Googling Life

Google is a media behemoth. The company mastered search back in the nineties and has gradually worked to engulf just about anything else you can do on the web (or your phone) ever since. Usually I hate this type of activity, please reference Microsoft or NewsCorp as examples of companies earning my ire, but I still see puffy little hearts whenever I think of Google. I suspect my school girl crush probably has a lot to do with things like the Life Magazine Photo Archive.

Life Magazine was started in 1883, but it probably would have gone the way of Beadle’s Monthly or Potter’s American Monthly had it not been acquired by Henry Luce in 1936. Luce was a media titan in the early part of the 20th century. He owned Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated and it was figured that one in five Americans read one of his publications every week. He bought Life not for its general interest content, but for its intriguing name. He turned the weekly into what is regarded history’s greatest fount of photojournalism. The way in which the magazine covered the biggest stories of the 20th century made it the best selling magazine of all time.

If you were a photographer in the 20th Century, you dreamed of being in Life the way young ballerinas dreampt of dancing in the New York City Ballet. Life made words mere modifiers of the image. The New York Times points out this week that while text may have been secondary to the image in Life, it is necessary to the storytelling in this millennium. Google has done fantastic job of bringing these images to a world-wide modern audience, but without context, some of the relevance is lost.

While there is no easy way to browse content, it’s hard not to love what Google has done. Here are a few of the notable images you can find with a little digging on Google’s Life Magazine Archive:

One of Dorothea Langes icon images

One of Dorothea Lange's famous images

Dorothea Lange was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration documenting the hardship brought on migrant works during The Dust Bowl when she captured a series of photographs that would forever define that era. The magazine only printed one photo from her series, but kept the rest in its archives. The most famous of the series, Migrant Mother, is in the public domain and can be found all over the internet.

Alfred Eisenstaedt iconic image from New Yorks celebration of the Victory Over Japan.

Alfred Eisenstaedt iconic image from New York's celebration of the Victory Over Japan.

Alfred Eisenstaedt captured what is without question one of the most famous photographs ever taken at VJ Day in Times Square. He once said of the image, “I was walking through the crowds on V-J Day, looking for pictures. I noticed a sailor coming my way. He was grabbing every female he could find and kissing them all – young girls and old ladies alike… The sailor came along, grabbed the nurse, and bent down to kiss her. Now if this girl hadn’t been a nurse, if she’d been dressed in dark clothes, I wouldn’t have had a picture. People tell me that when I’m in heaven, they will remember this picture.”

John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy on the lawn at their home prior to his election as President.

John, Jacqueline and Caroline Kennedy on the lawn at their home prior to his election as President.

Paul Schutzer took this photo in 1960 in the months before John F. Kennedy was elected president. Henry Luce was a staunch Texas Republican and Life’s editorial staff often pushed the magazine towards more conservative viewpoints, but the magazine often ran features on the first family.


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