Ed Clark (1911-2000)
Senator Kennedy and Baby Caroline at the N Street House, Washington, DC, 1958..
Copyright Ed Clark. From the Collection of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Ed Clark (1911-2000)
Graham Jackson sorrowfully plays Goin' Home, Washington, DC, 1945.
Copyright Ed Clark. From the Collection of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Ed Clark (1911-2000)
"The Harvest That Saved the World," Nebraska, 1946.
Copyright Ed Clark.
From the Collection of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Ed Clark (1911-2000)
Untitled, West Memphis, Arkansas, 1949.
Copyright Ed Clark. From the Collection of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Ed Clark (1911-2000)
Montmartre Artist, Paris, 1945.
Copyright Ed Clark. From the Collection of The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation

Ed Clark: American Photojournalist

February 1, 2014 - June 1, 2014

Ed Clark (1911-2000) was the quintessential American news photographer.

From the pageantry of politics to the rhythms of small town life, from glamorous movie stars to the working class, Ed Clark: American Photojournalist includes more than 40 photographs from the Ed Clark Collection, part of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation in Pleasantville, New York.

“Ed Clark covered the personalities and events that shaped an era,” notes photo-historian Paul Roth, Director of the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, Canada and guest curator for the exhibition.

“Beginning in 1929 at the daily newspaper Nashville Tennessean, and continuing into the early days of JFK’s Camelot as a staffer for Life, our greatest picture magazine, Clark was known for the telling details and emotional drama of his imagery. He brought an everyman's sensibility to a wide range of subjects, making definitive images of both daily life and events of global importance.”

Clark started his career while still in high school, toiling as an apprentice in the darkroom of his hometown Nashville Tennessean. Two years later, a precocious eighteen, he was promoted to assistant photographer and began lugging an 8x10-inch studio camera—outmoded for journalism but the only tool available—through the streets of Tennessee’s capital city. His assignments ran the gamut, from political ”grip-and-grin” photo opportunities, to features on local citizens, to on-the-spot coverage of parades and car accidents.

In 1942, Clark sold one of his pictures to Life magazine. Other freelance assignments followed, and the young cameraman was soon hired away from the Tennessean by Life’s legendary director of photography, Wilson Hicks. Only 31, Clark joined the weekly’s Olympian staff of photojournalists, which included such legendary figures as Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt, W. Eugene Smith, and Philippe Halsman.

Wielding the new smaller cameras and faster films, with seemingly unlimited schedules and budgets to shape their picture stories, Life photographers worked at the pinnacle of their profession and reached the largest audiences. By the time of Clark’s arrival, Life was one of the leading publications in the United States, with a weekly distribution in the millions.

Based first in Nashville, and later in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Clark perfectly fit the profile of the Life photographer. Energetic, dashing, and charismatic, he traveled the world for 22 years while raising a family with his wife Joyce.

A proficient generalist, he was guided by the magazine’s humanist focus and broad audience, perfecting a low-key, empathetic style. In Los Angeles, he excelled at Hollywood portraiture; in Washington, he was a favorite of national leaders and newsmakers.

Legendary journalist Hugh Sidey recalled that Clark “relished the power game, charmed his subjects… like all of Life’s great photographers he had an endless curiosity about almost anything that happened.” By the end of his tenure, Clark had contributed some of the most iconic and best-loved photographs ever to be reproduced in the magazine.Ed Clark on Assignment, circa 1930s. Copyright Ed Clark. The Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation.

His eyesight failing, Clark left his cameras behind in 1962 to forge a second career in homebuilding. But his secure position among the pioneers of photojournalism continues to resonate with new generations of students and scholars, as they discover Life’s rich depiction of 20th century American history. In the words of Clark’s biographer Frank “Tico” Herrera, “native ability combined with street smarts enabled Ed to rise from hometown newspaper cub photographer to staff photographer for the world’s best-known picture magazine.”

Generous support for Ed Clark: American Photojournalist was provided to the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation by Brown Brothers Harriman. The exhibition at the Bruce Museum is supported by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund.