Podcast: The Life and Death and Life of LIFE Magazine


In terms of its sheer reach and influence on photographers, there is no magazine that compares to LIFE. From the 1930s into the 1970s, it was the weekly go-to for news, lifestyle, entertainment and, of course, world-class photography. With the likes of Margaret Bourke-White, W. Eugene Smith, Robert Capa, Gordon Parks, Dorothea Lange, and Alfred Eisenstadt under contract, and a commitment to the photo essay, LIFE was a groundbreaking publication that has yet to be equaled. At its most popular, it sold 13.5 million copies per week.

With America’s attention switching to television by the early 1960s and, eventually, away from print media in general, LIFE slowly became a remnant of another era, but its influence on photography is still immense. On today’s episode of the B&H Photography Podcast, we discuss the magazine, and particularly its print and online reincarnations in the 2000s.

Joining us for this conversation is the former editor-in-chief of LIFE, Bill Shapiro. Shapiro, a long-time editor at Time Inc., brought LIFE out of mothballs, in 2004, and launched LIFE.com in 2009. We examine these two iterations of the famed journal. Underscoring this conversation is the larger issue of the consumer switch from print journalism to digital journalism as the primary source of news and photography. Shapiro walks us through the decisions that were made to keep LIFE viable as the eventual changes in the industry took hold, and how he infused creativity into the print magazine and the website, while maintaining its long tradition of great photography.

We also talk with Shapiro about his work as an author and, particularly, the book he co-authored, What We Keep, and how that book was influenced by the work he did at LIFE magazine. Join us for this look back at the final years of one the most important publications in American photography history.

Guest: Bill Shapiro

Bernie Mac, 2005
Bill Murray, 2004
Tina Fey and John McCain, 2004
Sarah Jessica Parker, 2004
Steve Carell, 2005
Jennifer Hudson, 2007
Special Issue, WWII Photography, 2010
Bill Shapiro
Bill Shapiro with "What We Keep" book

Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Senior Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves