12 Extraordinary WWII Photographers

A field of the dead in Normandy, by Robert Capa
A field of the dead in Normandy, by Robert Capa | © PhotosNormandie/Flickr
Marcelina Morfin

Men and women risk their lives to document the horrors of war. Below, we profile 12 of the most important WWII photographers, who have captured some of history’s most important images.

Edward Steichen

Born in Luxembourg in 1879 and raised in the United States, Edward Steichen showed a strong interest in art and photography at a young age. He became one of the best-known fashion photographers, shooting for publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, and was at the height of his career when he gave it all up to become a photojournalist. He went on to photograph World War I. When World War II started, Steichen was 62 years old, and set out to document war once again – specifically United States naval operations.

Aircraft of Carrier Air Group 16 return to the USS Lexington (CV-16) during the Gilberts operation, November 1943

Charles Kerlee

Before turning to photography, Charles Kerlee worked in the film industry. By the time Edward Steichen recruited him to be one of the official war photographers for the United States Navy, Kerlee was one of the best-known and most successful commercial photographers in the United States. His assignment during WWII was to document the USS Yorktown and the men on board. Not only capturing moments in the air, Kerlee also photographed everyday moments, including those rare moments of downtime.

Two U.S. Navy Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver aircraft from Bombing Squadron 11 (VB-11) bank over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-12) before landing, following strikes on Japanese shipping in the China Sea, circa mid-January 1945

Wayne Miller

Wayne Miller was another member of Steichen’s WWII group. He was born in Chicago and attended art school shortly after graduating from high school; however, he left because he didn’t like it and joined the Navy instead. He traveled all over the world, including France and the Philippines, capturing moments of war; indeed, he was one of the first to photograph Hiroshima after the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. During his time in the navy, he took many photographs, with one of the most famous being of an injured airman being pulled from a plane.

Crewmen aboard USS Saratoga lift AOM Kenneth Bratton, USNR, out of a TBF Avenger’s rear turret after a raid on Rabaul on 5 November 1943

Lee Miller

Born in New York City in 1907, Lee Miller went on to have a successful modeling career before moving to Paris where took up photography, specializing in fashion and fine art. When World War II started, Miller was living in London and became interested in photojournalism, becoming the war photographer for Vogue. Throughout the war, Miller photographed incredibly sad moments of destruction, including destroyed landmarks, dead soldiers, and devastating scenes of the Holocaust. She was also known for her photos of women throughout the war, whether they be serving in the air force, being accused of collaborating with the Germans, or medical personnel.

Robert Capa

Born Endre Erno Friedman in Hungary in 1913, Robert Capa was a Jewish wartime photographer known for documenting several different wars, including the Spanish Civil War and World War II. During WWII, Capa captured moments all over the globe from London to Africa to Italy to the Battle of Normandy and more. Indeed, his photographs from Normandy are some of his most memorable, as he was able to capture violence with exceptional aplomb. Robert Capa died in Vietnam when he stepped on a landmine while photographing the First Indochina War.

Carl Mydans

Capturing life and death and everything that comes with war, Carl Mydans traveled all throughout Europe and Asia, along with his wife Shelley Mydans – they both worked for Life magazine. During the course of taking photos of the war, he traveled over 45,000 miles and captured many devastating moments, including the aftermath of a mass-panic during a Japanese air raid in Chongqing, China. Mydans and his wife were even captured in the Philippines by Japanese forces and were held for almost two years before being released in December 1943. This, however, did not deter Mydans, as he went on to photograph many more wartime situations.

Casualties of a mass-panic during a Japanese air raid in Chongqing in 1941 – photo by Carl Mydans

Dickey Chapelle

Born Georgette Louise Meyer in Wisconsin in 1918, Dickey Chapelle was a well-known wartime photojournalist, covering everything from World War II to the Vietnam War. During WWII, Chapelle became a war correspondent for National Geographic and was assigned to cover the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Chapelle was never one to show any fear, always doing whatever she could to document the war. Like Capa, Chapelle also died in Vietnam – a tripwire was triggered and she was fatally wounded with a piece of shrapnel. She was the first American female war photographer killed in action.

Joe Rosenthal

Even though Joe Rosenthal had a long career that spanned over a half of a century, he is best known for one incredible photo, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima. Russian Jewish in heritage, Rosenthal was born in Washington D.C. in 1911 and became interested in photography when he moved to San Francisco during the Great Depression. He tried to join the U.S. Army as a military photographer, but due to his poor eyesight, he was denied; however, he got a job with the Associated Press and was assigned to cover the war in the Pacific. He captured one of the most iconic pictures of the war; indeed, it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and was used to created the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.

Rosenthal’s photo was a model for the Marine Corps Memorial

Toni Frissell

Toni Frissell, born in New York in 1907, was known for her fashion photography, portraits of celebrated people, plus her photos of World War II. Before the war, she worked for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, creating beautiful images of women outdoors;however, once war was declared, Frissell offered her services to the American Red Cross, which they accepted. She later went to work for the Eighth Army Air Force and the Women’s Army Corps, the latter of which she was the official photographer. Her photos highlight nurses, African American fighter pilots and children, among others.

Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas of Chicago, IL, Class 43-J – photo by Toni Frissell

George Strock

Catching the photography bug in high school where he took a photojournalism course, George Strock became a crime and sports photographer. In 1940, he began to work for Life magazine and was eventually sent to cover the war. Assigned to New Guinea, Strock put his life at risk repeatedly – he was nearly killed on two occasions – in order to capture moments that really showed the destruction and devastation of war. The first photo ever printed in an American publication of dead American soldiers was captured by Strock at Buna Beach.

Dmitri Baltermants

Dmitri Baltermants was a Soviet photojournalist known for his photos capturing the Battle of Stalingrad and battles of the Red Army in both Russia and Ukraine. His photos have been compared to those of Robert Capa, as they show the pain and suffering that war causes; however, in his time, his photos were censored by the government – they wanted to control what was shown. It wasn’t until the 1960s that his best work was shown, including his most famous photo titled ’Searching for the Loved Ones at Kerch’ – depicting a devastated women in complete agony while looking over frozen bodies.

Margaret Bourke-White

Another female photojournalist, Margaret Bourke-White was the first woman war photographer allowed to enter the combat zones during World War II. She was located in the Soviet Union, Moscow to be specific, when the German forces invaded – she was able to capture the fighting. She then followed the U.S. Air Force in North Africa followed by the U.S. Army in Italy and Germany. Unsurprisingly, she, like everyone else on this list, was in danger repeatedly, including being on a ship that was torpedoed and sunk. Some of her most memorable works to come out of the war were those of the inmates at concentration camps and bodies in gas chambers.

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