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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), and 776 electronic files (3.8 GB)
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, electronic files, and magazines, all documenting the life and career of American photojournalist David Douglas Duncan.
Call Number: Photography Collection PH-01031
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 contact sheet(s) and/or 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. To request access to electronic files, please email Reference.
Restrictions on Use: Certain restrictions apply to the use of electronic files. Researchers must agree to the Materials Use Policy for Electronic Files before accessing them. Original computer disks and forensic disk images are restricted. Copying electronic files, including screenshots and printouts, is not permitted.

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts, 1996-2007 (G 10650, G 11020, G 11217, G 11212, G 11464, G 11468, G 11615, G 11617, G 11871, G 11949, G 12326, G 12413)
Processed by: Liz Murray, 1999, and Mary Alice Harper, 2008 Born digital materials processed, arranged, and described by Chance Adams and Brenna Edwards, 2015-2022.

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

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

Series Descriptions

Series I. Photojournalism, 1934-2005 (109.25 boxes, 23.25 oversize boxes, .75 flat file drawers)
This series documents Duncan's life as a photographer, and it includes everything from his earliest rolls of film shot in the 1930s, to his career as a staff photographer for Life magazine, through his retirement. All manner of materials generated during his seventy-plus years are present from negatives, transparencies, contact sheets and enlargements, to field notebooks, legal documents, and coverage in the print media. The series is divided into six subseries. Given the significance of his years with Life, the first three subseries divide Duncan's photographic career accordingly: A. Pre-Life Magazine Career, 1934-1945; B. Life Magazine Assignments, 1946-1956; and C. Freelance Career, 1946-2003. These subseries contain all photographic material (negatives, transparencies and prints) and any descriptive text for each subject. The other three subseries are format-based and cover Duncan's entire photographic career: D. Field Notebooks, 1938-1995; E. Legal Files, 1957-2003; and F. Tear Sheets, Clippings, & Rotogravure Pages, 1937-2005.
Subseries A. Pre-Life Magazine Career, 1934-1945
This subseries begins with Duncan's earliest photographs shot on No. 00 film with a 39-cent Bakelite Univex A camera, and ends with those taken while Duncan was serving as a combat photographer for the United States Marine Corps (U.S.M.C.) during World War II. Because the bulk of these images were not made while on assignment, and given the uncertainty of some dates, the subseries was organized into eleven broad topics that reflect periods of Duncan's life, his travels, and his first assignments as a budding photojournalist.
Duncan's nomadic tendencies, obvious from an early age, are well represented by prints, negatives, and transparencies from his excursions throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and other Central American countries, and South America. Included are images of the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, broadbill swordfish and giant squid caught during an expedition with Helen and Michael Lerner, hemp growers in El Salvador, a young female bullfighter named Conchita Cintrón, and the architecture and countryside near Pan American Airways' ports of call in and around the Caribbean.
Duncan's photographic work during World War II for the U.S.M.C. is government property, so the archive contains only a fraction of the images he made. A set of 103 oversize mounted exhibition prints, a small number of 35mm transparencies, and black-and-white contact sheets and photographs provide a good representation. Most striking perhaps are a series of photographs showing a Japanese officer committing treason, leading a bombing mission against his own headquarters.
Subseries B. Life Magazine Assignments, 1946-1956
This subseries consists of color 35mm and 120 transparencies, 35mm and 120 black-and-white negatives, contact sheets, enlargements, captions, and narrative reports. All materials have been kept in their original order, a numerical sequence according to Life story numbers, which also run chronologically. Duncan's typescript story descriptions and captions by roll number are also present. Exact dates have been provided, when available; for others only the year is given. The original envelopes, which carry the Life story number and description, have been retained. Both 35mm and 120 formats are represented, with 35mm forming the bulk of the collection in later years. All negatives and transparencies have been removed and stored separately from other materials for preservation purposes.
Arguably the best known images from this body of work resulted from Duncan's coverage of the first sixth months of the Korean War. From the beginning of the war on June 25, 1950, through the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, Duncan shot over 3,500 black-and-white negatives while on the march, under fire, and in freezing temperatures that caused his film to break.
Though primarily known as a war photographer, Duncan covered all manner of subjects while working for Life. One subject of note is the Muslim world. Between 1954 and early 1955, Duncan traveled throughout Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Spain, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, and Palestine, capturing all aspects of Islam for Life's "The World's Great Religions" series. Images of mosques, Zar dancers, Whirling Dervishes, missionaries, textiles, prayer rugs, and Korans abound in over 3,600 color transparencies.
