John Morris, a celebrated American photo editor who brought some of the most iconic photographs of World War II and the Vietnam War to the world’s attention, has died at 100.
His longtime friend, Robert Pledge, president and editorial director of the Contact Press Images photo agency, told The Associated Press that Morris died Friday at a hospital in Paris, the city where he had been living for decades.
Among his proudest achievements, Morris edited the historic pictures of the D-Day invasion in Normandy taken by famed war photographer Robert Capa in 1944 for Life magazine. In addition, as picture editor for The New York Times, he helped grant front-page display to two of the most striking pictures of Vietnam War by Associated Press photographers Nick Ut Cong Huynh and Eddie Adams.
During a career spanning more than half a century, Morris played a crucial role in helping to craft a noble role for photojournalism. He also worked for The Washington Post, National Geographic and the renowned Magnum photo agency.
His job as a photo editor included sending photographers to war zones or other reporting sites, advising them on the angles of their photographs, choosing the best shots in the stream of images transmitted and staging the selected images for the news outlets.
Describing himself as a Quaker and a pacifist, Morris was also known for his political commitment, backing the Democratic Party and being an early support for Barack Obama. Even at his advanced age, Morris had closely followed the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and had been “appalled” by the election of Donald Trump, his friend Pledge said.
Morris felt his fierce anti-war convictions did not contradict his work with photographers covering war zones.
“He believed that photography could change things,” Pledge said in a phone interview from his New York office. “Morris was convinced that images of horrors, devastations, damage to minds and bodies could prompt a movement of hostility to war in the public and eventually help make the world wiser.”
Born in New Jersey in 1916 and raised in Chicago, John Godfrey Morris described himself as a journalist. His first major assignment in 1943, as picture editor for Life magazine in London, made him responsible for getting to the world the 11 famous, grainy black-and-white photos of the Allied invasion taken by Capa on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.
In a 2014 interview with The Associated Press for D-Day’s 70th anniversary, Morris recalled that Capa sent four rolls of negatives via couriers to his editors in London. But, because of an alleged mistake by a young dark-room assistant, three of the rolls were ruined.
“The first three, there was nothing just pea soup, but on the fourth there were eleven frames, which had discernible images, so I ordered prints of all of those,” he recounted.
For years, Morris blamed himself.
“I used to go around with a sad face saying I am the guy who lost Capa’s D-Day coverage. Now I say I am the one who saved it! It was, needless to say, an awkward moment,” he told the AP.
Years later during the Vietnam War, as a photo editor for The New York Times, Morris insisted that difficult pictures be published because they showed the horrors of the war.
On at least two memorable occasions, he got disturbing pictures published on the front page of the renowned paper.
The first one, by AP photographer Eddie Adams, showed a Saigon police chief executing a Vietcong prisoner at point-blank range in 1968 during the opening stages of the Tet Offensive. The second one, by AP photographer Nick Ut Cong Huynh, depicted a naked 9-year-old girl and other children fleeing a napalm bombing in 1972. Both photographs won Pulitzer Prizes.
Morris, who was married three times, is survived by his partner, Patricia Trocme, four children and four grandchildren, Pledge said. He was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, in 2009.