Ed Clark; Life Photographer Had ‘Eye of an Artist’
America was in mourning on April 12, 1945. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the country’s only four-term president, who had led a shattered people through the impossible days of the Depression and through most of the Second World War, had just died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Ed Clark, a Life magazine photographer, drove all night from his home in Nashville to Roosevelt’s summer residence in Warm Springs, Ga., to cover the news. He arrived in time to join a swarm of photographers and reporters jockeying for position as the hearse carrying Roosevelt’s coffin approached the rail station for its trip back to Washington.
Then Clark, a slight, unobtrusive man, heard one of Roosevelt’s favorite hymns, “Goin’ Home,” being played on an accordion. With his Leica in hand, he wheeled and saw a Navy bandsman, Gordon Jackson, with tears of anguish streaming down his face.
“I thought, what a picture,” Clark told an interviewer years later. Clark hoped that no one else saw what he was seeing as he snapped a few frames. Apparently no one else did, and Clark’s dramatic photo, which became the symbol of a nation in grief, took up an entire page in the next issue of Life.
Clark, who died Jan. 22 at his home in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 88, was present at many of the historic moments of the 20th century. He photographed Hermann Goering, the German Luftwaffe commander, at the Nuremberg war crimes trials and was the only photographer allowed in the Oval Office on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s last day as president.
He followed John F. Kennedy on the presidential campaign trail and was the only photographer invited to the reception when Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall wed.
Former Life magazine colleague Hugh Sidey once said that Clark “had the pure eye of an artist.”
Sidey, who worked with Clark in Life’s office in Washington, D.C., said Clark had the ability to make deeply moving images without intruding on his subject’s life.
“You just didn’t know he was there,” said Sidey, who wrote the introduction to Clark’s book “Decades.”
When he was on assignment, Clark said earlier this year, “the days were never long enough for me. Even now, I still love holding a camera, looking through the lens to see what I can see.”
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When published this story identified Navy bandsman, Graham Jackson incorrectly as Gordon Jackson.
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