thumbnail of Reader's almanac; David Douglas Duncan
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
It's time for the readers all the back with the water and by our originally broadcast over station WNYC in New York and distributed by national educational radio the reader's almanac is America's oldest consecutive book program. Here now is Mr. Bauer steady listeners to this program know that my greatest pleasure is doing it over the years has been one of the authors and I have come to know a slightly creative people who have produced some of the best books of this generation. Among this very considerable number I have to admit to something you Brits. One of them is my guest today one of the great photographers of our time a period when photography has become one of the major arts. It is David Douglas Duncan who has been on the reader's Allman act twice before when the Kremlin and Picasso was Picasso as were published these were books in which pictures and text were perfectly wedded fused together whatever figure of speech you want to use. And now in time for the Christmas season my obvious design of Holt Rinehart and Winston the publishers of course there is another suburban book to stand with those two on a shelf quite by
themselves in a book called Yankee nomad. Now this is David Duncan's own story an autobiography of words and pictures blending conceived planned and carried out by the author himself. Naturally this is resulted in a volume of distinctive character in words and pictures both as I hope to demonstrate and in the process of giving form to this book. Mr. Duncan has added another excellent example of photojournalism to the comparative few that really belong in that category. We will talk about that category indicating I think both a career and an art form. During our interview I'm sure. Well it's good to have you back on this program. Duncan especially with such a book under your arm I gather from a number of references in the book itself that has been there for some time. Or on your planning or layout board in various stages of preparation how long has it been in the works.
Actually 16 years. I started in 1950 I think in concept I started in 1950 after I came out of Korea. I did a book on the Korean War called This is a war or wrap up of the agony suffered by an infantryman in combat. And I thought at that time that I really should stop some other day and assemble all the photographs I've ever made in my life and put it in one package. But I started that day five years ago. In 19 61 my home on the French Riviera I had finished up because because SOS and I thought that if I had devoted this much of my life to another man's work I would darn well stop and do it on my own life my own work. It's right has taken me five years to do it. Yes. Well let's talk about what is involved in producing a book of this kind. The obvious facts I mean quite apart from the taking of the pictures and the writing of the text. Where did not already exist. Am I right in assuming that you are your own book designer and layout man.
All of the good qualities know the bad qualities are mine. Yes this is a reflection of me and my time as I've seen it yes. Well some of the bad ones I do I take it to the fact that you had a foreign language composite or for the text not always I just plain misspell words. MARTIN You know human nature they do slip through. Yes. And I was it is a problem. I live in France I wrote the book in the studio basement of my home on the French Riviera. The book was manufactured for me in Holland in Harlem. The printing the binding was in The Hague but I was in charge of all production this is my baby. Because of the great distance involved there were times when the times simply ran out and we didn't have an opportunity to check some of the copy like we might have so there are a couple typos. These are my my fault. But you mentioned aiming at the Christmas market with a book such as this which is obvious it's a it's an expensive book but it's expensive to manufacture there's
very little profit margin a book of this nature in fact going into sheer economics of it. When I signed up with Holt I guaranteed a book of four hundred forty pages but it delivered a book of 188 pages. I paid for the difference. I offered to send him a book of a page of color I some ninety six page of color. I paid for the difference so that this is the major factors that are build into a book to absorb with pride in my case I want the book to be my little book an extension of you. Exactly exactly. You know how did you go about choosing the pictures for such a book as this into which almost any pictures that you've ever taken might have been included since this was your own story. But before I let you go into that I've got a silly question and I think perhaps our listeners would want me to ask you. It's silly because I don't believe you really know the answer. It's just this how many pictures have you taken in your life as a photographer. I had to guess at the total there's a photographic postscript to the book. Technical data. I guess one
half million that I've edited re-assembled. Actually that's quite a story in itself because as you remember from other works that I've done with you on this same program referring to other books I was a Life magazine photographer for 10 years I was a Marine combat photographer for the Warriors World War 2 in the Pacific. Prior to that I did work for the National Geographic magazine not on staff but by submission. And each case life Marine Corps Geographic every piece of material I ever did for them was returned to me beyond the first time any life photographer ever received every negative every color transparency again from the magazine's editors. Everything was returned to me. For it's I'm deeply grateful. So in my home in France now I have assembled all the negatives all the color transparencies all my old passports. I'm a packrat literally. You know I've kept all of my letters and his time. My father kept and put into chronological order all the letters I sent home from a time of high school until we lost him in the middle 50s.
