‘David Douglas Duncan’

Local Arts Reviews

David Douglas Duncan: Slide Show From the Master

Bass Lecture Hall,

April 9

On Tuesday night, David Douglas Duncan inaugurated the David Douglas Duncan Endowed Lecture Series in Photojournalism by talking about his dog Yo-Yo, a small terrier who bit him when they first met (Yo-Yo is French). Duncan is considered by many to be the world's finest photojournalist, so his decision to roll out photos of his dog instead of his epic World War II photos or the record of his 17 years of friendship with Picasso started the series off on an appropriately inventive note. Duncan's career, which included more than a decade as a star photographer for LIFE during its heyday, has been "a mixture of everything with a camera," as he pointed out, and after spending "60-some" years shooting photos and the past six or seven years of retirement trying to find a home for his archives, which he began donating to the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center in 1996, he told the audience that he felt like he was at home.

He didn't articulate it, but there was another reason Duncan kicked things off with Yo-Yo. In the South of France, where Duncan and his wife have a home, the couple's car was stolen by gypsies while Yo-Yo was in it. Duncan, who seems to know just about every powerful or famous person, immediately started the search for Yo-Yo by calling up the local newspaper, Le Provençal, which ran a story on the kidnapped victim. Then he called his friend the editor of Paris Match, France's most widely read magazine, who decided, in a flash of editorial brio, that his magazine's angle would be "war photographer goes to war for his dog." A picture of Yo-Yo made it onto one of France's most popular TV news programs. Duncan never asked for his car back, just his dog, an indication that the discipline he had to hone in his work, which required him to reveal the moving heart of a story in often desperate and befuddling circumstances, didn't cease once his retirement began.

But Yo-Yo's kidnapping and rescue also indicate Duncan's flair for toiling unceasingly on a project until it's accomplished. It was a fitting reminder, given that at one point in the evening, Duncan showed a picture of Picasso's old, frail Afghan hound Kabul and said, "Kabul feels like I feel." Duncan's "lecture," which was actually an intimate and entertaining slide show from one of the world's master photographers, revealed a necessarily tiny smidgen of his output. He featured pictures of one of his former friends, Henri Cartier-Bresson, who was "pathologically opposed to being photographed," although he let Duncan take a few pictures of him. He seemed most charmed by showing the audience images of Picasso, and then clicked through some photos from the Korean War. The last of these depicts an American soldier looking up into the sky with an expectant gaze, as he tries to concentrate on opening a can of frozen beans. Duncan asked him what wish he would want granted if he could have one, and he replied, "Give me tomorrow."

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David Douglas Duncan, David Douglas Duncan Endowed Lecture Series in Photojournalism, Yo-Yo, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, Le Provençal, Paris Match, LIFE Magazine, Pablo Picasso, Henri Cartier-Bresson

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