt no sense of mis­sion as a com­bat pho­tog­ra­pher,” Mr. Dun­can told the New York Times in 2003. “I just felt maybe the guys out there de­served be­ing pho­tographed just the way they are, whether they are run­ning scared, or show­ing courage, or div­ing into a hole, or talk­ing and laugh­ing.”

His one rule, he said, was to never pho­to­graph the faces of the dead, out of re­spect for their fam­i­lies at home.

Mr. Dun­can largely al­lowed his pho­to­graphs of the Korean War to speak for them­selves, re­frain­ing from com­men­tary on the events they de­picted. His out­look changed in Viet­nam, when he pho­tographed the 1968 de­fense of Khe Sanh, a Marine out­post that was pum­meled for 77 days by North Viet­namese rock­ets and mor­tars.

“We seem de­ter­mined to im­pose our will and way of life upon most of the rest of the world, whether or not they want it, ap­pre­ci­ate it or ask for it,” he wrote in “I Protest!,” a scathing 1968 book that col­lected some of his Khe Sanh images.

Pub­lished by the New Amer­i­can Li­brary for $1, the pa­per­back vol­ume sold about 250,000 copies and placed Mr. Dun­can at the fore of pho­to­jour­nal­ism, along­side As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­phers Eddie Adams and Nick Ut, whose re­spec­tive pho­to­graphs of a Viet Cong pris­oner’s ex­e­cu­tion and a naked girl run­ning from a na­palm bomb­ing helped turn pub­lic opin­ion against the war.

Mr. Dun­can said he took a more artis­tic ap­proach to some of his Viet­nam images — one photo of a wounded Marine il­lu­mi­nated by can­dles and a lantern re­called the work of Rem­brandt — after de­vel­op­ing a friend­ship with Pi­casso.

From 1956 un­til the artist’s death in 1973, Mr. Dun­can took an es­ti­mated 50,000 pho­to­graphs of Pi­casso and his work, be­gin­ning with an im­age of Pi­casso in his bath­tub, smil­ing and scrub­bing be­hind his ear.

Mr. Dun­can told the Sun­day Times of Lon­don that Pi­casso’s lover, Jac­que­line Roque, had greeted at him at the door at that first meet­ing.

“With­out a word she took me by the hand,” he said. “We went past a goat called Es­mer­alda on the stairs, through a sit­ting room with a cou­ple of sketches on the wall, through a dark cor­ri­dor and there was Pi­casso, just sit­ting there in a bath­tub.”

David Dou­glas Dun­can was born in Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 23, 1916. His fa­ther was a busi­ness­man who opened one of the re­gion’s first movie the­aters.

Mr. Dun­can ac­quired his first cam­era at 18 — a 39-cent gift from his sis­ter — and was said to have taken his first news­wor­thy photo while study­ing at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona in Tuc­son.

Ac­cord­ing to some ac­counts, Mr. Dun­can had trav­eled down­town to pho­to­graph a ho­tel fire and snapped a pic­ture of a man drag­ging a suit­case out of the smol­der­ing build­ing. The man, he later learned, was gang­ster John Dillinger — ap­par­ently at­tempt­ing to sal­vage a stash of stolen money. Mr. Dun­can sub­mit­ted the im­age to a lo­cal pa­per, which mis­placed it.

Mr. Dun­can later trans­ferred to the Univer­sity of Mi­ami, grad­u­at­ing in 1938 with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in Span­ish and zo­ol­ogy. He con­tributed to Na­tional Geo­graphic, in­clud­ing images of Caribbean sea tur­tles and sword­fish off the coast of Chile and Peru, be­fore join­ing the Marines in 1943.

While sta­tioned in the Solomon Is­lands, he met a young Navy lieu­tenant, Richard M. Nixon. The two re­con­nected in 1968, when Mr. Dun­can pho­tographed Nixon — alone, be­fore a pile of le­gal pads — craft­ing his ac­cep­tance speech for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion.

Mr. Dun­can talked his way aboard the USS Mis­souri at the Ja­pa­nese sur­ren­der in 1945, find­ing an el­e­vated po­si­tion to pho­to­graph what he later called “a land­scape of tran­quil­ity.” In short time, a fel­low pho­tog­ra­pher aboard the ship, Life magazine’s J.R. Ey­er­man, helped him ob­tain a staff po­si­tion at Life. Mr. Dun­can con­ducted his job in­ter­view while still in uni­form.

