OBITUARIES : Ralph (Rudy) Crane; Life Magazine Photographer

Times Staff Writer

Legendary Life magazine staff photographer Ralph (Rudy) Crane, a colorful character who traveled with a stepladder and usually had three cameras strung around his neck, died of cancer Wednesday in Geneva. He was 74.

The German-born Crane, who drew as much attention as the fine pictures he shot over several decades, had retired to Switzerland years ago but continued to work for Time Inc. publications.

He was known as a versatile photographer at home in any setting--whether chronicling the diversity and magnificence of California for a special issue when the state became the most populous in the nation in the late 1950s, or focusing on a Mississippi plantation to illustrate desegregation in the Deep South. He was equally adept at shooting color and black-and-white, news, still lifes and personalities.


Different View of Things

“What Crane sees is both more and less than the rest of us,” wrote former colleague Art Seidenbaum, now The Times’ Opinion Section editor, in an article marking Crane’s departure from Los Angeles in 1963.

“He sees pictures, and if part of his surrounding is not pictorial then he does not see it at all. I have seen Ralph Crane walk through a screen door, unopened, in pursuit of a photograph. I have watched him stare at the world with one eye tightly shut, for that is the way a camera reflects the world. I’ve laughed at him standing thigh-deep in oozing mud because from that ugly spot he could best focus on something beautiful across the way,” Seidenbaum said.

“This guy was one of the best I ever worked with,” remembered Richard Stolley, former Los Angeles bureau chief for Life and now director of special projects at Time Inc. The tall, angular, urbane Crane not only produced wondrous pictures but also charmed his subjects--in several languages, Stolley said Friday.

Magical Minutes

He moved fast, always working at the magical minutes surrounding dawn and sunset and seemingly sustained by little more than four iced teas gulped at one sitting to save time.

Crane, who was based in Los Angeles for about seven years, is survived by his wife, Denise, three children, Peter, a neurosurgeon in Lander, Wyo., and twin daughters Lynn, who lives in London, and Rita, who lives in Northern California, and several grandchildren.