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BEHIND THE SCENES

10.12.2014

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At first, he had been concerned that his legs may not be up to it. But then his fax arrived: “I will attend.” And so, the almost 99-year-old David Douglas Duncan spent the evening of 28 November delighting around 60 guests at the Leitz Park Wetzlar with excerpts of his fascinating life as a photographer.

His visit marked the presentation of a highly exclusive Leica M special edition: the M3D ‘David Douglas Duncan’. Lars Netopil, owner of the Leica Store in Wetzlar's Old Town and Duncan's long-time friend, initiated the edition, with the aim to honour the acclaimed former ‘Life’ photographer as well as to celebrate 60 Years of M Photography with a symbol that embodies Leica's manufacturing concept in the most fitting and aesthetic manner. Limited to 16 units (with serial numbers from 5 to 20), the M3D is a most elaborately crafted, minutely detailed reproduction of the historic M3D (numbered 1 to 4), which the company of Leitz created specifically for DDD back in 1955. This original M3D was a re-designed M3 which deviated from the serial version by accomodating a Leicavit rapid winder. The custom-made camera went on to serve as a template for the Leica MP, which was manufactured in a small production run from 1956, and was specifically aimed at the professional photojournalist – see also our feature ‘The Improbable’ in LFI 1/2015.

David Douglas Duncan, born on 23 January 1916 in Kansas City, Missouri, has always been something of an archetypical photojournalist: a small-town boy who grew up daydreaming about the big wide world, only to find in photography the perfect vehicle to turn his dreams into reality. It all started with a 39-cent camera, an 18th birthday present from his sister. Duncan, as it turned out, was not only a keen observer, but also a close participant who always headed straight for the action. Soon, he supplied photo narratives to the ‘Kansas City Star’, and it was not long before his work caught the attention of the ‘National Geographic’. These were undoubtedly the 'golden years' of photojournalism: good stories could be found at every corner, while the occupation of photojournalist was still in its infancy – allowing for much freedom to experiment. As a result, DDD successively perfected the method of conceiving pictures and text as one simultaneous entity, eliciting moments of magnitude and poignancy from everyday life. In the second world war, he photographed for ‘Life’ magazine while stationed as a marine in the Pacific. Later, he travelled to the Near East, Germany and Asia. His documentation of the Korean War resulted in his first book publication, ‘This is War!’ The anti-war position suggested in the title found an even clearer expression in DDD's subsequent pictures of the Vietnam war, taken while still under commission for ‘Life’ magazine: the book ‘I Protest!’ was published in 1968.

This, too, was a sign of the times – the fact that much of the photographer's work centred around the documentation of wars. However, no less than seven of Duncan's more than 20 book publications are in fact dedicated to Pablo Picasso. Having met through Robert Capa, the artist and the photographer developed a strong friendship. Picasso always called him 'Ishmael', while Duncan referred to him as 'Maestro'. In reference to this unique connection, a hand-signed, 18 x 27 cm Baryte print of Duncan's ‘Picasso holding the Snow Owl Mask’ is supplied with every model of the special edition M3D.

In 1996, David Douglas Duncan donated his entire photographic archive – in weight, around three tons of material – to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The centre's website offers a comprehensive insight into the life and work of this legendary photographer.
Picasso holding the Snow Owl mask, David Douglas Duncan, 1957. © Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin
David Douglas Duncan on visit at the Leitz Park Wetzlar, November 28. Photo: Edison Sam
Lars Netopil in conversation with DDD. Photo: Winfried Schmidt
The M3D-5 in DDD’s hands. Photo: Winfried Schmidt
Korean war, 1950: “The price of one worthless hill“. From DDD’s autobiography ‘Photo Nomad’, . Benteli, Wabern 2003
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