American hailed for capturing reality of war and also took famous images of Picasso
David Douglas Duncan in Miami, Florida, April 1969. Photograph: Ray Fisher/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images
The American photographer David Douglas Duncan, who was acclaimed for his stark photographs of war and also took some of the most famous pictures of Pablo Picasso, has died in France aged 102.
Duncan, who had lived on the French Riviera since the 1960s, had a home in Castellaras, near Cannes. He died at a hospital in the southern town of Grasse “following complications from pneumonia, surrounded by those close to him”, said Jean-Louis Andral, the director of the Picasso museum in Antibes.
Some of David Douglas Duncan’s war images on show in Perpignan, France, 2008. Photograph: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images
Duncan began working as a freelance in the 1930s, travelling across North and South America, according to the University of Texas at Austin, to which he donated his archives in 1996.
After fighting in the second world war as a marine, he made soldiers a focus of his work while shooting for Life magazine, beginning with an assignment during the Korean war. The experience would mark the rest of his career.
“To learn their stories, each page of photographs must be read as carefully as you might read a page of written text in a novel,” he wrote in the preface to his 1951 collection This is War.
Duncan also became close to Picasso, gaining rare access and capturing the Spanish artist in relaxed and playful poses at his home and studio, with one of the most emblematic showing him eating a fish clean off the bone in his kitchen.
“He met Picasso in 1956 and they remained good friends until his death in 1973, and also with his widow Jacqueline and his daughter Catherine,” Andral said.
Duncan and Claude Picasso, son of Pablo Picasso, pictured in Stuttgart with a 1956 Mercedes that Duncan gifted to Claude. Photograph: Action Press/REX/Shutterstock
But it was his war photography that made him famous, as his raw portraits captured the grim fate of soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.
Describing one of his most iconic pictures, a hooded marine vacantly staring into the distance in December 1950, Duncan became emotional even decades later.
“It was dawn. It was very cold, around -30 degrees, we were hungry, we could no longer talk,” he said at a show of his work at the Visa Pour L’Image festival in Perpignan, France, in 2008. “I’m sorry for crying like this ...”
Later in his career, Duncan became an outspoken anti-war advocate, particularly during the presidency of George W Bush. Giving advice to young journalists at the Perpignan festival, he said: “You have cameras. They are political weapons, you have to use them.”
Duncan’s picture of US Marines loading five-inch rockets under the wing of a Corsair fighter during the Battle of Okinawa in the second world war. Photograph: David Douglas Duncan/Alamy