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University of Texas at Austin

David Douglas Duncan:

An Inventory of His Papers and Photographs at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Duncan, David Douglas, 1916-2018
Title: David Douglas Duncan Papers and Photography Collection
Dates: 1907-2007 (bulk 1950s-1990s)
Extent: 341 boxes, 69 oversize boxes, 5 flat file drawers (189 linear feet)
Abstract: The collection consists of photographic prints (approximately 36,800), negatives (approximately 87,200), transparencies (approximately 21,900), field notebooks, legal files and financial documents, clippings, tear sheets and rotogravure pages, handwritten and typed manuscripts, book dummies, reproduction proofs, exhibition brochures and posters, albums and scrapbooks, military records, awards, and magazines, all documenting the life and career of American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan.
Languages: English, Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian
Access: Open for research. Access and Use Notes: Financial records, including bank statements, insurance information, and telephone records, are restricted until Duncan's death. When possible, documents containing restricted information have been replaced with redacted photocopies. Negatives are restricted from use unless no print(s) is extant. Due to their large size and framing, advance arrangements are required to view the ninety-nine exhibition prints from the 1971 War Without Heroes exhibition. Collection materials are generally in good condition. Some pages have released from the spiral binding of many of the field notebooks, so extra care should be taken when handling these. Given the ephemeral nature of book dummies, these items are somewhat fragile; when possible a book cradle should be used when viewing them. In several of the dummies, the adhesive has failed, so care should be taken to ensure that pasted images or text panels are not separated from the dummy. In many of the more recent dummies, pages are only slightly adhered together as Duncan used a rubber-cement-like adhesive. With a staff member's assistance, these pages may be accessed carefully. Faxes on non-permanent thermal paper have been photocopied onto acid-free paper to preserve the image. Identification information on highly acidic envelopes or on cardboard boxes has also been photocopied, otherwise all original folders were kept with the materials.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts, 1996-2007 (G10650, G11020, G11217, G11212, G11464, G11468, G11615, G11617, G11871, G11949, G12326, G12413)
Processed by: Liz Murray, 1999, and Mary Alice Harper, 2008

