Indiana University

Indiana University Journalism

Morris, 96, talks Pyle, war photography with students in Paris

Kirsten Clark | March 16, 2013
Photo by Kirsten Clark
John Morris, 96, talked to students about his long career as a photo editor, including decisions he made to depict war.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on John Morris' 25th birthday.

Since then, the photo editor and photographer has experienced the Cold War and America's conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The only war that had any justification in my life was World War II," he said during a presentation with IU students Friday. All wars beside that, he said, were unnecessary.

Morris, now 96, opened his Paris apartment to students in J418 From London to Paris: In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle, who spent spring break following the famed World War II correspondent’s path in Europe.

The students, led by associate professor Owen Johnson, watched as Morris flipped through iconic war and peacetime photos on his Kodak Ektalite 1500 slide projector. He explained the wars captured by those photos and the stories behind the images.

Morris is one of the few people student will meet who met Ernie Pyle. Their paths crossed in Normandy, France, at a U.S. Army press camp during WWII. Morris was leaving France for London, where he was working at the time. Pyle, he said, was the only one of the war journalists there who said goodbye. Morris didn't know the famous columnist well, he said, but Pyle seemed like a decent guy.

Pyle’s career ended when was killed on Ie Shima in 1945, Morris went on to influence visual journalism as photo editor making decisions that put war in front of readers. For example, he decided Eddie Adams' photo of Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in the streets of Vietnam should run on the front page of The New York Times.

It was Morris who made the decision to put Associated Press photographer Nick Ut's image of a Vietnamese girl, burning from napalm and running down the street, on the front page.

The images were shocking, he said, but they also told an important truth.

"There are too many people who enjoy the war," he said. "There are too many people who profit from war."

ut photo
Photo by Kirsten Clark
Nick Ut's photo, which has become known as the "napalm girl," now sits in Morris' apartment inside a clear casing. It's signed by Ut in black marker: "For John," it reads. "Peace."
Morris' work with various publications, including Life magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Ladies' Home Journal, has conveyed the gritty truth of war, even when his job was not taking the photos himself.

When Robert Capa died in May 1954 after stepping on a land mine during the First Indochina War, Morris reviewed the photos retrieved from Capa's last two rolls of film. Morris requested Capa's last photo be printed with a black border, which is the way it has appeared in most publications then and now.

During his time at Ladies' Home Journal, Morris contributed to a story about the everyday lives of farming families in different countries. Farming, he said, is a universal occupation, and he wanted to show how similar people are, regardless of where they live.

"It was my hope, and it still is, that people could live in peace if we got to know each other,” he said.

"I'm still, oddly enough, an optimist," he added.

john morris

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