About the Photographer
Born in Medford, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, Carl Mydans attended Boston University, where he worked on the university's newspaper as a student. Following his years as a student, he worked as a reporter at The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, and later he moved to New York, joining the staff of the trade newspaper American Banker. Initially working as a writer, Mydans's talent with a camera gradually became apparent, and he began selling freelance images to newspapers and magazines.
In the midst of the Great Depression in 1935, Mydans accepted an invitation to join the staff of the Resettlement Administration (RA) as one of seventeen photographers, which also included Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Jack Delano, Gordon Parks, and Arthur Rothstein. The RA was created in 1935 to rehabilitate exhausted land, resettle struggling farmers, and build relief camps for migratory workers and refugees from the Dust Bowl. The photographic project’s purpose was to document the plight of the rural poor and compile visual evidence supporting the RA’s educational campaign to achieve its objectives. The RA was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and folded into the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in 1937. Mydans’s work in the collection of the MoCP is representative of the roughly one year that Mydans worked for the RA, during which he photographed in the slums and surrounding areas of Washington, D.C.
In 1936, Mydans was hired by the recently launched Life magazine, joining the original staff photographers Alfred Eistenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy, and Peter Stackpole. Mydans was a contributor to the weekly newsmagazine for all thirty-six years of its publication. He and his wife, Shelley Smith, a researcher-reporter for the magazine, traveled extensively in Europe and in Asia on assignment for the magazine and were active in covering the combat zones of World War II. In 1942 they were captured by the Japanese and spent two years as prisoners of war. They would later cover the Korean War, among many other events. After Life stopped being published as a weekly publication in 1972, Mydans worked for other publications, including Time and Smithsonian magazine. Over the course of his career as a photojournalist, some on Mydans’s best-known photos were of the bombing of Chongqing in China in 1941, General McArthur wading ashore in the Phillipines in 1945, and many photographs of the Kennedy family in the 1950s and 1960s.