Guide to the Carl Mydans photographs, 1935-1968
Photojournalist (1907-2004) for the Farm Security Administration and Life magazine. Collection consists of 65 black-and-white and one color photographs taken during assignments for the Farm Security Administration and for Life magazine from 1935 to 1968. Subjects include rural America, migrant farm workers, and the community of Freer, Texas, during the Great Depression; the Sino-Japanese War and 1940s China; World War II, including the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, General MacArthur's return, the liberation of Italy and France, and the surrender of Japan; Japanese war crimes tribunals; the Fukui, Japan, earthquake in 1948; and the Korean War. Most of the images measure 8x10 and 11x14 inches and have detailed captions. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
- Collection Number
- Carl Mydans photographs
- Mydans, Carl
- 2 Linear Feet, 3 boxes, 66 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
Collection consists of 65 black-and-white and one color photographs spanning Carl Mydans' career. Images from his early work for the Farm Security Administration include photographs of cowboys and ranchers from Freer, Texas; migrant workers and rural life in Texas and Arkansas during the Great Depression; a photograph of the Capitol building through a Washington, D.C. slum; and political banners from the 1936 presidential election.
The majority of the collection dates from Mydans' time working for Life magazine as a war photographer. Subjects include the Sino-Japanese war beginning in 1941, his time in the Philippines and the battle for Manila, his coverage of the Allies in France and Italy during the liberation of Europe, and his travels with General Douglas MacArthur during MacArthur's return to the Philippines and the subsequent surrender of the Japanese. Mydans' World War II images are fairly evenly split into equal parts combat and street scenes: there seem to be just as many photographs of tea rooms and markets in China as there are photographs of Japanese bombing raids in the Philippines. This portion of the collection also includes some of Mydans' most iconic photographs, including a portrait of General MacArthur with his sunglasses and pipe, a photograph of MacArthur leading the army ashore in the Philippines, and an image of a "collaborator" being shaved following the liberation of France.
Another significant component of the collection is Mydans' post-World War II images, which include Japanese war crimes tribunals, Korean War coverage, portraits of coal miners and politicians in Europe, and photographs taken during the Fukui earthquake. Also included is a self-portrait of Mydans in Vietnam, the only photograph taken in color, from 1968.
Nearly all of the photographs have handwritten captions on the back, which have been transcribed in the Collection Description portion of the finding aid. Some of the handwritten captions have been supplemented by a caption list, available in hard copy in Box 3. Brackets indicate information added by library staff. Some prints are also signed by Mydans.
Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
Photographs have been boxed by size, but have not been sorted chronologically or by subject.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for educational, non-commercial use. Copyright is retained by the creator.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Carl Mydans photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Carl Mydans was an American photographer who spent most of his career with Life magazine. Some of his most memorable photographs were taken during World War II.
Born on May 20, 1907, Mydans studied journalism and photography in Boston in 1930 and spent some time as a writer in New York. He began working for the Farm Security Administration in 1935, where he documented rural and farm life, including migrant farm families, in the South and in New England. In 1936, he was hired as one of the first staff photographers for Life magazine. His early assignments included documenting cattle ranchers in Freer, Texas, and tunnel sand hogs in New York City. He married his wife, Shelley Smith, in 1938, and they became a writer-photographer team for Life. When World War II began, the Mydanses traveled throughout Europe and Asia. They were captured by the Japanese after the fall of the Philippines in 1941, and spent almost two years as prisoners-of-war in Manila and Shanghai. Following their release, Carl Mydans went back to the front in Europe and covered the liberation of Italy and France. His acquaintence with General Douglas MacArthur led to his covering MacArthur's return to the Philippines in 1944 and the eventual surrender of Japan in 1945.
In 1947, the Mydanses became Time-Life's bureau chiefs in Tokyo, and they remained in the Pacific area for the next several years. Carl Mydans was present during a 1948 earthquake in Fukui, Japan, and also covered the Korean War in 1950 and 1951. He traveled the world through the 1960s and 1970s, and worked for Life until it ceased weekly publication in 1972. He continued to work as a photographer for Time and other publications until his eighties. He died on August 16, 2004.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Depressions -- 1929 -- Arkansas -- Pictorial works
- Depressions -- 1929 -- Texas -- Pictorial works
- Korean War -- Pictorial works
- Migrant agricultural laborers -- United States -- 1930-1940 -- Portraits
- Ranches -- Pictorial works
- Sino-Japanese Conflict, 1931-1933 -- Pictorial works
- War photography
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Collaborationists
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Philippines -- Pictorial works
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Pictorial works
The Carl Mydans photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift in 2005.
Processed by Karen Glynn and Meghan Lyon, February 2010
Encoded by Meghan Lyon, February 2010
Accession(s) described in this collection: 2010-0023