Subseries C. Freelance Career, 1946-2003
Duncan's extensive freelance career is captured in this subseries. Materials are arranged chronologically by year only, given the overlap of many of the subjects. Within each year, subjects and stories are arranged alphabetically. Chief among the subjects of Duncan's freelance career are Pablo Picasso, the Vietnam War, and the national presidential conventions of 1968. Other subjects of note include the first production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1971, gambling in the casinos of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and the 1983 trip to the United States by Prince Talal of Saudi Arabia.
Over 10,000 black-and-white 35mm negatives and nearly 1,100 color 35mm transparencies of Picasso and his family from 1956 to his death in 1973 are found in this subseries. The photographs capture the artist at work on drawings, paintings, lithographs and pottery, at play with his children Claude and Paloma, engaged in conversation at the dinner table, and in private, contemplative moments.
More than 3,700 black-and-white negatives of the Vietnam War, taken while embedded with U.S. Marines of the 9th Regiment in Con Thien and of the 26th Regiment in Khe Sanh, "show what a man endures when his country decides to go to war, with or without his personal agreement on the righteousness of the cause," as Duncan wrote in War Without Heroes. For the resulting Life stories and I Protest!, Duncan was awarded the Photographer of the Year Award by the American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1968 and the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Gold Medal.
The remainder of the film and photographs in this subseries record Duncan's daily life. Included are photographs of: trips to Gstaad and Lausanne; cruises around the Mediterranean aboard the private yacht of Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos; friends, family and neighbors; his three dogs Lump, Thor, and Yo-Yo; his honeymoon trip with Sheila to the American west; street scenes from around the world; and anything else that caught the curious and critical eye of Duncan.
Subseries D. Field Notebooks, 1938-1995
Duncan carried pocket-size spiral notebooks throughout his career. These 142 field notebooks have been organized chronologically and provide a wealth of information regarding Duncan's whereabouts and activities from the 1930s through 1990s. While some notebooks are specific to story assignments, others contain more general information kept over the course of a year. Inside the notebooks is a variety of information including subject(s) of rolls of film, book ideas, contact information, and occasional quotations. Chief among the notebooks is his "Aviators Flight Log Book," dated 14 April 1945 to 13 December 1956, which lists every takeoff and landing, including date of travel and type of aircraft. For many of the notebooks, the specific Life assignments have been identified and the story number is indicated to assist correlation with the visual materials described in Subseries B. of this series.
Subseries E. Legal Files, 1957-2003
This subseries contains contracts with publishers, correspondence related to contracts, agreements, return of rights (especially for all Life photographs), permissions, and copyright statements for a few of Duncan's magazine articles and all but two of his books. (Contracts and agreements for Faceless and Photo Nomad are found under their respective titles in Series II. Subseries A.) The bulk of the material relates to book projects and is arranged by title. Duncan's letters of 1962 to Jacqueline Kennedy discussing a proposed book on the White House and his ABC/TV contract for Vietnam coverage are present.
Subseries F. Tear Sheets, Clippings, & Rotogravure Pages, 1937-2005
This subseries contains a portion of Duncan's work as represented in world-wide newspaper clippings and magazine tear sheets from 1937 to 2005. Items are arranged alphabetically by publication title, and publications with more than one issue are further arranged chronologically. Life magazine tear sheets and complete issues form the bulk of the material, spanning the years 1946 to 1971, much of it reflecting Duncan's career as the magazine's correspondent to the Middle East from 1946 to 1956. Oversize rotogravure pages from the 1930s and 1940s represent some of Duncan's earliest work and demonstrate his ability to sell a story. Included are stories on big-game fishing and hunting expeditions, travel in the West Indies, commerce and culture in Central America, as well as stories from his home town of Kansas City, Missouri, and Coral Gables and Miami, Florida, where he attended college.
Series II. Book Projects, 1951-2006 (138.25 boxes; 27.5 oversize boxes, 3 flat file drawers)
Duncan's desire to put his words with his images lead him to book publishing. Over the course of his career, he has successfully published twenty-five books and one self-titled portfolio and envisioned at least nine other works. This series has been divided into the following subseries: A. Published, 1951-2006; B. Unpublished, 1969-2001; and C. Book-Related Materials, undated.
