As the most significant picture magazine ever published in the United States, LIFE Magazine portrayed American culture of the mid-twentieth century.  Looking at LIFE, an exhibition of over 200 prints on view at the International Center of Photography  (1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street) from September 17 through November 28, 2004 examines the history of the magazine through its coverage of politics and war, the fascination with celebrities, its exploration of various strata of American society, and its coverage of key social movements of the twentieth century, particularly civil rights.

Published as a weekly from 1936-72, LIFE was modeled after European photo weeklies like the graphically dynamic Vu, which combined political stories with human-interest features and celebrity coverage. LIFE established itself as the premier source of photojournalism, increasing awareness of sociopolitical situations both at home and abroad. 

Most of the photojournalistic images in LIFE were component parts of larger photo-essays about American life and culture.  At the same time, many of the most celebrated photographers of the twentieth century, including Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, Gordon Parks, Larry Burrows, and Robert Capa, worked as staff photographers for LIFE, and the exhibition will feature many of their great signature images. Both individual masterworks and the larger photo-essays of which they were a part—such as Bourke-White’s account of the construction of Fort Peck Dam in the inaugural issue, Capa’s firsthand reportage of D-Day, and Parks’ seminal essay on poverty in Brazil— will be explored in depth.  The exhibition will also feature one of the most important moments of the magazine’s coverage: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and its traumatic aftermath.

This exhibition represents and celebrates the generous gift of over 1,000 prints from the Time Inc. Picture Collection to the International Center of Photography.  Looking at LIFE is organized by ICP curator Carol Squiers and ICP Assistant Curator Vanessa Rocco.  It will be accompanied by an illustrated brochure and a related publication, The Great LIFE Photographers, published by Bulfinch Press. 

ICP gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Time Inc. Picture Collection Director Kathi Doak.

The exhibition was made possible with generous support from LIFE Magazine and Time Inc.


Margaret Bourke-White
Gold Miners in Johannesburg, South Africa
Published September 18,1950
Copyright Time Inc.


Leonard McCombe
Kim Novak in dining car of New York bound train
Published March 5, 1956
Copyright Leonard McCombe/courtesy Time Inc.

Larry Burrows
Air Cavalry delivering supplies to US Marines in Khe Sahn (Vietnam)
Published April 19, 1968
Copyright Time Inc.