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David Douglas Duncan, famed war photographer, dies at 102

David Douglas Duncan during a presentation in Geneva,

David Douglas Duncan during a presentation in Geneva, Switzerland, in October 2012. Credit: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/YANNICK BAILLY

PARIS — David Douglas Duncan, who helped change the role of war photography by exposing the anguish of soldiers in Korea and Vietnam, has died at age 102.

Duncan died in a French hospital Thursday from complications from a lung infection, according to longtime friend Jean-Francois Leroy, director of the Visa pour l’Image photography festival.

A close friend of Picasso, Duncan used his photos to chronicle the artist’s life and work. Duncan’s images of the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions and how they represented America were also widely celebrated.

Yet Duncan’s most influential work was as a combat photographer. Instead of portraying soldiers as heroes, he portrayed them as ordinary humans, tormented or courageous on the battlefield, exhausted or fearful behind the scenes.

“He never showed soldiers as heroes, but as soldiers revolted by the stupidities of war. People who suffer, people who are exhausted and uncomprehending of what they are doing there,” Leroy told The Associated Press.

Duncan was a walking memoir of the wars in Vietnam and Korea, able to cite the first and last names and ranks of soldiers he photographed even 60 years later.

Duncan’s archive is held at the University of Texas at Austin.

A private cremation is scheduled for this week, with a public ceremony in the coming weeks, Leroy said.

Leroy said that when he was 15, Duncan’s books inspired him to become a photographer. They were friends for 30 years, and Leroy remembers Duncan most for his indefatigable energy. “He always had two or three ideas every minute,” and used to phone once a week to talk about Leroy’s exhibition plans. “I will miss his calls.”

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