Subseries A. Published, 1951-2006
This subseries brings together all production materials, and in some cases source materials, for Duncan's published works. The materials, arranged alphabetically by publication title, reflect a diversity of topics and experiences including: Duncan's service as a combat photographer in the U.S.M.C. during World War II; his coverage of the Korean and Vietnam Wars; his enduring friendship with Pablo Picasso for the last seventeen years of the artist's life; the troubled 1968 United States presidential conventions; the visual splendors of the Middle East and the Kremlin; the amazing story of his friend and neighbor Martin Gray; the renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson; the art of Ariane, Dr. Oscar Forel, Dorle Lindner, Hsueh Shao-Tang, George Forrs, and André Villers; the sunflowers of France; exotic visions created by prismatic lenses; and the lives of his three beloved dogs, Lump, Thor, and Yo-Yo.
Duncan was heavily involved throughout the entire publication process for all of his books. And while his photography was central to the majority of his books, Duncan also wrote his own text, produced full scale mock-ups, and designed the book covers and jackets. Under each book title, materials are arranged to reflect the publication process. Each book begins with source materials, followed by production materials, correspondence, marketing and publicity materials, and book reviews. Source materials include visual documentation, such as negatives, transparencies, and photographs, as well as notes and correspondence. Production materials consist of master images, duplicate and reject images, edited texts, book dummies, reproduction proofs, and dust jacket material.
A significant quantity of negatives, transparencies, contact sheets, and prints served as source materials for several books including A Secret Garden, The Kremlin, Magic Worlds of Fantasy, Picasso & Lump, Prismatics, Sunflowers for Van Gogh, Thor, and Yo-Yo. Of interest are Duncan's notes which accompany 113 rolls of color 35mm transparencies for The Kremlin, his first best-selling art book. A similar notebook detailing technicalities for specific rolls of film is located within documentation for Picasso's Picassos, Duncan's second best-selling art book.
Production materials in the form of master prints, original corrected text, and annotated proofs, reveal the development of Duncan's war trilogy: This is War!, I Protest!, and War Without Heroes. An incomplete set of master prints and several pages of corrected text document Duncan's first photo-autobiography, Yankee Nomad. Master images (prints and transparencies), annotated proofs, and several dummy variations represent the creation of his second photo-autobiography, Photo Nomad.
Duncan's coordination of publishers, printers, and binders, often located on different continents, is particularly well-documented in the correspondence for Picasso Paints a Portrait, Yankee Nomad, and Photo Nomad. Publicity materials and reviews complete the publishing cycle of Duncan's books, most of which were published in several languages, some being reprinted in paperback.
Subseries B. Unpublished, 1969-2001
This subseries documents nine unpublished, unrealized, or in-progress books. Some projects, like 'Kees Verkade Sculptures,' are well developed, comprising everything from source negatives and photographs to text and dummies. Other projects are represented by a dust jacket design only. Topics include artists Francisco Toledo and Pablo Picasso, as well as aspects of Duncan's career, from turtle-fishing in the Caymans in 1939 to a retrospective of his years as a war photographer.
Subseries C. Book-Related Materials, undated
This subseries contains materials used in book production that cannot be associated with any one specific publication. Included are copy negatives, copy transparencies, and a small selection of photographs, extraneous dummy material, paper, cloth and cover samples, and book market information.
Series III. Correspondence, 1908-2007 (61 boxes, 2 oversize folders)
The Correspondence series, ranging from letters to and from Duncan's parents before his birth, and continuing through his most recent book project, is divided into two subseries: A. General, 1936-2007, and B. Family, 1908-2004.
Subseries A. General, 1936-2007
Duncan's general correspondence arrived at the Center bundled into folders. Folders marked with a name or topic were arranged alphabetically into a Named files section. Correspondence in unmarked folders, or in folders marked with a date, were arranged into a Chronological files section. Within each folder correspondence was arranged in reverse-chronological order in keeping with Duncan's own filing system. Present are incoming letters and carbons of Duncan's outgoing correspondence with editors, publishers, printers, museums, friends, fans, military associates, and fellow photographers, and with people Duncan met along the way in the numerous countries he visited throughout the world, all of which attest to Duncan's life-long habit of prolific letter writing, even from far-flung locations.
Of particular interest within the Named files is Duncan's file of photocopied letters and cables sent to and from the editorial staff of the National Geographic between 1936 and 1960, regarding prospective stories. Equally illuminating is a set of photocopied dispatches and cables documenting his work with Time-Life from 1946 to 1961, such as one sent February 10th, 1947, from Gelibolubolayir, Turkey: "... this is the first cable ever sent from this new station in the direct center of the Gallipoli line guarding the Dardanelles, also I am the first foreigner allowed here. Saludos...." Communications between other Time-Life staff, regarding Duncan's current assignments and potential stories, round out this important segment of the collection.
