From the tumult of battle to the glamour of movie stars, from the wonders of nature to the coronation of kings, queens, and presidents, the work of LIFE photographers is as much a history of American photojournalism as it is a history of the changing face of the latter part of the Twentieth Century. On the pages of LIFE, through the images captured by these masters, the eyes of a nation were opened as never before to a changing world.
John Dominis was born June 27, 1921 in Los Angeles and attended the University of Southern California, where he majored in cinematography. However, he credits a teacher, C. A. Bach, from Fremont High that offered a three-year course in photography for his skills. Remembers Dominis, "He'd give assignments, ball you out, make you reshoot." Eight of the photographers that Bach trained later got staff jobs with LIFE magazine. From 1943 to 1947 Dominis served as a second lieutenant in the U. S. Air Force photographic department. After three years as a free-lance photographer, he became a member of the LIFE staff in 1950.
A consummate photojournalist, Dominis covered the Korean War for LIFE, and recorded the beginning of what became the Vietnam War. He photographed the firing of General Douglas MacArthur, and he covered John F. Kennedy’s emotional “I am a Berliner” speech. Dominis traveled the world constantly, and in 1966 he made two long trips to Africa to photograph the “big cats”: leopards, cheetahs, and lions for a remarkable series of picture essays in LIFE which later became the basis for a book. This project resulted in several awards for Dominis, including Magazine Photographer of the Year (1966).
Dominis also covered five Olympics, the Woodstock Festival, and represented both TIME and LIFE during President Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China. Many of the editors and photo-chiefs at LIFE considered Dominis to be the best all-around photographer on staff. After LIFE ceased regular publication, Dominis worked as photo editor for People and Sports Illustrated. Returning to freelance photography, Dominis shot the photographs for five Italian cookbooks, on location with Giuliano Bugialli, food writer and teacher.
“LIFE magazine was a great success. If a man hadn't seen a picture of a native in New Guinea, well, we brought him a picture of a native of New Guinea. We went into the homes of princes and Presidents and showed the public how they lived. The great thing about working with LIFE," says Dominis, "was that I was given all the support and money and time, whatever was required, to do almost any kind of work I wanted to do, anywhere in the world. It was like having a grant, a Guggenheim grant, but permanently"
John Dominis' photographs of the 1968 Black Power Salute and President John F. Kennedy's vosot to Berlin are included in the exhibition "History's Big Picture" July 1 - September 25, 2011.
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