I’ve been a photographer for a very, very long time. I’m 99 now, can you imagine?" laughs iconic photojournalist David Douglas Duncan. "With all modesty, I’ve had more curiosity, I think, than any other photographer—between Picasso, War, the Kremlin, Palestine, Saudi Arabia—and I’ve lived longer."
Duncan, also known simply by his monogram DDD, has covered many subjects during his career. One of his first sets of images came from a hotel fire near his university. Duncan noticed a guest attempting to reenter the burning building to save a suitcase and photographed the scene. It turned out this guest was the infamous gangster and bank robber John Dillinger, who was attempting to save a suitcase of stolen cash. While these images were lost, the moment sparked Duncan’s passion for journalism.
From here, Duncan submitted photo stories to newspapers and magazines such as The Kansas City Star, LIFE and National Geographic before enlisting in the Marines as a combat photographer. He covered World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Duncan covered conflicts in Turkey, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East as a full-time LIFE Magazine photographer. And he spent many years photographing his friend and neighbor Pablo Picasso, resulting in six books about the artist.
With so much experience and 27 books already published, it could be easy for the 99-year-old to relax, but Duncan has just published his 28th book, My 20th Century (Arcade Publishing, 2015). While you may expect a book with that title to move chronologically, Duncan has deliberately avoided that structure, methodically choosing images that are personally and historically significant, and connecting the dots in a visually thematic way.
Over the phone from his home in France, Duncan enthusiastically guides me through the pages. He directs me to a layout in the middle of the book.