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Helen B. Jenkins, pioneering photojournalist, dies

With a click of the camera pressed against her forehead, the photojournalist broke ground in a way her male colleagues never could.

Two weeks later in 1953, Life magazine printed the picture she took moments after giving birth at a Los Angeles hospital. The headline read: "Mother Photographs Her Minute-Old Baby."

Helen Brush Jenkins was already well-versed in getting the shot when she decided to record her first glimpse of her firstborn. As a female news photographer, she had been a pioneering presence at the old Los Angeles Daily News since the early 1940s when she was hired because so many cameramen were away at war.

"Her career was unique. She was a woman working as a newspaper photographer at a time when women simply did not work in that field," John Versical, who is making a documentary about her, told the Los Angeles Times.

Jenkins, 94, had a stroke several days before she died Wednesday at her Chicago home, said her daughter, Genji Leclair.

She was a professional skater at Sid Grauman's Roller Bowl in Hollywood when Daily News photographer Gib Brush showed up around 1940, spotted Jenkins and was "smitten," she later said. Six months later they were married and Brush was teaching her how to handle a camera and taking her out on assignments. After enlisting in the military during World War II, he encouraged her to apply at the Daily News.

One of her most important photographs was taken in the predawn hours of Feb. 1, 1951, when she set up her camera atop the Daily News building, framing the horizon with the nearby steeples of St. Joseph's Church and the city lights on 12th Street. And then she waited for a nuclear bomb to be tested hundreds of miles away in Nevada.

"For three seconds it was daylight, then pitch black again. The newspaper headline called it 'Atomic Dawn,' and I had it exclusive," Jenkins said in a 2005 interview. "It was the most awesome sight I've ever seen in my life, outside of the birth of my children."

"Helen had a reputation for getting the shot she wanted," Vivien Ringer, a Daily News colleague, said in the documentary.

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