Passings: John Loengard, Life Magazine Legend and Legend Maker

By David Schonauer   Wednesday May 27, 2020

He was "one of the last myths of the golden age of photography."

So notes L’Oeil de la Photographie in a tribute to Life magazine photographer and director of photography John Loengard, who passed away on May 24 at age 86. Loengard edited a number of books tracing the history of Life magazine and its greatest photographers.

Loengard joined the staff of Life in 1961, at its apex of cultural influence as a weekly, and became its director of photography during later iterations of the magazine, leaving at last in 1987. Over those years he photographed poets (T.S. Eliot); artists (Georgia O’Keeffe); presidents (John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan); writers (Philip Roth, J.R.R. Tolkien), rock stars (the Beatles) and sex symbols (Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield). Cowboys, prison guards, swans and military school cadets were also among his subjects.

PPD profiled Loengard in 2017 when he published his 10th book, titled Moment by Moment, a survey of the many unrepeatable moments he has captured over a six-decade career. In the interview, he explained why he disagreed with the idea that photos can capture moments.

"The world doesn’t happen in moments,” said Loengard. “The camera points at the world and the shutter opens and closes and turns the three-dimensional world into a two-dimensional image and the image is the reality you’re dealing with. The picture and the moment are synonymous and can never be repeated.”

In other words, he said, “There really is no moment. The picture is the moment.”

L’Oeil de la Photographie's tribute to Loengard includes a text written by editor David Friend, adapted from the preface to Loengard’s 2011 book, Age of Silver: Encounters With Great Photographers.

“Loengard was known in the business for his scowling oracular presence, a cross between a rabbinical sage and a tough-love football coach,” notes Friend.

Friend also quoted photographer Harry Benson’s description of Loengard: “He treated photographers as if they were like him—intelligent—not button-pushers,” says photographer Harry Benson. “He took the photographer’s line, often against the [publishing] company, which was a very rare trait. He was a real photographer’s editor. The editors would all be in the room and agree on something and John would smile and then go away and work out the real approach to the story with the photographer. He knew that at Life the photojournalist was king.”


  1. patt blue commented on: May 27, 2020 at 3:24 p.m.
    Bad news. I am lucky that I know him and lived him. He gave me a start at Life Magazine. I am so grateful for his mentoring and goodness of mind and heart. We communicated, truly spoke the same language. I once complained an image was a cliche. He replied, “Cliches have their place.” When I wouldn’t give up on a story for want of better pictures, he said, “You are only competing with yourself.” When I wanted to make my own prints, John gave me a tour of the Time-Life labs.

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