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Burt Glinn, Chronicler of Cold War in Pictures, Dies at 82

Posted By Administration, Saturday, April 12, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Burt Glinn, a photojournalist, commercial photographer and former president of the Magnum photo agency, died on Wednesday in Southampton, N.Y. He was 82 and lived in East Hampton, N.Y.

The cause was kidney failure and pneumonia, his wife, Elena, said.

Mr. Glinn was one of the first Americans to join Magnum, the international cooperative founded by a group of photographers that included Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. He became a member of the agency in 1951 and served as its president twice, in the early 1970s and again in the late '80s.

A spontaneous and observant photographer, he covered some of the biggest events of the cold war. On New Year's Eve 1958, he flew to Cuba to document Fidel Castro's triumphal, weeklong trek across the island to assume power in Havana.

In 1959, late to a photo shoot, he took his best-known photograph, an offbeat one of the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev showing the back of his head as he gazes up at the Lincoln Memorial. Mr. Glinn was blocked from a front view by the pack of photographers.

"If I'd been on time, I would have gotten a very ordinary picture of Khrushchev and Henry Cabot Lodge looking at this statue of Lincoln, but you couldn't see the statue," he said later.

Mr. Glinn also took on in-depth assignments from magazines, particularly Holiday, which devoted several complete issues to his work. His photo essay on the South Seas for the magazine won the 1960 Mathew Brady Magazine Photographer of the Year award from the University of Missouri and Encyclopedia Britannica.

He traveled to Japan for Holiday in 1961, and then, two years later, went to the Soviet Union to photograph aspects of daily life seldom seen in the West. Pictures from those assignments are collected in two books published by William Morrow, "A Portrait of All the Russias" (1967) and "A Portrait of Japan" (1968). Both include text by the author and explorer Laurens van der Post.

In traveling overseas to create what amounted to national portraits, Mr. Glinn was motivated by an anthropological interest.

"I have come to believe that all societies, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, are driven by similar fears, myths and superstitions," he wrote in a profile for the reference book "Contemporary Photographers." "Most of my personal favorites, among all the pictures I have taken, document these varieties of religious experience."

Burton Samuel Glinn was born in Pittsburgh on July 23, 1925. He entered Harvard in 1943 but left after a semester when he was drafted into the Army. He served in the artillery in Germany, then returned to Harvard to study history and literature, graduating in 1949.

Largely self-taught as a photographer, he first worked in the field as a photo assistant at Life magazine.

In addition to doing news and documentary work, he also produced memorable photographs of Elizabeth Taylor, Andy Warhol and other celebrities.

He was a successful commercial photographer as well, with corporate clients that included Pepsico, General Motors and Revlon. He did advertising photography for I.B.M., T.W.A. and Seagram, among others, and won the award for the best print ad of 1972 from the Art Directors Club of New York for his work for Foster-Grant sunglasses.

His most recent book, "Havana: The Revolutionary Moment," was published in 2002 by Umbrage Editions. It includes his 1959 photographs of Fidel Castro, along with new pictures he took in Cuba on the 40th anniversary of the takeover.

His work is the subject of a current exhibition by the Seattle Art Museum.

In addition to his wife, who is known professionally as Elena Prohaska, he is survived by his son, Sam, of Manhattan, and his sister, Norma Madden of Pittsburgh.

By Stuart Lavietes
For The New York Times

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