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

Biographical Sketch

Photojournalist David Douglas Duncan was born January 23, 1916, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Kenneth Stockwell and Florence Watson Duncan. He grew up in Kansas City, where he attended W.C. Bryant Primary School and South West High School. Following graduation in 1933, Duncan enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson, intending to pursue a career in archaeology. In 1935, he transferred to the University of Miami at Coral Gables, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Zoology and Spanish in 1938.
In 1934, Duncan received his first camera, a 39-cent Bakelite Univex Model A, for his eighteenth birthday from his sister Jean. In 1937, Duncan entered his photograph of a Mexican fisherman, casting his nets, into the Third Annual Newspaper National Snapshot Awards, where it was awarded Second Place in its class. Encouraged by his success, Duncan purchased a new camera with his prize money and returned to Mexico, where he began developing picture stories he could sell to the rotogravure sections of various U.S. Sunday newspapers. Between 1939 and 1943, Duncan documented a variety of subjects, including turtle fishermen in the Caribbean, the West Indies, northern South America for Pan American Airways, the coasts of Peru and Chile, and Mexico and Central America for Nelson Rockefeller's Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA). His photo-stories appeared in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, the Kansas City Star, the Miami Daily News, and National Geographic. In 1942, Duncan was drafted for World War II; on February 17, 1943, he was made Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps Reserve.
Between 1943 and 1946, Duncan served as a combat photographer for the Marines, traveling throughout the Solomon Islands and the Western Pacific. He captured images of servicemen and women, various airfields, and the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri. When Duncan was honorably discharged from the Marines on February 1, 1946, he was a First Lieutenant and had earned a Purple Heart, a Legion of Merit, six battle stars, three air medals, and two flying crosses.
A month after his military discharge, Duncan was hired by Wilson Hicks as a staff photographer for Life magazine. Three days later, on March 30, 1946, he was on a plane headed for his first Life assignment: Tehran, Iran, threatened by Russian tanks. As a Life correspondent to the Middle East, Duncan was based out of Cairo, Istanbul, and Rome. In Tehran he met Leila Hanki, the daughter of a Lebanese mother and Turkish father. They were married on September 20, 1947, and eventually settled in Rome.
From 1946 to 1956, Duncan traversed the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Africa covering numerous stories, including the Alhambra in Spain, Japanese culture, the Qashqai nomads of Persia, Islamic women in purdah, the nascent oil-boom in Saudi Arabia, the end of British occupation of India, and war. During the decade Duncan was with Life, he chronicled the effects of war, the Iron Curtain, and the end of the French colonial empire. He witnessed the King David Hotel blast in Jerusalem in 1946, the Greek Civil War in 1948, and, most famously, the Korean War. Duncan's desire to put his words with his images and show the horror of war resulted in the publication of his first book This Is War! (1951), a summation of his Korean War coverage published one year after the start of the war.
In 1956, Duncan left Life and became a special correspondent to Collier's magazine. In that year he photographed Connemara, Ireland, the Gaza Strip, and Marrakech, Morocco; made the first of five trips to Russia to photograph the treasures of the Kremlin; traveled to Germany to document the new Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing" for an advertising campaign; and met and befriended Pablo Picasso. By the end of that year, Collier's had folded and Duncan began working as an independent photojournalist.
Duncan spent the latter 1950s and early 1960s photographing Picasso's home life and work, resulting in The Private World of Pablo Picasso (1958), a revealing look at the artist's life, and Picasso's Picassos (1961), a catalog of Picasso's collection of his own work never before seen by the public. Duncan also took four more trips to Moscow to finish his research on Russia and the Kremlin's treasures, ultimately publishing The Kremlin in 1960.
While a necessary part of his career, Duncan's nomadic lifestyle proved incompatible with the home life his wife desired. By the end of the 1950s Duncan was living in southern France, and in 1960 began building a home for himself and his soon-to-be second wife, Sheila Macauley. In 1962, after Duncan obtained a Mexican divorce from his first wife, he and Sheila were married at City Hall in New York City on July 13.
For the first half of the 1960s, Duncan worked on his first photo-autobiography, Yankee Nomad (1966), but in 1967 he returned to war photography. Working under the sponsorship of Life magazine and ABC News, Duncan covered the Vietnam War in Con Thien in October of that year, and Khe Sanh in February 1968. Within one month of returning from Khe Sanh, Duncan published I Protest! (1968), professing his outrage at what he had witnessed. He later summarized his entire coverage of the Vietnam War in War Without Heroes (1970). In August of 1968, Duncan returned to the United States to cover the national presidential conventions for a series of NBC News television specials. The following year, Duncan published Self-Portrait: U.S.A. (1969), a photo-narrative of the people, places, and events as they unfolded.
By the early 1970s, Duncan was all but retired from commercial photographic assignments, leaving him more time to focus on his book projects. Throughout the following three-and-a-half decades, he published sixteen books, including a second photo-autobiography, Photo Nomad (2003), five books dedicated to the life and memory of Picasso, a dog trilogy about his pets, a summation of his coverage of the Muslim world while working for Life, and a series of books introducing the works of other artists.
From 1962 onward, Duncan lived in the south of France with his wife Sheila. He died on June 7, 2018.


Duncan, David Douglas. Yankee Nomad. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