Many of the Named files concern gallery, museum, and publisher requests for permission to borrow, display, or reproduce Duncan's photographs. One of the largest files in this section is titled 'Picasso Requests' and contains just such correspondence from 1997 to 2004, representing only a fragment of such requests Duncan received over the years. The Harper & Brothers file, which Duncan kept separate from other book production correspondence, includes both incoming and outgoing letters, most especially with editor-in-chief Evan Thomas. The book projects discussed in this correspondence include This Is War!, The Private World of Pablo Picasso, Picasso's Picassos, and a proposed book for the Kennedy White House. The largest named file is HRC, and consists of letters and faxes between the Ransom Center, Duncan, and his friend Stanley Marcus, 1994-1997, discussing the disposition of the Duncan archive, and frequent faxes regarding permissions. Other files include significant amounts of correspondence with close friends such as Maria and George Embiricos, Isabel and Giorgio Geddes, Chozo Yoshii and family, Suzanne and Paul Jenkins, and Natalie and Eugene Jones. Lacking are three cartons of general correspondence from fans and critics; Duncan never found time to respond to them, and on a day he later named "H-Day," he burned them.
Subseries B. Family, 1908-2004
Duncan's extensive family correspondence is divided between Incoming and Outgoing, and it is arranged alphabetically by correspondent within each division. It begins with letters to and from Duncan's parents, Kenneth and Florence, from 1908 prior to their marriage, through Mr. Duncan's death in 1953, to Mrs. Duncan's final notes written in 1975. The Duncans were avid followers of their son's career as evidenced by both the content and quantity of letters. Additional letters are included in Mr. Duncan's scrapbooks in Series V. A. Letters of Duncan's second wife, Sheila Macauley, from 1957-1975 are also present, written mostly to Duncan as he pursued his book interests. Correspondence from Duncan's first wife, Leila, chronicles the rocky time in their relationship a few years before their divorce and the years that followed. Duncan's own letters to various family members, primarily his parents, date from a classic "away-at-camp" letter in 1929 through his years as a photojournalist, recounting the day-to-day details of his assignments, to the joys and trials of book publication in later years. Lacking are Duncan's letters written while he was enlisted as a U.S. Marine during World War II; according to Duncan, these letters were in a large duffle bag that was lost during one of his mother's moves.
Series IV: Career-Related Materials, 1940-2004 (6 boxes, 3 oversize boxes, .25 flat file drawers)
This series is divided into four sections: Exhibitions, loans & lectures; Life magazine; National Geographic magazine; and Product development & tests. The first section, arranged chronologically, represents the bulk of the material and relates to exhibitions of Duncan's photographs from 1958 to 2004. Included are correspondence with museums and galleries, photographs and negatives of various exhibitions in situ, and all manner of publicity from postcards and brochures to oversize posters and reviews. Of particular note is a set of ninety-nine oversize gelatin silver prints of the Korean and Vietnam Wars mounted and framed for an exhibition at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon in 1971. Two exhibitions particularly well-documented are One Generation of Peace and War, the Whitney Museum of American Art's first exhibition given to a single photographer, and the large 1999 retrospective of Duncan's work jointly produced by the Harry Ransom Center and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.
In addition to the exhibitions materials are 35mm slides used for lectures, indices of Duncan's stories for Life magazine and the National Geographic, a paper co-authored by Duncan in 1940 concerning color photography, and the results of an examination of fungus-damaged negatives conducted by Kodak.
Series V. Personal Papers & Photographs, 1907-2007 (28.5 boxes, 15.25 oversize boxes, 1 flat file drawer)
The series is arranged into four subseries: A. Family, 1907-2004; B. Financial Records, 1937-2004 (restricted); C. Personal Records & Memorabilia, 1916-2004; and D. Subject Files, 1937-2007. It includes articles about Duncan, awards, biographical sketches, and personal and family papers. His career is highlighted in numerous national and international newspaper and magazine articles from 1945 to 1983. His awards include the seminal 1937 Newspaper Snapshot Award (judged by Margaret Bourke-White, among others) and the 1959 Overseas Press Club of America Citation for Excellence, although other recognition such as being twice named Photographer of the Year by the American Society of Magazine Photographers does not appear in the archive. Of special interest is the documentation Duncan compiled on his discovery of the Nikkor lens and his first use of this Nikon equipment in Korea. Duncan's U.S.M.C. service during World War II is also documented, especially his unique orders as well as his military awards and citations.
Subseries A. Family, 1907-2004
This subseries consists of albums and scrapbooks, arranged by creator then date; family papers, arranged alphabetically by creator; and photographs arranged alphabetically by subject, then chronologically by decade.
