Issue #201  4/6/2014
Photojournalist John Dominus Passes Away

By Marthe Smith

John Dominis.  Photo by Evelyn Floret and courtesy of http://johndominis.us
John Dominis. Photo by Evelyn Floret and courtesy of http://johndominis.us

John Dominis, born June 27, 1921 in Los Angeles died at his home in New York of heart disease on December 30, 2013. He was 92.

LIFE Magazine's managing editor Ralph Graves wrote in his 2010 book, 'The Life I Led', "If I had to start a picture magazine with a single photographer, I would choose John Dominis...he could shoot everything."

Dominis became "hooked" (his words) on photography at Fremont High School in South L.A., where he took photojournalism classes taught by the legendary Clarence A. Bach. He went on to U.S.C. to study cinematography but left college to join the Air Force. In the late '40s he freelanced for the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and LIFE where he joined the staff in 1950. Following the demise of the weekly LIFE in 1972, he became the photography editor of PEOPLE and then Sports Illustrated from 1978-1982.

A generalist and one of the most versatile photographers, Dominis traveled the globe capturing many historic events as well as the spirit of the people and the subjects he met along the way: Korea, Vietnam, the great cats of Africa, JFK in Berlin in 1963, Nixon's trip to China in 1972, Woodstock, the Beatles, Mickey Mantle tossing his helmet after a bad turn at bat and Olympic U. S. sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, on the podium raising their clenched fists in the Black Power salute.

Dominis once said, "The great thing about working with LIFE was that I was given all the support and money and time--whatever was required--to do almost any kind of work I wanted to do, anywhere in the world. It was like having a grant, a Guggenheim grant, but permanently."

LIFE gave him access to celebrities but John touched their souls as was evident in his photographs of the private Steve McQueen showing him motorcycle racing through the Mojave Desert, relaxing at home, bathing with his wife in the nude. And by developing a comfortable rapport with Frank Sinatra, just walking around with him without a camera for the first week, he was soon able to photograph Sinatra at private parties and shaving shirtless with a towel wrapped around his head.