StoryTech Episode Eight – How LIFE magazine made history with Leica

Jeff Kofman discovers how the development of the Leica camera helped LIFE magazine become ‘the’ magazine for photojournalism. Listen now on all major podcast platforms or read the full transcript below.
April 25, 2023

In episode eight of StoryTech, Jeff chats to Kelly McCormick, Assistant professor at the University of British Columbia, about one of the most important magazines in American history - LIFE

With more than 100 years in the public eye, the magazine is known for its quality photography and in its golden age became a game changer for photojournalism - largely down to a crucial change in camera technology, the Leica camera. Kelly shares with Jeff how this innovation was crucial to the success of LIFE magazine and helped it become the historical name it is today. 

You can listen to episode eight of StoryTech free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and Amazon Music right now. Or if you’re more of a reader, just scroll down for the full episode transcript and highlights from this week’s episode.

This week’s storyteller – Kelly McCormick

Kelly McCormick teaches the history of photography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and has her own connection with LIFE magazine after discovering an issue in her grandparents drawer, featuring the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. 

Her career looking into the history of photography has given Kelly insight into how camera technology changes not only how people approach taking pictures, but the connection someone can feel to a photograph. A unique way to let people get closer to real events they might never be a part of.

Episode transcript and highlights

This 35 minute podcast episode was transcribed in 14 minutes by Trint’s super-powered AI. View the full transcript below or jump ahead to notable points from Jeff’s interview with Kelly McCormick.

  • 00:07 – The significance of LIFE magazine
  • 03:54 – The evolution of photography technology
  • 07:17 – How Leica cameras changes the game
  • 10:41 – Henry Luce’s vision for LIFE magazine
  • 15:57 – Selling the American way to the world
  • 21:26 – LIFE moves on from Leica
  • 25:02 – Where LIFE photojournalism fits in the modern world
  • 32:13 – Technologies close to Kelly McCormick


[00:00:02] Jeff (V/O): This is StoryTech. I'm Jeff Kofman.

[00:00:07] Jeff (V/O): When I was a little boy, LIFE magazine used to come through the mailbox once a week. I remember lying on my stomach on the floor at home, flipping through the pages. I felt like I had a front row seat on history as it happened - the Race to the Moon, the Beatles, Muhammad Ali. I also remember my child's eye world view being pried open by the raw horrors of real life. Race riots, the Vietnam War. 

[00:00:33] Jeff (V/O): From 1936 to 1972, LIFE changed the way people looked at the world by changing the way people could look at the world. LIFE launched the golden age of photojournalism. I'd argue it was the most important magazine in American history. Even if you're too young to have been touched by LIFE, you've probably come across some old issues, and I'll bet the pages pulled you in. That's the way Kelly McCormick discovered the thrill of LIFE. 

[00:01:03] Kelly: I mean, you know, LIFE was not part of my childhood in the sense it wasn't being published when I was a child. But I discovered an issue of LIFE magazine in my grandparents drawer. That was the issue that covered the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. And in a similar way, this idea of like seeing these photographs of the super grand, you know, visually stunning event, and it made you feel close to what was actually like a very official formal event, but so spectacularized. It made you feel like you had a piece of that thing that was happening. 

[00:01:40] Jeff (V/O): It sounds quaint now in a world where you can see any image of anything you want any time through the phone in your pocket. But LIFE really did bring the world to people's doorsteps in a whole new way. And it shaped in the most literal sense, the way people saw the world. It's pages filled with big, unforgettable, glossy photographs by photographers who would later be celebrated as artists. 

[00:02:04] Jeff (V/O): Today, I'm going to tell you the story of how LIFE magazine was born through a vision, a team of photography fanatics, a newly connected world, and critically, a new invention. A camera. The Leica. 

[00:02:21] Jeff (V/O): From Antica Productions, Trint and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in cooperation with WAER Syracuse, an NPR member station. This is StoryTech. 

[00:02:39] Jeff (V/O): This is a personal journey I want to share with you. I spent the first 30 years of my career as a broadcast journalist, foreign correspondent and war correspondent, and the last eight years as founder and CEO of Trint - a tech company focused on transcription and streamlining the workflow of storytelling. We have seen so much technological change come at us so fast. The idea behind this podcast is to explore how those changes have shaped what we watch, what we read, and what we listen to. Today, LIFE and the Leica. 

[00:03:22] Jeff (V/O): That spark that Kelly McCormack felt when she first read LIFE magazine as a little girl growing up in California, it never went away. She now teaches the history of photography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. 

[00:03:35] Kelly: I first got into the history of photography, wanting to know more about cameras and wanting to know more about how it was that cameras shaped the way that photographs were made and human interactions with the technology of photography and how that really changed the way that people approached taking pictures. 

[00:03:54] Jeff (V/O): Kelly will be our guide today, helping us understand the rise and fall of LIFE magazine and how it changed American culture. To understand why LIFE magazine is such a big deal, we have to understand the technology that allowed it to prosper. And to understand that we need to know what taking pictures used to be like. 

[00:04:15] Kelly: So if we go back to kind of the 19th century and think about the inventions of photography, photography starts with a box. And in many cases, to get a high-quality image, you carried around literal glass plates that you slid into this box. You know, you put photosensitive chemicals on a glass plate and then you expose it to light, and then you have to take that glass plate very, very carefully and go develop it in a separate darkroom. And so in expedition photography, like where people who are going to the Himalayan Mountains in the 19th century, they carry with them so much chemical equipment, but also like whole teams of like Sherpas and assistance to carry all these super-heavy materials. Which is why sometimes this like sexist logic that women can't be photographers comes out because of like the heaviness of the equipment. 

[00:05:02] Jeff (V/O): That technology of early photography was so cumbersome and clunky that it could only be used in very controlled circumstances. 

[00:05:10] Kelly: If you're experienced and good at this, you could do it relatively quickly. But if you can imagine if there's an action thing going on in front of you, the time it takes to stop, take a plate out of your camera, put it in its safe place, and then put another plate in your camera, reload, and then in some cases readjust the lens. This is, you know, putting time in between you and the moving subject in front of you. 

[00:05:34] Jeff (V/O): Then Kodak came along and changed everything. 

[00:05:37] Kelly: Their goal was really to put cameras in the hands of people who had never made photographs before, because for most of the 19th century, in order to be a photographer, you basically had to be like a chemist because you had to have your own darkroom with all these highly specialized chemicals. You had to know how to very carefully photosynthesize papers and then develop them. The photography for most of the 19th century is really in the hands of either the upper-middle class or business folks, people who are trying to make a living off of photography who have that highly specialized knowledge. 

[00:06:07] Kelly: Now Kodak comes in and they're thinking, there's really an untapped market of people who might want to take photographs of their families or might want to take more casual photographs, not just like these formal studio portraits. And they come up with this idea, you know, they're familiar tagline is, "you push the button, we do the rest". So by inventing flexible film that can go inside of a camera, and then the idea that you would buy a camera already preloaded with film, shoot all the images in the camera and then send it into the Kodak lab technicians, and then they would just send you your pictures, kind of like exploded the idea of access to photography, who a photographer could be. You no longer only went in and like sat down in a portrait studio and had your photograph taken for how they formal events. Now you would just take pictures of picnics or, you know, like hanging out with your family or, you know, a day wherever you know, you're going to do. 

[00:06:59] Jeff (V/O): One day we'll do an episode of StoryTech on the Kodak Brownie. But the important thing for this story is that a lot more people were getting their hands on cameras, but the Brownie wasn't taking professional level photographs. And that's where a new German camera called the Leica comes in. 

[00:07:17] Kelly: When Leica comes on the scene, one of the main innovations in addition to size is also to the film itself. So they use what was at the time moving film, film, that 35-millimeter format. 

