June has been designated Photo Month, and a commemorative stamp—a 15-center—is to be issued in a few weeks. While SI did not go out and hire a new picture editor to commemorate anything in particular, it does seem like a fitting moment to introduce John Dominis, once a famous LIFE photographer and most recently picture editor of our sister publication PEOPLE, from whom we obtained him for an unspecified amount of cash and a 1,000 mm. lens to be named later.
Dominis comes to us via Los Angeles, Atlanta, Korea, Dallas, Chicago, Hong Kong, Washington and New York, with a couple of side trips to Africa. He was born and raised in LA., where he went to Fremont High. "There was a teacher there, C. A. Bach, who was teaching the only three-year photography course offered in the U.S.," Dominis says, "and he produced a lot of good photographers. Once eight of his students were on LIFE at the same time."
As far as we can tell, Dominis is the only SI staffer to have played in the Rose Bowl. He was a first-string end on the USC team that beat Washington 29-0 in the 1944 game. In those days, almost everyone played both ways, which Dominis did unflaggingly, although he weighed 165 pounds on a line that averaged about 190.
In 1950 he was free-lancing in Atlanta when LIFE assigned him to cover the Korean War as a staff photographer. Later, based in Hong Kong for five years, he ate noodle soup, raced cars, wandered around Sumatra in the middle of a minor Indonesian revolution and recorded the beginning of what later became the disaster of Vietnam. He went next to Washington and finally came to New York. In 1966 he made two long trips to Africa to photograph the big cats, from lions on down: his LIFE picture essays won him the University of Missouri's Photographer of the Year award. During all of this he also covered five Olympics, from Melbourne to Munich.
June 4, 1978
Around LIFE Dominis was regarded as something of a marvel, a photographer who could work without indulging in the theatrics considered almost a requisite of the profession in those days. He took fine pictures of practically everything (food was his specialty for a time) and could discuss them calmly and sensibly with non-photographers, even editors. And his expense accounts did not require complete suspension of disbelief.
With LIFE gone, Dominis free-lanced for a while. Among his clients was a New York TV station that flashed his still pictures on the screen during the station breaks. He continues to do occasional work for the station, and his credits appear regularly at about 3:30 a.m.
Dominis will not be taking pictures for SI; he will be too busy editing them, not to mention all the administrative duties involved in deploying his new troops. But with the spirit that made him a legend on LIFE, he says, "SI's photographers are the best in the field. It is a pleasure."