In the summer of 1944, John Morris, picture editor for Life magazine based in London, decided that he wanted to go to Normandy to see for himself the aftermath of the D-Day landings on June 6. Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and other photographers under his wing were nearby so Morris borrowed a Rolleiflex camera at the last minute as he set sail for the now-secure beaches of Normandy.
Morris said that he was not a photographer, but as an editor he knew all about a good picture. He took photos of people who had endured occupation and deprivation by the Nazis and bombings mostly by the Allies and yet they turned out with joy to welcome the liberators. Morris captured the mood, the devastation of the towns, the interaction of American soldiers with the children, and the work of the journalists on the ground. The photography book Quelque Part en France (Somewhere in France) was launched at the Musee de la Bataille in Bayeux, Normandy, on May 16.
Morris spent about a month in Normandy, but he did not offer the pictures to Life magazine because he did not want to be seen as competing with professional photographers. So these pictures sat in his apartment in Paris in a bottom drawer for 69 years until Robert Pledge, photo editor of Contact Press Images, saw them and decided that a book should be published in time for the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings.
Morris and Pledge, both OPC members, proposed a book event in the town of Bayeux. The timing was good because the OPC has a Ford Foundation grant that funds international outreach.
In 2007 the town of Bayeux, in conjunction with Reporters Without Borders, created a memorial garden with the names of more than 2,000 journalists killed in the line of duty since 1944 inscribed on stone structures. The town of Bayeux and the OPC have a natural affinity for honoring war correspondence, and are celebrating milestone anniversaries: it’s the 70th year for the Normandy landings and 75th anniversary of the OPC founding.
Robert Pledge, the editor and force behind the publication of the book, was unable to attend, so his associate Jacques Menasche was on the panel. Menasche explained that on a contact sheet from a professional photographer, an editor might find one or two very good images, but in Morris’s case more than half of the photos were excellent and are printed in the book. Menasche prepared a presentation of the photography for the audience as well as a video of the book night and the memorial garden which can be viewed on the OPC website, opcofmaerica.org.
The audience recognized scenes from their town. Doorways to shops, which were in disrepair in the pictures drew audible sighs from the audience. In addition, the family of the owner of the inn where Morris stayed was present.
Another OPC member Alan Riding, former European cultural correspondent for The New York Times, now living in Paris, acted as moderator. He often serves as a judge for the Prix de Bayeux. The program was conducted mostly in French with a translator for the English portion.
The Mayor of Bayeux, Patrick Gomont, was co-sponsor of the event, but at the last minute the Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, decided to visit Bayeux so the mayor had to tend to his political duties. The mayor did, however, invite me in the afternoon for a meeting in his City Hall office. The deputy mayor came and introduced the event and added commentary throughout the evening.
The next morning, the panelists gathered at the memorial garden to sit and contemplate the loss of life in the pursuit of journalism and to share stories. Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington’s names are engraved in stone, making their deaths feel more permanent. At the entry of the garden, there is a memorial stone to Robert Capa and Morris and I put flowers on the site. As the keeper of the Capa Award, the OPC is honored to share quiet moments with his editor and to honor Capa.