John G. Morris gave tremendous weight and dignity to the role of the newspaper and magazine picture editor. He became the reference in the field because of his deep commitment to the profession over many decades and his personal presence at major events or his involvement with such circumstances: the beaches of Normandy in 1944; the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968; the military Coup in Chile in 1973, for instance. To him, photography was a powerful tool for reporting on social reality and injustice, for investigating harsh truths, and, above all, for denouncing the atrocities and devastation of war.
John was shaped by war. Born in 1916 in New Jersey, in the United States during The Great War, he witnessed World War II working with Life magazine; lived through the Cold War in turn with The Ladies’ Home Journal, the Magnum agency and The Washington Post; questioned the Vietnam War when at The New York Times; and, in the early nineties, at the time of the first Gulf War, he was National Geographic’s European correspondent.
But John also possessed a deep “joie de vivre” which might be what kept him going for a full Century, one he intensely revisited over the last three years of his life to produce the dummy of a six hundred page personal memoir, both in images and words, that he was able to complete this past April. John was a prolific writer. He wrote often about war and peace, about photography, memories, and his old friends of which he had so many going back to the late Robert Capa and Henri-Cartier Bresson, not to forget today’s living centenarian, David Douglas Duncan. Yet, most of his friends belonged to much younger generations. John was insatiably curious about the emerging “new faces” he would get to meet at photography festivals in Europe, unless they would just ring his doorbell in Paris, his city of adoption. He was hugely generous with his time and advice, always attentive, open minded and encouraging; both passionate and reasoned.
Among his numerous professional achievements, John will be remembered for his unwavering support for Cornell Capa’s ‘concerned photography’ that led him in 1980 to establish ‘The W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography’ together with editor and biographer Jim Hughes, lawyer Arthur Soybel, and the late picture agency director Howard Chapnick, following the death of their common friend, the great American documentary photographer.
A humanist and a pacifist “with an eye, a heart, and a brain,” he was photo-journalism’s tireless defender and champion, and possibly its most exceptional chronicler and historian.
He was our friend.
President, Contact Press Images
Former President of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund
Remembering John G. Morris
John Morris, Bayeux, Normandy, July 23, 1944, photographed by © Ned Buddy.
John was the most passionate and fascinating man.
Looking back, 1985, the year Tana Hoban, the well-known children’s photographer, introduced me to John… she and I were in search of an agent to represent our photography… she had started seeing him romantically.
When they married and moved to Paris into a wonderful ground floor apartment filled with books in the Marais, I often visited.
He was always a great supporter of mine. So it was John Morris who invited me to join the W. Eugene Smith Board in 1986. At the time I was president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers. Curiously, Gene Smith had been president of ASMP for a brief time in the forties.
John had his favorite haunts, in New York City, a restaurant on the West Side that no longer exists, a tiny bistro near the Paris apartment that squeezed us in no matter how crowded. He was very frugal.
So many lovely memories of John that make me laugh. I will always think of him with affection and admiration. Shall miss him.
President Emerita, the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund
Very sad news
Helen and the Smith Fund: On the way home from brunch, we heard on NPR the sad news that John Morris has died. I have no further news on the circumstances, but I did receive a surprise telephone call from John recently. “Just to chat,” he said, and we did, for quite a while. His voice was weak, but his mind was still strong. I think he was saying goodbye, on his own terms.
Below, please find some pictures I made of John and his son, John II, at the latter’s home in Maine. After a wonderful pancake brunch featuring blueberries grown and harvested by John’s son, we all hiked up the “mountain” behind John and Susan’s beautiful home. Slowly, of course; John needed a cane for balance, but otherwise seemed fine.
These are my last vivid memories of John Morris. Some photographs I made in and from John II’s stone corral, or should I call it the Morris Stonehenge?
As we left John and Susan’s hilltop, we saw this lone tree, standing strong against the elements, below a sudden and dramatic dramatic break in the clouds.
Co-founder of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund