My town dump is big on recycling, and one of the features there is a little unheated shed, where people share books. It’s my favorite book store, the books are old and the price (free) is right! A couple of weeks ago I found a 1957 book entitled LIFE photographers, Their Careers and Favorite Pictures. I took it home and it was sitting on a shelf unopened and unread until a few days ago, when I received an email from a reader alerting me to the passing of one of the great Life Magazine photographers, John Dominis. Dominis died in New York City on Monday, December 30 at the age of 92. I immediately went to the almost forgotten book and looked him up curious to see what were his favorite own photographs in 1957. It was needless-to-say a half baked story.
Dominis has been praised for his ability to masterly photograph anything, and his career spanned the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well as the turbulent sixties and seventies. So in 1957 his career was just beginning, and some of his most iconic images – the ones burned into our collective consciousness were ahead of him.
Many believe that his greatest image was his 1965 photograph showing Mickey Mantle tossing his helmet in disgust after a terrible at-bat. This is one of those pictures that tells the whole story without words. It is a most eloquent pictures of a great athlete in decline. And remember that in the late fifties early sixties Mickey was one of the true greats. In 1961 there was a heroic battle between Mantle and Roger Maris to be the first to beat Babe Ruth’s home run record by hitting 61 homers in a single season. I was at Yankee stadium when Maris succeeded.
For me personally however, his greatest image, the one the still brings shivers to me was this picture of defiant atheletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the awards pedestal at the 1968 Olympics. This is one of the great defining moment images. It contains in a single photograph all of the ambiguity of 1968.
So with the New Year we may reflect on the loss of a truly great photographer and at the same time we may reflect on an opus that truly helped define the second half of the twentieth century.