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John Morris: An eye-witness to the rise of photojournalism

As a life-long photo editor, John Morris shepherded some of the 20th century's most iconic images and most well-regarded photographers.

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John Morris stands outside his Paris home.

Robert Marquand

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When John Morris presented his press card for a Sarkozy-Obama event at the Élysée Palace, French officials were stunned. The card for "Correspondent 114" was not only dated 1944 (Mr. Morris used it after D-Day), but it was issued in London from the office of Charles de Gaulle, father of modern France, leader of the Resistance.

Morris got into the press conference.

He is a man who's kept a warm seat on history's front row. As a lifelong photo editor, Morris shepherded some of the 20th century's most iconic images and most well-regarded photographers: Robert Capa was a close friend. So was W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson. For Morris they weren't ­"famous," but colleagues, often quite fallible – as Morris admits amid new doubts about the authenticity of "Fallen Soldier," one of Mr. Capa's most famous images from the Spanish Civil War. (The photo purports to show the instant of a militiaman's death.)

"I don't know about that shot," Morris says. "What I believe in is the overall veracity of Robert Capa, even though he could be a rogue."

Morris was London photo editor for Life magazine in 1943, was present at the creation of the upstart photography agency Magnum, and helped conceive the "Family of Man" exhibit in 1954. He's spent a life pioneering high quality images in a news medium that, when he started, treated photos as filler.

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