Life, Interpreted Lucely

" . . . where the pictures for the page atone."
—Alexander Pope

No contemporary could write promotion copy quite like Henry Luce. His 1936 prospectus for a new magazine featuring photographs, tentatively called The Show-Book of the World, still has few equals:

To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things—machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man's work—his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed. . . . [This] is the mission now undertaken by a new kind of publication.

Under its more familiar name, Life did transform journalism in America. Prior to its appearance, photographs were still considered to be the vulgar and trivial side of the magazine trade. Luce, however, understood the magic of the still shot, its ability to arouse emotions, to convey immediacy, to tell a story. Employing new innovations in high-speed printing, he introduced the weekly magazine, price 10¢ a copy, that delivered the world in pictures to the American middle class.


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