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John Swope

( 1908 - 1979 )

While most photographers are known for their focus on a singular idea or subject matter, John Swope remained an exception to the rule. Swope was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 1908. As a student at Harvard, he forged close friendships that would influence his career and last a lifetime. He discovered photography in 1936 and later joined Life Magazine’s stable of freelance photographers. After the war in the 1940s and, over the course of the next 14 years, he produced an extensive body of work for publication. He specialized in documenting the world of theater and film, and in creating natural portraits of celebrities.

Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

1927  Member along with Henry Fonda, Joshua Logan, and James Stewart of Harvard University Players.

1936  An avid sailor, takes camera along on Los Angeles-to-Honolulu yacht race; develops interest in photography.

1937  In Los Angeles (rooming with Fonda and Stewart) as Leland Hayward's production assistant.

1938  Commissioned by Henry Street Settlement House to document the work of nurses in Harlem and the Lower East Side.

1939  Accompanied by Logan as writer, tours South America photographing for Harper's Bazaar. At invitation of Bolivian government remains nine months photographing for state tourism program.

1940-43  U.S. Army flight instructor. With John Steinbeck produces Bombs Away, an illustrated book explaining pilot-training program to families of married trainees.

1943  Reassigned to Steichen's U.S. naval photographic unit.

1946-58  Freelance photographer for Life.

1952  Photographs Julius Caesar; photograph of star, Marlon Brando, appears on Life cover.

1956-1978  Extensive worldwide travel. Continues photographing; works published and exhibited throughout the U.S.

See all photos by John Swope