August 19, 2004 by

Carl Mydans

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Carl Mayer Mydans, a veteran photographer who witnessed and recorded historical events for Life magazine, died on Aug. 16 of heart failure. He was 97.
Raised in Medford, Mass., Mydans was still a student at Boston University when he joined the staff of The Boston Globe as a reporter. After college, he moved to New York to write for American Banker, and then to Washington to work on the photographic staff of the Farm Security Administration. There he received notice for capturing the reality of rural poverty during the Depression.
Life magazine debuted in 1936, and Mydans was the fifth photographer the publication hired. A year later, he met Shelley Smith, a writer/researcher who would become his journalistic partner and wife. When World War II began, they were the magazine’s first husband and wife photographer-reporter team to be sent overseas.
While covering the war in China, the Mydanses were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for nearly two years. The couple was eventually moved to a prison in China, and repatriated in a prisoner-of-war exchange. Undaunted by his experiences, Carl continued covering the war, first in Europe, then back in China. Later based in Toyko, he covered the postwar U.S. occupation and the Korean War.
Mydans’ images were often haunting in their clarity. His elegantly composed photographs of Frenchwomen punished for collaborating with the Nazis, the liberation of the Santo Tomas prison, the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri, the 1948 earthquake in Fukui, Japan that killed 1,600 people, and American commuters reading newspapers the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination remain emblazoned on the minds of anyone who saw them. He also had a talent for creating memorable portraits of historical figures, such as Indira Gandhi and Winston Churchill.
Mydans remained with Life magazine for all of its 36 years as a weekly. He penned several books, including the 1959 memoir, “More Than Meets the Eye,” and won Camera Magazine’s Gold Achievement Award. Mydans in survived by his daughter Misty, and his son Seth, who writes for The New York Times. Shelley Smith Mydans died in 2002.
Watch a CNN Interview With Mydans

4 Responses to Carl Mydans

  1. Mr. Yasuhiko Suesada

    I want to express sincere sorrow at Mydanse’s seath.
    Our family lived in the central zone of Fukui city when a historiclly severe earthquake 1947 occured. It fell upon us with so fierce vibration that The Japn Society of Earthquake hurriedly urged to add GRADE 7.
    Luckyly enough, no one of us have been crushed under the strucure of our house. And we escaped body-only hurriedly from fires for the square of prefectural office which is separated city blocks by deep moats of fuedal age. Very near the mentiond place there was the zone for American Ocuupation Army. Mydans must be staying in this zone and took his historical shots quickly outgoing.
    I,age 12, don’t remnber anything about Mydanse or his team. Only the images of the commander who held a pistol in his hand beholding around.His family also escaped and stayed at the square.
    I feel a deep humanistic eyes through all of his photographs.Sometimes citicizing IGNORANCES of human species.

  2. Erica John

    This tribute comes to little to late. I have been doing research on my fiction novel of the correspondents who wrote about World War II in Europe and in the Pacific. I have read about Carl Mydans and his wife Shelley Smith Mydans and as I was searching throught the various websites, came across this one. Although I know that most of the correspondents are gone from this world, I was sad to see that Carl and Shelley Mydans had just recently passed away. But I know their hard work will always live on forever. I know I will always respect these brave and couragous people who sacrificed everything to bring their stories of the war home to all of us.

  3. Franz Tinio-Lopez

    Carl and Shelly Mydans left China and went to the Philippines on or about 1941. They covered the build up of the US Forces for the defense of the Philippines in Life magazine. They were captured, then incarcerated in Manila. They were among several civilians who were exchanged or paroled by the Japanese.
    Carl and his son Seth returned to the Philippines in 1985 to cover the snap election held by President Ferdinand Marcos. Seth had requested his father to be his photographer for this assignment. Marcos knew Carl Mydans and this allowed him access that other photojournalist envied.
    Carl Mydans’ photographs of the Philippines provide a view for many Filipinos into their history that is not presently mainstream.

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