David Douglas Duncan’s motto for shooting war photographs was ‘‘Be close—be fast—be Lucky, Easy, always remember—be humane, never close-ups of the dead, war is in the eyes’’ (Photo Nomad, 2003, 151).During the WWII, he covered the South Pacific as a second lieutenant in the US Marine Corps and his sympathetic portrayal of the fighting men earned him a position with Life. For Life, he covered Palestine, the Korean War, and the Egyptian military coup of 1952.
On September 4th 1950 Duncan joined the men of Baker Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment as they fought to push the North Koreans back over the Naktong river. The next year, he published This is War: A Photo-Narrative, a book of the haunting images he took of the Korean War. In 1994, a 22 cent U.S. stamp was made to honor those who fought in Korea; ‘‘Veterans Korea,’’ based on one of Duncan’s images, of tired troops trudging a mountain pass on the march seaward from the Chosin Reservoir. The stamp, however, crops Duncan’s original image so that the dead bodies on the ground below the soldiers could not be seen. The stamp was an apt footnote for Duncan, who was criticized for his sensitive, sanitized and even romanticized portraits of American servicemen in Korea. In fact, Duncan indeed took an anti-war position, and said the stamp introduces an idea of “no casualty” war, but many mistook his pro-soldier pictures for a pro-war attitude.
Duncan later undertook a variety of projects as a freelance photographer, including a collaboration with Picasso, but returned to combat photography, covering Vietnam for Life and ABC News. In 1972 he became the first photographer to have a one‐man show at the Whitney Museum, New York.