Photographic prints, negatives, transparencies, field notebooks, legal files and financial documents, clippings, tear sheets and rotogravure pages, handwritten and typed manuscripts, book dummies, reproduction proofs, exhibition brochures and posters, albums and scrapbooks, military records, awards, and magazines all document the life and career of David Douglas Duncan. The collection is organized into the following five series: I. Photojournalism, 1934-2005; II. Book Projects, 1951-2006; III. Correspondence, 1908-2007; IV. Career-Related Materials, 1940-2004; and V. Personal Papers & Photographs, 1907-2007. While most of the materials are in English, a number of book and exhibition reviews are in foreign languages, including Japanese, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
Duncan's entire photographic career is documented in the form of transparencies, negatives, photographs, captions, essays, field notebooks, legal files, and tear sheets, clippings and rotogravure pages found in Series I. Included are Duncan's earliest images beginning in 1934, all materials from his ten years as a staff photographer for Life, and all freelance assignments and personal film through 2004. Featured prominently are Duncan's coverage of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Pablo Picasso, and the 1968 national presidential conventions. Lacking from the record are the transparencies for the Mercedes-Benz 300SL advertising campaign (Duncan gave these to Mercedes-Benz), the complete master set of Picasso's collection of his own work (Duncan gave these to Claude Picasso), and film of Jacqueline Picasso following her husband's death (Duncan destroyed this film at her request).
Between 1951 and 2006, Duncan published one portfolio and twenty-five books, but also envisioned at least nine others. Series II forms the bulk of the entire collection and includes all materials used for and generated during the book-making process: source photographs and notes, final image selections, versions of text, dummies, proof sheets and dust jackets. Mounted master photographs are available for some publications including This Is War!, I Protest!, and Self-Portrait: U.S.A. Marketing and publicity tools, book reviews, and correspondence with publishers and printers are also present. Some generic items, such as book covers, paper samples, and adhesive letters used for all book projects complete this series.
Series III comprises of the bulk of Duncan's correspondence. It consists of both business and personal correspondence in the form of letters, telegrams, and faxes. Included are requests from publishers and organizations for approval to reprint Duncan's photographs and reader requests for his books, as well as correspondence with family, fans, friends, former U.S. Marines, colleagues, booksellers, publishers, and editors. Also present are a number of poignant letters from the families of soldiers killed or wounded in Korea or Vietnam, whose photographs appeared in Life features or one of Duncan's books. Correspondence about legal issues, specific book projects, and exhibitions is found with Duncan's photojournalism, book project, and career-related files in other series.
Series IV, the smallest of the five, consists of correspondence with galleries and museums, photographs and negatives of exhibitions in situ, photocopies of images loaned, and a handful of lecture slides. Also included are early inventories of Duncan's stories for Life and National Geographic, and a small amount of research done on film in the 1940s and 1950s.
Series V, Personal Papers & Photographs, contains among other things: albums and scrapbooks; photographs, negatives, and transparencies; awards; diplomas; souvenirs; military records and memorabilia; gifts received; and auction catalogs. Clippings about, biographies of, and short autobiographies by Duncan are found here. Included too are files he kept on various friends, current events, and subjects, including photojournalist Alexandra Boulat, painter Paul Jenkins, health issues, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
In addition to photographic and manuscript material, the Ransom Center also received numerous books, cameras and equipment, video and audio recordings, works of art, and personal effects from Duncan. These materials have been transferred to the appropriate units within the Ransom Center. Additional collection material that has arrived since 2007 is not currently processed.

Series Outline

  • Series I. Photojournalism, 1934-2005
  • Subseries A. Pre-Life Magazine Career, 1934-1945
  • Subseries B. Life Magazine Assignments, 1946-1956
  • Subseries C. Freelance Career, 1946-2003
  • Subseries D. Field Notebooks, 1938-1995
  • Subseries E. Legal Files, 1957-2003
  • Subseries F. Tear Sheets, Clippings, & Rotogravure Pages, 1937-2005
  • Series II. Book Projects, 1951-2006
  • Subseries A. Published, 1951-2006
  • Subseries B. Unpublished, 1969-2001
  • Subseries C. Book-Related Materials, undated
  • Series III. Correspondence, 1908-2007
  • Subseries A. General, 1936-2007
  • Subseries B. Family, 1908-2004
  • Series IV. Career-Related Materials, 1940-2004
  • Series V. Personal Papers & Photographs, 1907-2007
  • Subseries A. Family, 1907-2004
  • Subseries B. Financial Records, 1937-2004
  • Subseries C. Personal Records & Memorabilia, 1916-2004
  • Subseries D. Subject Files, 1937-2007

