Legendary photo editor John. G Morris passed away yesterday at a hospital in Paris. He was 100. His long time friend and colleague Robert Pledge, founder of the Contact Press Images confirmed the death.
From the World War II through to Vietnam War, Morris had always been in the thick of things. In his lifetime, he worked for The Washington Post, National Geographic, Magnum Photos (he was the first executive editor), LIFE and The New York Times. He closely worked with the likes of Robert Capa and W.Eugene Smith.
John Morris was also the person who edited Robert Capa’s historic photographs of the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. Of the four rolls of film Capa sent Morris from the war front, three and a half were destroyed due to an accident with the film dryer being set too high. Only 11 of the 106 pictures survived.
“I said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ So I ran to look at them with him, and I held up the rolls one at a time. And the first three were just soup. You couldn’t see anything. But on the fourth roll of film, the last one, there were 11 images that were discernible. And those pictures saved us, and those were the pictures that have come to symbolize D-Day ever since.,” Morris told NPR in 2002.
As a matter of fact, one of the most iconic image of the Vietnam War; Eddie Adam’s photograph of a Saigon police chief shooting a suspected Vietcong insurgent in the head was published as the lead picture on Feb.2,1968 in The Times because of Morris’s vehement argument. In a very small space that picture summarized the entire story of the Vietnam War.
In yet another instance Morris fought very hard to run the image of the naked Vietnamese girl running from the Napalm bombing raid. Times then had a very strict policy against nudity. The editors at last did give in and publish that photograph at the bottom of the front page. Later that photograph and the one by Eddie Adams both won Pulitzer Prizes.
On June 5, 1968 Morris witnessed the assassination of Robert F.Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. “The most terrible event I think I ever witnessed up close,’’ he said later.
“For five minutes, the throng in the Embassy Room was thrown into a state of panic. The cries of admiration changed to hysterical screams as the shots — muffled by the crowd noise — penetrated the consciousness of the bystanders,” Morris reported.
Morris was married twice but unfortunately was widowed both times. His first wife Mary Adele Crosby, with whom he had four children, died in 1964. His second wife Marjourie Smith passed away in 1981, she was a school headmistress and a mother of two sons.
Morris was awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest order of merit given by France in 2009. He also received an Infinity Award for lifetime achievement by the International Center of Photography in New York in 2010.
In an interview in 2006, Morris spoke about what he thought of as a photojournalist’s truly essential qualities.
Timing is all important in photography. Not just the timing of the shutter itself, but knowing when to work and when not to work. When to photograph and when not to photograph.
Great photographers have to have three things. They have to have heart if they’re going to photograph people. They have to have an eye, obviously, to be able to compose. And they have to have a brain to think about what they’re shooting. Too many photographers have two of the three attributes, but not the third.
Morris is survived by his partner Patricia Trocmé, his four sons from two marriages and four grand children.