History of LIFE Magazine

Like a lot of things that have been around for a few generations, it’s hard to imagine a time when LIFE didn’t exist. But before its inception, there was simply nothing like it in America . Up to then, published photos had been posed and static. But in the early thirties a marvelously portable 35mm camera was developed that could take pictures of almost anything under the sun, and Henry R. Luce and his colleagues at Time Inc. made plans to use it for an entirely new publishing venture. Their project, shrouded in secrecy, emerged full-blown in November 1936, and journalism was forever changed.

A weekly until December 1972, then in semiannual special reports, and since 1978 as a monthly, LIFE has been the publication that has chronicled and provoked America ‘s passions, the publication said to bear the magazine world’s most world-famous logo.

Though the weekly LIFE’s life span covered only 37 years, it is impossible to think of any other magazine that had such an extraordinary impact. The weekly LIFE brought the world home to readers in a way they had never seen or experienced before. “Experienced” is the crucial word. A great picture is not merely seen, it demands an emotional response. LIFE created such responses countless times for millions of readers–and continues to do so to this day.

Most magazines are built around editors and writers, but LIFE has historically been built around photographers. Being a LIFE photographer is one of the most glamorous jobs in the profession, and it attracts the best in the world. To support the photographers, LIFE has always assembled a conglomeration of special talents and trained them to meet the magazine’s many special needs: reporters who work with photographers to line up a story, writers who can cram the necessary information into text blocks and short captions, picture editors, designers, art directors and department editors. All of them with one aim: pictures, pictures, pictures. But LIFE of course does more than present discrete photographic moments. The magazine was also a pioneer when it came to telling stories in still images. LIFE, in effect, created the photo-essay.  

Although LIFE ceased publication as a magazine in 2000, that did not mark the end of one of America ‘s most beloved institutions. In 2001 LIFE began publishing again in the form of LIFE books, soft and hardcover books on topics ranging from the tragic events of September 11, 2001 , to the history of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. All the books are filled with the great photography and meaningful writing that made LIFE magazine an American institution.

For decades, LIFE and its readers have shared a truly interactive relationship. As you interact with this Web site, consider the words of LIFE’s founding editor, Henry Luce. His description of the magazine’s mission, written in 1936, resonates more than half a century later:

To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things — machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work — his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed….

(Excerpt from www.life.com,  Time Inc., 2002)

To Purchase issues of original LIFE magazines (click here)                 




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Published in: on October 15, 2007 at 6:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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