Well I knew that question in my mind it was a somewhat on a par with asking you how many miles of film the of the exposed ep of this present moment. But it's one way to dramatize how active a photographer you have been. No I'd rather show this book to everybody of anybody who wants to have an answer to such questions. He'd say at once that there had to be thousands behind each photograph to account for its quality and expressiveness. Now let's get back to that original question how did you choose what principles of choice works best when you began to select the pictures for this book just by being ruthless and actually you know it's a very interesting thing this business of the pictures chosen for such a book this is not a a it's not an album or a catalog of photographs it's a story it's an adventure story. My publisher's Holt Rinehart Winston wanted desperately to slug it as over 500 of Duncan's greatest photographs. This is simply not true that if I try to edit down two distinctive
photographs each for its own sake I would have a picture album. And as you know far better than I in writing. You might hit the peak of a story in one or two paragraphs but your lead up to it with essential words are not particularly. Colorful colors and so a simple word is that some of my pictures are not particularly colorful but there are vital bridges to the next point of action the next. The next stage of storytelling that I must reach in the course of completing an entire book. So there are dozens of pictures that I'm proud of of course. Some of them are bridging photographs selection. You must be ruthless. I threw out pictures stories by the dozens that I would like to include I could've made easily a book of a thousand pages easily quite easily. But I had to hold it to a nearly 500 and it seems massive to other people. To me it seemed like just a scattering of things that I've actually done in this life. Well if you have all those negatives you can of course make other books in time
become perhaps somewhat more commercial in one sense of the word the kind of thing that publishers would like you to produce that they can advertise in the usual set ways in which they do advertise this kind of thing. But here you have a distinctive book. Which ranges with because it was because it was in the Gremlin. But much more difficult to put together I'm sure and that's much more difficult it is true and because because I simply used his paintings to spin out the story of his own life as reflected by the paintings themselves in the Kremlin and its treasures. I told the history of Czarist Russia through the crowns and the jewels in the church regalia the thrones of the Russians our eyes and the patriarchs. But in this story I was trying to keep the peace. Comparable to the way the life was lived and not not not to not to pad it not to fake it but to keep the continuity as it was. This it's a life story. Your time and my time and younger people's time you might have heard their parents talking fell into in their war. It's a different kind of book
it's audacious really it's presumptuous to and that's where I have my biggest fight I was thrown out of about 15 publishers office with this before before Holt took it because everyone's point of view was look it's OK with because so are the Kremlin or Rembrandt or Dungog. This is we can estimate the market. We know the price of a go about $20 but with an individual's adventure story told in photographs and text which is priced at the same level we want no part of it. We want no part of it. It should be about a five or six dollar book and it comes in a $20 instead. But this there's the risk. I would like to pursue this question of choosing the picture just a little bit further because it seemed to me as I was looking through a pair of very carefully that you might have chosen some of your favorites to go in among the color plates that if you could put them perhaps in black and white. But when you know what you have to be limited in the number of color
plates you can put into a book of this kind old if you did extend the numbers somewhat. So it seemed to me that that's where you let yourself go Is that true at all. You mean to put in pictures just for pictures sake. You know all they have to fit into this book I know that very well you know. But there must have been a thousand that could go into this book and you were limited. My home or course yes because as you know in book construction My my my. My major roadblock was going from black and white in a color physically from black and white into color not not subject matter but physically. When you make a book of this nature your pages run in sections of 8 or 16 pages in black and white and your color this color run in sections of 16 I would often come to a place where I wish to heavens I could make a double talk a double page picture and color to open which meant that the preceding page of a signature had to be in color also. It was impossible it had to be black and white so it meant that my following
section of a page of color 16 page color would be colored but the facing page had to either be text or black and white photograph. This was very restrictive. I don't if I make myself clear or not but it's in the mechanics of making such a book. You're going between black and white and color signatures which are 8 or 16 pages or text. And I was terribly handicapped. Now within the framework of my 8 or 16 pages for color I had to get the most most mileage black and white easy you can you can. You can bridge from one signature the next in black and white to make a double truck a double page picture or text or do anything to change your layout anything you want to do. But black and white to color is a very very. Demanding question you have to answer. Now let me turn to the text a bit because I'm very much interested in writing in this book. I wonder if you had that text in hand fully in order to make this all these final decisions. You know I know you have your own you know roasters first person ever to ask me that one.
