David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan
Born (1916-01-23) January 23, 1916
Kansas City, Missouri
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Battles/wars World War II
*Battle of Bougainville
Korean War
*Battle of Pusan Perimeter
*Battle of Chosin Reservoir
Other work Photographer

David Douglas Duncan (born January 23, 1916) is an American photojournalist who is best known for his dramatic combat photographs.[1]

Childhood and Education

Duncan was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where his childhood was marked by interest in the outdoors, helping him earn the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts at a relatively young age. A lantern-slide presentation by big-game hunter and physician Richard L. Sutton, Sr., M.D., at Duncan's elementary school in Kansas City inspired an early interest in photography and world travel. Duncan briefly attended the University of Arizona, where he studied archaeology. While in Tucson, he inadvertently photographed John Dillinger trying to get into a hotel. Duncan eventually continued his education at the University of Miami, where he graduated in 1938, having studied zoology and Spanish. It was in Miami that his interest in photojournalism began in earnest. He worked as picture editor and photographer of the university paper.


His career as a photojournalist began when he took photographs of a hotel fire in Tucson, Arizona, while he was then studying archaeology at nearby University of Arizona. His photos included one of a hotel guest who made repeated attempts to go back into the burning building for his suitcase. That photo proved to be newsworthy when the guest turned out to have been notorious bank robber John Dillinger and the suitcase to have contained the proceeds of a bank robbery in which he had shot a police officer. Unfortunately, after the film was turned over to the Tucson Citizen, it was lost forever, and the photos were never printed.[2]

After college, Duncan began to freelance, selling his work to journals such as The Kansas City Star, Life and the National Geographic Magazine. After Pearl Harbor Duncan joined the Marine Corps, earned an officer’s commission, and became a combat photographer. After brief postings in California and Hawaii, he was sent to the South Pacific on assignment when the United States entered World War II. As a 2nd Lieutenant, he initially served with Marine Aircraft Group 23 and later assigned to photograph operations of the South Pacific Combat Air Transport Command.[3] Though combat photographers are often close to the action, they rarely fight. However, in a brief engagement at Bougainville Island, Duncan found himself fighting against the Japanese. Duncan also covered the battle of Okinawa, and was on board the USS Missouri during the Japanese surrender.

His wartime photographs were so impressive that after the war he was hired by Life to join its staff at the urging of J.R. Eyerman, Life's chief photographer. During his time with Life, Duncan covered many events, including the end of the British Raj in India and conflicts in Turkey, Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

Perhaps his most famous photographs were taken during the Korean War. He compiled many of these into a book, This Is War!, (1951), with the proceeds going to widows and children of Marines who had been killed in the conflict. Duncan is considered the most prominent combat photographer of the Korean War.

Out of the Vietnam War Duncan eventually compiled two additional books, I Protest! (1968) and War Without Heroes (1970). Here, Duncan abandoned impartiality and challenged the US government’s handling of the war.

Aside from his combat photographs, Duncan is also known for his photographs of Pablo Picasso, to whom he had been introduced by fellow photographer Robert Capa. He published seven books of photographs of Picasso in all. Duncan became a close friend of Picasso and was the only person allowed to photograph many of Picasso’s private paintings. Duncan now lives in Castellaras, France, close to Mougins, where Picasso spent his last twelve years.

Duncan greatly assisted Nippon Kogaku (Nikon) during their early years, and in 1965 he was presented with the 200,000th Nikon F built in recognition for his use and popularization of their camera.[4]

In 1966 he published Yankee Nomad, a visual autobiography that collected representative photographs from throughout his career. In 2003 this was revised and published under the title of Photo Nomad.

Duncan traveled extensively in the Middle East, having been stationed there ten years after World War II for Life Magazine. He later published The World of Allah in 1982[5]

He turned 100 in January 2016.[6]



  1. Berman, Eliza (March 17, 2015). "A War Photographer's 99-Year Journey". Time.
  2. 1934 newspaper photograph of the 1934 Congress Hotel fire at Tucson Arizona
  3. Blankenship, Janie. "Vets of WWI Through Vietnam Became Famous in the Literary World", VFW Magazine (April 2015), p. 45.
  4. Nikon.com: Debut of Nikon F. Retrieved on November 23, 2015.
  5. The World of Allah, David Douglas Duncan. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, ISBN 0-395-32504-8
  6. Liz Ronk, Olivier Laurent (January 23, 2016). "Celebrated Photographer David Douglas Duncan Turns 100". time.com. Retrieved January 28, 2016.

External links

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