The aim of journalism is toinform the public with general knowledge about the world around them. In theearly 20th century, when photography became more accessible to dowith the invention of the 35mm camera, a new way of storytelling was brought tolight (Creech,2016). A medium where photography meets journalism: photojournalism.”Pictures have become a dynamic power”, Henry Luce would say (Luce, 1936). Hewas convinced a good cameraman could tell more with his camera than a reportercould achieve with his writing. The public could more easily follow the newswith pictures, become more well informed—even the audience who were unable toread (Luce, 1936). After years of progress, Henry Luce and those who wereinvolved published the first issue of Lifeon November 23 in 1936.
Published weekly, the pictorial newsmagazine introducedits readers to the photo essay and started the beginning of modern magazinepublishing in America. The following paragraphs will discuss how Life became one of the most innovativemass communicators in American History. HenryLuce has had a purpose for his pictorial magazine from the beginning. Driven byhis ambition for America and his eye for journalism, he wanted to achieve manywith Life. His desire was not only tocreate a new art of communication; he also believed a newsmagazine couldattract a broader audience—and by that, blur the lines between classes,ethnicity, race and religion (Brinkley, 2011, p. 226).
He wanted to produce amagazine with ‘mass appeal’. With those inspirational thoughts in mind, hewrote an interesting piece of journalistic writing for his prospectus, tointroduce Life to its future readersand advertisers: “To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch thefaces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strangethings—machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; tosee man’s work—his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousandsof miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms; things dangerous tocome to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasurein the seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed (Luce, 1936).” There it was, that early sensenothing quite compares the potential of what a single photograph could do totell a story. Life was launched inthe middle of American Depression; there was a desperate and collective hungernot only for information, the same hunger applied for a loyal voice—and Life became that loyal voice, especiallywhen World War II arrived. Evenbefore the first issue of Lifeappeared, there were already 235.
000 subscribers— “Life’s first issue reached the heavies demand, of any publicationever known (Brinkley, 2011, p. 233).” In 1938, Luce inducted ‘Continuing Studyof Magazine Audiences’ —funded by Lifebut technically independent—to scope the number of people who were actuallyreading Life. They found out that Life’s impact was actually beyond theexpecting circulation. On average there were as many as fourteen readers forevery single copy published, which comes down to 17 million people who sawactual each issue (Brinkley, 2011, p.
236). This was a powerful theorization,not only for Henry Luce. The whole publishing world is now adopting theso-called ‘pass-along rate’ to target their audiences; to adapt more profit outof advertisements (Straubhaar,LaRose, Davenport, 2017, p 123).
Around 1950, Life reached his golden age, reaching 36 present of all U.S.families, with a pass along rate of 12 million men and 10 million women. Withthis knowledge, advertisers remained to invest more dollars in Life than any other magazine; Life was worth 137 million dollars basedon advertising sells (Wainwright, 1988, p.
200). Life wasclearly a powerful magazine, but what made it that? Despitethe fact Life was adapting a newconcept to inform an audience, it was certainly not the only photo-centricpublication around that time. Even before itwas published, there were already examples of picture-based magazines InEurope. Also in America, the pictorial magazine named Look was launched several months after Life’s first issue (Graf, 2014). Nevertheless, Life was the most remarkable instant success in the history ofmagazine publishing (Tebbel & Zuckerman, 1991, p.
169). Manyof its readers imagined Life as theirloyal and smart neighbour, with a romantic spirit at the peak (Wainwright,1988, pp. 208-475). Life was relaxing,easy to follow and informative, what made the magazine attainable for a massaudience.
More over, Life was openminded, divers and brought its readers behind the scene—showing them theessential of the humankind behind everything (Wainwright, 1988, p. 78).Furthermore, the magazine had a shared idea of what America should be:Optimistic and forward moving. It remainedan inspiration for many, especially around the times of Depression and WorldWar II.
Lastly, Life’ssuccess made also an impact on the history of photojournalism, showing itsaudience how powerful the medium could be. These factors were all goodingredients for prosperity—to become one of the most innovative masscommunicators in American History.