Beginning with Duncan's own snapshot albums from 1934 to 1937, the albums and scrapbooks provide an additional perspective on Duncan's life and career. These early photographs, using 39¢ equipment and a folding Kodak, portend his lifelong interest in photography. Subjects include friends, automobiles, the campuses of the University of Arizona and the University of Miami, and his travels to places as diverse as New England and Mexico. Duncan's early work for newspapers and magazines is documented in an album containing photo reproductions of a number of his published articles from 1937 to 1941. Letters with their original envelopes and cables to his parents, along with photographs and articles, form the substance of two albums, 1939 to 1945 and 1946 to 1950.
Four of the scrapbooks were created by Duncan and originally contained tear sheets of Life stories from 1946 to 1956, but in the days before photocopiers, Duncan removed many of the tear sheets while making book dummies. The remaining tear sheets were transferred from the scrapbooks for preservation reasons and in an effort to keep similar materials together; they are now housed in Series I. Subseries F. The other four scrapbooks were maintained by Duncan's father beginning in 1945 and ending in 1952 just prior to his death. These scrapbooks contain articles, photographs, and letters from Duncan.
The handful of family papers consists of a family tree for Duncan's family, various obituaries, keepsakes (largely photographs) carried by Duncan and saved by Sheila, and miscellaneous notes kept by Duncan's mother.
Because many of Duncan's photographs over the years were of his family, differentiating family photographs from freelance work proved difficult. As a result the family photographs in this subseries consist almost entirely of photographs not taken by Duncan. The bulk of the material is photographs, negatives, and transparencies of Duncan alone or with others, spanning his life from 1916 up until 2004. Photographs from his college years show the active lifestyle he led, hunting, boxing, playing tennis, sailing, and scuba diving. Only a few photographs show Duncan on assignment for Life, but photographs of him appear throughout his own film found in Series I. Subseries B. Many of the photographs in this section were taken by other notable photographers, including Ray Fisher, Jun Miki, Gjon Mili, Alfred Eisenstaedt, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Few photographs of Duncan's first wife Leila are present. The photographs of Sheila, his second wife, are nearly all from her childhood, but she is well represented throughout Series I. Subseries C. Also included are a few portraits of Duncan's parents and siblings, extended family members, and family homes other than his current home where he has lived since the 1960s.
Subseries B. Financial Records, 1937-2004
Restricted until Duncan's death, this subseries contains bank records, income statements, appraisals and estimates, receipts, telephone records and financial reports. Income statements from the late 1930s through the late 1990s will reveal the difference between being a staff photographer for a large publication to the challenges of working freelance. The telephone records will reveal how much of Duncan's business was conducted by phone and fax from the 1990s forward.
Subseries C. Personal Records & Memorabilia, 1916-2004
Items in this subseries are arranged alphabetically by subject or format. Chief among the papers are Duncan's passports from 1940-1983; his U.S.M.C. orders, decorations, citations and discharge papers; documentation of his art collection; and contact information on scraps of paper, notebook pages, and business cards. Included too are various gifts Duncan received, from photographs by other photographers (including Horace Bristol, Dmitri Kessel, and André Villers) to commemorative scrapbooks from friends and family. A self-described packrat, Duncan also saved everything from airline tickets and steamer trunk labels to menus, foreign stamps, and instruction manuals.
Subseries D. Subject Files, 1937-2007
The subject files are nearly evenly divided between materials relating to Duncan and materials relating to other people and topics on which Duncan kept files.
The materials about Duncan consist largely of clippings about him throughout his career. Many of his clippings were assembled by his long-time friend and associate Eugene Jones in two scrapbooks titled 'Duncan Archives.' Also included are various awards he received beginning with second place in its class in the 1937 Newspaper National Snapshot competition to the prestigious Legion of Merit award in 1952, the Overseas Press Club of America award in 1959, and the National Press Photographers Association award in 1991. Of additional interest are Duncan's autobiographical sketches and documents discussing his role in the launch of Nikon lenses.
Duncan saved clippings, posters, and postcards, among other things, that focus on friends, fellow photographers, current events and commentaries. This portion of the subseries is arranged alphabetically by surname and subject name. Subjects well represented include photographers Serge Assier and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pablo Picasso, Perpignan Festival International du Photojournalisme, the 2001 September 11th terrorist attacks, and general topics in photography and photojournalism.

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

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.).
Electronic documents.
Film negatives.
Film transparencies.
Gelatin silver prints.

Container List