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Life Magazine: a eulogy

Yesterday marked the last day of the print publication of Life Magazine.   The weekly photographic-centric magazine, which for decades refused to die, three times trying to re-invent itself to suit the times (1972, 1978 and 2004),  finally lost its battle with New Media.   It will live on in some form online.

In the early days of modern media when Print  was king, Radio an upcoming prince, and Television just a fledginling beacon, the image-centric, photograph-laden, magazine became an icon. 

Life Magazine was born in the great depression, the name bought from another publication by Time publisher Henry Luce for $92,000.  Life’s  first issue was launched November 23, 1936 and sold for a mere 10cents.  It was the first magazine of its era, of any era,  to give as much emphasis  to photojournalism as to print.  A small sample from  the long list of the notable names who contributed to the magazine and saw their work published on its pages and covers includes Norman Rockwell, Ernest Hemingway,  Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Capa, Gordon Parks, and Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Life Magazine CoversOver the decades Life published some of the most memorable images of the 20th century.; from the conflicts and struggles of war times, to the lifestyles of celebrities, to the achievements and failures of nations.  JFK, Vietnam, Korea, the Civil Rights movement, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, landing on the moon.  

Photojournalism will forever owe the magazine a debt of gratitude for its influence and support in shaping their industry.   Perhaps the greatest demonstration of this influence dates back to 1944.  Robert Capa, one of the most famed war photographers of all time, landed on the beaches of Normandy for D-Day, side by side with the soldiers of the first wave  shooting images for Life and sending them home.  Capa was the only photographer there.  (In 1954, when Capa was killed by a landmine in Vietnam, he was again working for Life.) 

Life’s days as a weekly magazine ended years ago.  It struggled as monthly publication for a time, but with losses mounting and the nature of print publications changing in the Internet age, it found itself losing more and more market share. In a gamble that didn’t pay off, life languished as a weekly newspaper insert since 2004.    Following the redesign of its sister publication Time, and in the face of a changing advertising industry, it was probably a good time to say a final goodbye.

Much like the passing of other great innovators, and leaders, a library of the magazine’s works will carry on its legacy.   Time Inc. the subsidiary of Time Warner and publisher of the magazine, has announced that the famed Life photo archive which contains more than 10 million images (97% of which have not ever been published) will be made available for free personal use online.

Speaking to ABC news, Andy Blau, President of Life said “Photos have an ability to connect people to events and emotions that they don’t remember otherwise.  The Internet gives us a way to bring that alive that was unthinkable 20 years ago.”

The online photo library is anticipated to open in the fall of 2007.  Until then, a searchable index of cover photos can be found here.

Life Magazine: b.1936 to d.2007.

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