I wrote the book is quite an idea pages long at page two hundred and eight. I've dealt with my youth my trips into South America big game fishing and three years as a Marine combat photographer in World War 2. At that point I used text written of the time letters home and text piece I written for the Saturday Evening Post the National Geographic and. Oh even trying to spin out the story of a kid fighting for a photo journalistic life even rejection acceptance subs from different editors around the United States. I could easily match my picture to my text but the text was written then because of deadlines these terrible deadlines which impose themselves upon you as an author aiming at the Christmas market which you have mentioned earlier. Then I went into my darkroom and design the next 200 and an 80 pages from pictures I made the entire layout and pictures in the dark. Every day every
night every day I got to 20 hours a day of printing and it was something I believe was harder than my work in Korea and I can speak knowing of how difficult it was just physically. I designed the book in pictures mentally deciding when I when I had it spread each double page to pictures how much text I could allow myself later when I wrote the text I sent the picture to Holland where they were and graded and then I wrote the text. It's absolutely mad because I was trying to anticipate the time of printing what I want to say six months later and I must say I was able I was so much. I was one with my book. I may know my study as I was very lucky but I didn't extraordinary and I wasn't trapped I wasn't trapped. So there are two books with the first half of the book as text illustrated with pictures in the last half as pictures. Augmented with text all woven together and then the one into one volume. And so you put a number of documents I mean like military orders in the dedication of the Book of Psalms by your father as you went into the service and I thought that would
beautiful like David's songs for your fathers David a beautiful touch and a Selective Service document in a lot of others. Let me know the selective service thing I was criticized in by my publishers but they were wrong because in my initial. Selective Service draft orders from the Army it gave me a chance to identify myself. As for height the color of eyes color of hair white the whole thing when I was born. So in one single page I've supplied many questions to to the reader. He said what kind of a character is it you've gotten up to about page a hundred fifty both kind of a character. You know what they look like. This tells you a lot and it's not this the way the the draft officer saw me and I think it's of it's a very precise bit of self identification. But this all resulted in a great deal of authenticity it seems to be something that you couldn't argue with you know this was in fact the way and I'm I'm a newsman I want to be as factual as humanly possible. You know I want to say something
about the writing in this book I mean the writing of the passages and I suspected you were you that you wrote perhaps to fit the space but. I want to say that you did it extraordinarily well. I want to make just a comment from me this is not going to be a question to you at all. I'd like to read a passage one describing the difficulties of a column a man getting out of a rugged tropical forest in Bougainville and the fallen islands. When you were serving with the Fijians or the searchers Fijians were serving with you. And here's a passage I mean it's a very brief one. Cut down a little bit possibly my universe narrowed to a pair of plodding legs that had Vernon's arched over the path. Had the feet as the column advanced hundreds of boots turned down through the mud fraying nets of intertwined roots and then disappeared over the edge of the trail when I tripped nobody stopped. The world was the back of the man ahead. Now all I have to say to our
listeners is a man that's writing. And there are a great many passages throughout the book that are just as vivid and sharp and clear and beautifully etched as that when you know they were extraordinary men I was fighting back of the Japanese lines on you know just on the solemn and enormous Fijians average over six feet tall and the most fantastic thing of all they actually were men without fear. Just before this incident occurred would you mention a march out to the sea. I'd been with a point platoon of twenty men surrounded by the Japanese who were hitting us with with machine gun fire rifle fire sniper fire and machine guns. They Feagin to stop the attack with hangar Nade and singing in harmony. It's true singing. Now there's one more that I feel I must read it. It comes out of a time when you were in Greece in 1948. In effect it's a caption for a photograph of the funeral I suppose. It goes in part in Florina when a man is
dead killed by rifle fire. There are a few tears upon the faces even of those who loved him best. But the tears must be drawn from wells now almost dry tears like the villagers themselves. Very few are left. That's that's poetry I don't know whether you feel that you are a poet or not but it both inform and effect. Now how did it come out that way merely because you felt strongly as you wrote. Of course I remember the morning I wrote it I'd had a terrible time the night before I couldn't hit it. And I'd gotten my work day while writing up to about averaging 16 hours a day and I stopped. Just before dawn I stopped for a couple hours came back done and wrote as you wrote it straight. There wasn't one one even one punctuation change. It just happens like that you feel very couple places happen like this. We just write it as if you know if you feel it. I think it's important too because I am a professional photographer I'm a photo journalist. What I see with my camera is vital to
my to my work to me. But what I feel with my heart and with my eyes and what I can express is something else add a different dimension to my work. I see no reason to go to downgrade a man's ability to express himself with words much with a camera. And that's something I've been fighting for many years as a as a photographer as you know earlier in my other works that are on the magazines. It's always considered invalid that a photographer can write however badly he can write because he was there and the editors weren't there I was there. Yes. Well Davis didn't occur very often however. A man is a good photographer and if he is a good writer he had probably isn't a photographer. It just happens that a new ability has been joined together to abilities and been joined together in very happily otherwise you couldn't produce a book of this sort. But you would. Seem to take a very great pride in this phrase a photojournalist.
Unless you know you really it's just a way to identify my my profession. It's just a part of me I was going to say it it seems to me that you. Well I thought you were taking pride in it that you were happy with a phrase told a journalist. I am because it represents my my work but not not because these are words that they're simply symbols. You know we in the late 30s there was no such thing as photojournalism Life magazine was the only national publication that employed it as a technique. In my own case I was born in Kansas City and I was fighting for space and they wrote a page is this on the right of your page is where we try to take five photographs and spin out a story supported by text but the pictures where the storytelling device this is photojournalism ad and it's in and it's in its infancy. But we had to coin the the cast. It's almost a professional cast. We coined it. I just came out of Germany and Castle came out of Russian media came out of Albania. Jean Smith came out of western Kansas photojournalism didn't exist before you.
What I've been trying to speak you see of this book as a as a work of art in itself rounded out it speaks with a single voice and drives toward a unified impression of its subject matter and hence the title Yankee nomad with its suggestion of a purpose but wandering about the face of the earth in search of what would you say Dave not an adventurer that went away with Richard Hartigan Davis and Richard Howe Burton once a photojournalist hunting down or hunting for. Oh I disagree I was hunting adventure too I was a kid from the plains of Missouri aiming first at Mexico then South America and in the war years the South Pacific I even saw the South Pacific campaigns as adventure. I was trained originally an archaeologist University of Arizona and later as a Marine zoologist to Miami down in Carl Gables. I really sought adventure. Well I'm sure you did but you saw that in the in the text of something important was going on in the world. That's true and it was not mere
adventure. Richard Halliburton went out looking for adventure you know and inventing it. You know you have been doing that you know. You know surely you've you've trapped me in my own description of my work because in a place like Korea you can say it's an adventure up to about 1 1 percent of the total rest of this year disaster and that's where I ought to step in as a as a journalist using a camera photojournalist. But there's a certain compulsion on my part to get to to get involved. I had to sit on the sidelines. I mean imagine imagine these day just sit on the sidelines and inconceivable. Have you been or do you plan to go out to Vietnam. I was there when the French were still there and I didn't because I know that I'd like really I'd like to go back and do a story on the Vietnamese people themselves to show their participation or lack of participation their involvement in this catastrophe. For all of us but to limit myself to the impact upon them that's a challenge.
And I one final question Dave and on page two hundred forty three in back in April 1944 you sold your accordion and they asked Solomon Islands for fifty five dollars more and you paid for it. I understand you have a new one now but have you learned to play it yet. Never never I never got paid past page 13 in this direction book. But you know there was a reason for that. The war and I always figured if I got hit in the leg area during the war I'd have something to do I could easily use my arms if my head was still right I could and I could do something I hate the idea of lying around doing nothing. Yes. So I thought a Korean might provide the answer for me if my hospital mates would permit me. They would I'm delighted I'm sure. Well thank you Dave Duncan for coming to this program again with such a magnificent book as Yankee know and that is I'd like to say to many people read it see it had some pictures even and a splendid text. There hasn't been another book like it in 1966 certainly. Holt Rinehart and Winston must be proud to have their imprint on it I should think.
You have heard Warren Bauer and David Duncan as they discussed Mr. Duncan's book Yankee nomad. This was another program in the series the reader's Allman act. On our next program Mr. Bauer will discuss the book Keeton with its author Rudy blush the readers all men act is produced by Warren Bauer and is originally broadcast by station WNYC in New York. The programs are made available to this station by national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Reader's almanac
David Douglas Duncan
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-dv1cpt9b).
Episode Description
This program features photographer, David Douglas Duncan.
Series Description
A literature series featuring interviews with authors, poets, and others in the literary world.
Media type
Host: Bower, Warren
Interviewee: Duncan, David Douglas
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-28-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:28
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Reader's almanac; David Douglas Duncan,” 1967-05-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 21, 2024,
MLA: “Reader's almanac; David Douglas Duncan.” 1967-05-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 21, 2024. <>.
APA: Reader's almanac; David Douglas Duncan. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from