The American photographer David Douglas Duncan or DDD died on June 7 at the age of 102 years in his adopted home of southern France, in a hospital in Grasse, from the effects of pneumonia.
Born in Kansas City in 1916, the passion for photography began when DDD was given a camera by his sister for his eighteenth birthday. He was soon supplying the regional paper with photo stories and it was not long before he caught the attention of National Geographic.
In February 1943 Duncan joined the U.S. Marine Corps and became an army photographer and member of the only bomber squadron with embedded photographers reporting on the war in the West Pacific.
After World War II, Duncan has captured key moments of the 20th century with his camera, on assignment for Life. His work embodies the golden era of photo-journalism like no other.
The photographer was soon to play a role in the history of the Leica M. A few months after the Leica M3 was introduced at Photokina 1954, Duncan got one thanks to his friend and Life colleague Alfred Eisenstaedt. The Leica M3D was the result of his suggestions for improvement: an M3 constructed specifically for DDD accommodating a Leicavit rapid winder.
During the 1950s DDD moved to the south of France where Robert Capa introduced him to Pablo Picasso. A deep friendship developed, with Picasso calling him Ishmael, and Duncan calling him Maestro. Though their work was of a very different nature, Ishmael and Maestro inspired each other. It was the personal portraits of Picasso that confirmed Duncan’s fame – the photographer published seven photo books about the painter.
When he was 80, Duncan bequeathed his complete archives – around three tonnes of material – to the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas in Austin. Roy Fluckinger, the University’s Research Curator for Photography, summarizes Duncan’s oeuvres as follows: “Duncan has produced two dozen books, countless articles, and hundreds of thousands of images in the 60+ years of his professional career. He has earned his position as one of this century’s greatest photo-journalists.”