magazine debuted on November 23, 1936, it transformed American photojournalism overnight. Publisher Henry Luce believed the 20th century to be “the American century”—and he promoted that message through images. Before Life
, magazine articles in the U.S. consisted of “a picture that illustrated a story,” said curator Marilyn Kushner of the New-York Historical Society
. Afterwards, “it was the text that illustrated the photograph.”
Working with the Life Picture Collection, Kushner co-curated “LIFE: Six Women Photographers,” an exhibition highlighting the female staff photographers of Life magazine, which is currently on view at the New-York Historical Society through October 6th. During its heyday as a weekly magazine, and before it was first suspended in 1972, Life employed 101 salaried photographers—but only six were women.
Combined, those six photographers shot over 325,000 images from the 1930s to the early 1970s. Kushner, along with fellow curators Sarah Gordon, Erin Levitsky, and William J. Simmons, selected one story from each woman that showed a different facet of Luce’s idea of American eminence. However, by showing unpublished images, too, they peeled back the glossy veneer applied by the editorial team, whose vision often portrayed American life in a different light from what the photographers observed firsthand.
Many of the world’s iconic images and landmark photo stories were shot for Life
. The magazine published ’s
cover of a dying pilot in a helicopter in Vietnam in 1965; ’s
portrait of then–rising star Marilyn Monroe in 1952; and ’s
capture of a Times Square kiss on VJ Day in 1945. But Life
debuted with a cover story by
. And she, along with the five women below, helped shape contemporary photojournalism.