His mil­i­tary dec­o­ra­tions in­cluded the Le­gion of Merit, the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross and the Pur­ple Heart.

Based in Eu­rope and the Mid­dle East, Mr. Dun­can cov­ered sto­ries in­clud­ing the 1946 bomb­ing of Jerusalem’s King David Ho­tel by mil­i­tant Zion­ists and the Viet­namese war of in­de­pen­dence, in what was then French In­dochina.

A 1953 photo es­say on that con­flict drew the con­ster­na­tion of Henry Luce, Life’s po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive owner. Mr. Dun­can’s pho­tos and ac­com­pa­ny­ing cap­tions seemed to say, cor­rectly, that the war had al­ready been lost and the days of French con­trol were num­bered — a con­clu­sion Luce re­port­edly found un­sat­is­fy­ing.

Near the end of a con­tentious two-hour meet­ing with the pub­lisher, Mr. Dun­can told him, “If you don’t like it, then go ahead and fire me.” Mr. Dun­can re­mained on the job but left the pub­li­ca­tion three years later for Col­lier’s magazine, dis­sat­is­fied with Life’s pre­sen­ta­tion of a photo es­say he pre­pared on Afghanistan.

A mar­riage to Leila Hanki ended in di­vorce. Mr. Dun­can mar­ried Sheila Ma­cauley in 1962.

He died of a pul­monary in­fec­tion at a hospi­tal in Grasse, France, ac­cord­ing to French news re­ports. A com­plete list of sur­vivors could not be con­firmed.

Be­gin­ning in the 1960s, Mr. Dun­can fo­cused on book-length col­lec­tions of his pho­to­graphs. Among his most ac­claimed works was “The Krem­lin” (1960), which fea­tured color pho­tos of Rus­sian art­work and other hold­ings that were in­ac­ces­si­ble to most for­eign­ers. To gain ac­cess to the art­work, Mr. Dun­can had ob­tained per­mis­sion di­rectly from So­viet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

In a re­view for the Times, Pulitzer Prize-win­ning re­porter Har­ri­son Sal­is­bury, a for­mer Moscow cor­re­spon­dent, de­scribed Mr. Dun­can as “a man with the cam­era of an artist, the pen of a poet and a genius for the im­pos­si­ble” and praised “The Krem­lin” as “the most beau­ti­ful book ever pub­lished” about Rus­sia.

Mr. Dun­can fol­lowed the vol­ume with books about the 1968 po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions (“SelfPor­trait: U.S.A.”), Is­lamic so­ci­eties in the Mid­dle East (“The World of Al­lah”) and the reclu­sive pho­tog­ra­pher Henri Cartier-Bres­son (“Face­less”) — as well as a slew of books on Pi­casso, eight in all.

Us­ing a cus­tom-built, silentshut­ter cam­era to avoid both­er­ing the artist, Mr. Dun­can cap­tured Pi­casso paint­ing, danc­ing in his un­der­wear, jump­ing rope with his two young chil­dren and play­ing with Mr. Dun­can’s pet dachs­hund, Lump. The dog ended up liv­ing with Pi­casso for six years and was fea­tured in 15 of his “Las Men­i­nas” paint­ings, re­work­ings of a piece by Span­ish artist Diego Velázquez.

Pi­casso, Mr. Dun­can wrote in a let­ter to one of his ed­i­tors, “ap­pears to love all work that he touches. This love shows up in the pic­tures, too. I have cov­ered many, many sub­jects as a pho­tog­ra­pher. This is the Best.”

TECH. SGT. CORKRAN/HARRY RAN­SOM CEN­TER

David Dou­glas Dun­can, a pho­tog­ra­pher with the Marines, is sealed in­side the acrylic-tipped tank un­der a fighter plane’s wing. He was con­sid­ered one of the finest pho­to­jour­nal­ists of the 20th cen­tury.

DAVID DOU­GLAS DUN­CAN/HARRY RAN­SOM CEN­TER

Marine bombers drop na­palm on Ja­pa­nese pill­boxes, cap­tured by Mr. Dun­can in­side the plane’s tank while fly­ing over Ok­i­nawa.

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