Ralph Morse was perhaps one of the greatest American photojournalists that has ever picked up a camera. Covering some of history's greatest events, there is no arguing that Morse had an eclectic and varied career in photography. Some of the most iconic images in American History were created by Ralph Morse, and splashed in vibrant fashion on the covers and pages of magazines.
During the heyday of LIFE Magazine, the masthead was a list of who's who in photojournalism. These were, and arguably still are, some of the most tenacious and talented photographers to have ever lived. Right at the top of that list was Ralph Morse. Longtime managing editor, George Hunt, was rumored to once have said “If LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.” It is easy to understand this claim when looking at his complete body of work - from the Liberation of Paris, Germany's surrender in 1945, and especially The Apollo Missions in the '60s; the journalistic footprint of Morse's camera is vast. John Glenn dubbed Morse the "eighth astronaut" for being so closely identified with NASA during the Space Race. He covered Einstein's funeral, Jackie Robinson's first game, Babe Ruth's last game, The NFL, The Oscars, and the list goes on.
Morse used his photography to depict a deeper understanding of the world. He was adamant the photos represented a link to a greater comprehension of what's around us. Colleagues described Morse as a fun loving extrovert with a "boundless exuberance for meeting new people and learning new things."
No photographer in the history of LIFE magazine had a more varied, thrilling and productive career than Ralph. Long after he retired, he was unfailingly gracious whenever anyone from LIFE.com contacted him, often out of the blue, asking if he recalled this or that assignment, or if he remembered taking a specific photo 40 or 50 or 60 years before. He was a true original — one of those rare figures who seemed have been everywhere, chronicling everything and everyone, for so much of the 20th century. He was also one hell of a storyteller. Ralph Morse will be sorely missed. Fortunately for all of us, his work endures.
Morse's approach his work is unparalleled. If not for his nose for news and eye for great imagery, we would not have some of the most impressive photography of the mid twentieth century. His gregarious demeanor was well known amongst any one that he had met. In an interview with TIME magazine, Morse gave this advice about his craft:
A good photojournalist goes into any situation prepared. You find out something, at least one key thing, about the topic you’re going to cover. And, as importantly, you make friends — you make friends with everybody, wherever you go. Because you never know when you’ll need to go back there, for one more picture, or to follow up on a story.
Be Prepared, Be Friendly - surely advice to live by.
Morse died in his Florida home December 7, 2014. Survived by his companion Barbara Ohlstein, his three sons, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He was 97.