Notes Concerning the Folder List

In processing this collection, Duncan's file titles were maintained whenever possible. Any title information provided by the cataloger was placed in brackets. When handwriting was hard to read, questionable words were also bracketed, as were names which were suspect due to logical inconsistencies. Duncan's own abbreviations appear throughout the folder list; the following list is provided to assist the researcher:
  • CH = Switzerland
  • DDD = David Douglas Duncan
  • KC = Kansas City, Missouri
  • KCMo = Kansas City, Missouri
  • NYC = New York City
  • PP = Pablo Picasso
  • U.S.M.C. = United States Marine Corps
  • Y-Y = Yo-Yo
  • Zeke = Sheila Duncan
Additional abbreviations used by the cataloger:
  • B/w = Black-and-white
  • Negs. = Negative(s)
  • Photos = Photograph(s)
Arrangement by format
  • Photos & Manuscripts, Boxes 1-300
  • Negatives, Boxes 301-320, 413
  • Transparencies, Boxes 321-343, 413
  • Oversize Materials, Boxes 344-412 and Flat File

Series Descriptions

Transferred Material

In addition to photographic and manuscript material, the Ransom Center also received numerous books, cameras and equipment, video and audio recordings, works of art, and personal effects from Duncan. These materials have been transferred to the appropriate units within the Ransom Center.
  • Nearly 100 works of art and books inscribed by artists went to the Art Collection, including: fourteen drawings by Picasso; fourteen books inscribed to Duncan by Picasso; two ink drawings by Francisco Toledo; cardboard-collage caricatures by André Villers; and scratchboard engravings by Dorle Lindner.
  • Over 500 books and portfolios on a myriad of subjects went to the Ransom Center's Library. Copies of all of Duncan's books (English and foreign editions) were received, along with books by and about other photographers including Robert Capa, Jun Miki, Gordon Parks, Bernard Cahier, David Friend, Pierre Boulat, and Yousef Karsh, many of which are inscribed to Duncan. A significant portion of the books cover the life and work of Pablo Picasso.
  • Forty-five pieces of photographic equipment went to the Photography Collection, including: the Leica III c fitted with his first Nikkor lens, used to cover the Korean War and instrumental in Nikon Corporation success; the first of four custom-made Leica M3Ds used to photograph Picasso; a Nikon F used during the Vietnam War; and the "bazooka" prismatic lenses with which he captured Paris in the 1960s.
  • Fourteen computer disks and seven compact discs containing files for the production of Faceless, Photo Nomad, Picasso Paints a Portrait, and Yo-Yo were transferred to the Electronic Records Collection. David Douglas Duncan does not own a computer; these disks and CDs were produced by his publishers and/or his friend and neighbor Franck Follet.
  • Approximately 200 sound recordings (cassettes, reel-to-reel, and CDs, both commercially released and privately recorded) went to the Sound Recordings Collection, including: music Duncan listened to while working; bunker talk and battlefield sounds recorded in Con Thien and Khe Sanh, Vietnam; radio interviews; photojournalism conferences; and personal conversations.
  • Close to 100 personal effects went to the Personal Effects Collection, including: a gold and carnelian ring given by Duncan to Picasso and returned to him after the artist's death; Fijian fishing spears from the Solomon Islands; a burnoose from His Royal Highness Talal; shoes from the King of Afghanistan; military apparel, medals, and awards; and even Duncan's Boy Scout sash from circa 1929.
  • Twenty-one video recordings (filmstrips, VHS, DVDs) went to the Moving Image Collection, including: documentaries on Picasso; a filmstrip from Life's The Epic of Man series that complements Duncan's still footage of the Berbers (see Series I. Subseries B. Life Magazine Assignments -- #44744); and television interviews with Duncan.

Index Terms


Picasso, Pablo, 1881-1973.
Korean War, 1950-1953.
Kremlin (Moscow, Russia).
Presidential candidates--United States--1960-1970.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975.
World War II.


Arab countries.
Central America.
Kansas City (Mo.).
Middle East.

Document Types

Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.).
Film negatives.
Film transparencies.
Gelatin silver prints.

Container List