"Self-Portrait: USA"

Discussion in 'Book, Magazine, Gallery Reviews & Shows' started by Lee Shively, Oct 11, 2007.

  1. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    I started to post this under matti's thread on recommended books but decided to start a new one. It's going to be long, so you might want to skip it.

    This book is brand-new to me although it was published almost 40 years ago. I can't tell you how impressed I am with it.

    David Douglas Duncan, best known as a war photographer, was enlisted by NBC News to do still photos of the 1968 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. I slightly remember his pictures from watching the reports back when I was a college student. The year 1968 is considered by many historians as a pivotal year in the history of the USA in many ways. Duncan's photographs bring it back vividly.

    Duncan came to the Republican convention almost directly from an assignment in Vietnam and had left most of his equipment behind. He had a couple of his own Leica M3's and was loaned some Nikon F's with lenses and a Leicaflex with a prototype 400/6.8 Telyt lens. The portraits done with the 400mm are outstanding in every respect and the others are excellent.

    What is also impressive to me is how honest the photos are and how much access Duncan had to the political leaders of both parties. It is immediately apparent that Duncan shot this assignment without a point of view or an agenda. We all know Richard Nixon was a sleaze, but Duncan's photos just present him as a candidate for office without any cheap shots. Nixon had been a good target for the news media for years before his 1968 run for the nomination of his party. We all know the Democratic party leaders were in shambles at the time, we all know the Chicago riots that took place, the police beatings of demonstrators and Mayor Richard Daley's arrogance, yet Duncan's photographs display a human view of all sides of the issues that is seldom presented today.

    We don't find any government officials willing to be open these days. Looking at Duncan's photos, I begin to see why that is. In 1968, the news media wasn't pursuing "gotcha journalism". People were more willing to allow access to the inner circles of government because of people like Duncan--people who didn't push an agenda but only wanted to present an honest representation of the event. That's all changed now. There's a lot of distrust between the press and the government that has led to a virtual closed-door policy on getting correct information out to the public. It's nostalgic to see such honest portrayals in this day of cut-throat journalism and government mistrust. It's also sad to see how much we've lost in both our government officials and our news organizations in the ensuing years.
     
  2. Doug Smith

    Doug Smith Member

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    Self Portrait USA is one of the first photo books I can remember owning. I still have my copy, which I got in 1969, autographed by Duncan. His shot of the police dog at the Chicago convention remains, for me, one of the most evocative images of that era. What set this book apart from many others was his text, which I enjoyed as much as his marvelous photos.
     
  3. Ray Heath

    Ray Heath Restricted Access

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    g'day Lee

    DDD, an excellent photojournalist, i don't know this book but i do know several others

    his book on the siege of Khe Sanh, "War Without Heroes" is very gritty and seemingly real

    as a contrast his 2 or 3 books on Picasso are light, airy and full of life and happiness

    Ray
     
  4. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    David Douglas Duncan served with Ensign Richard Nixon in the south Pacific during World War II.

    Self Portrait USA has been on my shelf for decades. It's as good now as when it was first published. He is one of the greatest photo-journalist to work the profession.

    Journalistic access was much different in the 60s. Today is all commercialized to the point that we don't know what is news, entertainment, or marketing.

    I believe Duncan is still kicking, and living in Italy.
     
  5. PhotoHistorian

    PhotoHistorian Member

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    Duncan's first book on the Siege of Khe Sanh titled "I Protest" (1968) was also an excellent one.

    Walker
     
  6. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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