[00:07:29] Jeff: So that's why when we talk about film cameras, which for I guess a generation under 30 or so, it would seem like an anachronism. But 35-millimeter film was the standard. And it's no coincidence that movies were shot on 35-millimeter film. 

[00:07:46] Kelly: Yeah. So in a movie camera, you would, they would run the film vertically through the camera. Whereas the engineers for, that come up with the Leica, take that same exact film and they run it horizontally through a camera. And so most standard film at the time is usually a four by six-inch negative. But there is kind of a lot of variations on the size, but they're usually more or less a square ish. 35 millimeter then forces the viewer plane into a much more classic rectangular image. But also it means the images can be reproduced at very high quality within that rectangular plane. And then also, of course, like a movie camera, they can be rolled and wound within the camera. So this all really helps for standardization of number of images you get per roll of film. But also it means that you now have this camera that's highly portable. 

[00:08:44] Jeff (V/O): The Leica 1 was first introduced at a spring fair in Leipzig, Germany, in 1925. The idea was to build a small camera with a small negative that could make large, crisp photos. To do that, the camera had to have a high quality lens that could create detailed negatives. To keep it compact, the lens collapsed into the camera when not in use. Suddenly, cameras could take images never seen before. 

[00:09:11] Kelly: For instance, one of the more famous 35-millimeter photo reportage series shot in the 1920s on a Leica prototype is actually of a flood. And if you can imagine in this time period, you could hold a four-by-six camera in your hands and just shoot holding it in your hands. But most people set up on a tripod still to capture these images. And so things like floods where there's water everywhere, you can't really set up a tripod in a flood and try to capture these refugees from the flood. And so the 35 millimeter releases people from a lot of the parameters that used to kind of, I don't to say trap photographers, but put some serious confines around how you could take photographs. 

[00:09:53] Jeff (V/O): The Leica quickly gained a reputation as a quality camera, but it also came with a high price tag. 

[00:10:02] Kelly: So the idea is not to bring a new form of photography to say to like mothers at home who want to photograph their children. The idea really is about photojournalism and innovating upon photographic technology in a way that's going to expand the image practices of photography itself. So trying to get new, exciting experimental camera angles or like I said, follow current events that are happening from new angles. And so around the world, the Leica is a kind of a luxury item when it's first released. The people who have Leicas are photojournalists. They're quite well-off people who are interested in photography. 

[00:10:41] Jeff (V/O): Fast forward to 1936. Enter Henry Luce, a key character in our story. Luce, an ambitious, Yale-educated media mogul, was looking to expand his empire. He had a vision for a photography magazine. 

[00:10:58] Kelly: So Henry Luce is a really interesting figure because by the time he was 38, he had already founded Time, LIFE, Fortune. But he really comes up with what is the strongest media empire of the 20th century, is what some scholars how they describe his work. And, you know, so his media empire becomes one of the largest news organizations. 

[00:11:21] Kelly: By the 1940s, Henry Luce's ideas about photography really are about bringing photographs to the masses. So Henry Luce wants to make high-quality images available for, I think, LIFE sold in the 1940s for a dime an issue. This is something that would have been very affordable for anyone, as opposed to some magazines like his other magazine, Fortune, was like a really high-quality production. But would have been a much more expensive magazine that, you know, would have been a splurge for a lot of people. 

[00:11:49] Kelly: And so the goal of LIFE is to bring images that are really interesting and engaging to kind of like normal people at affordable prices. But then also from Henry Luce's media empire perspective, to make LIFE profitable. And so you have this really interesting approach to blending, selling the news as a product because you want people to engage with the news in an excited way to the extent that they want to buy a magazine about the news, but also then sell the news to advertisers. So he brings in a lot of advertising to the magazine through this idea that people are going to want to consume the news through my really exciting set of photojournalists and photo editorial teams that I'm hiring. And then they're going to see all of your ads. 

[00:12:32] Kelly: So I think in the late 1930s, ads make up like 20% of the magazine, but then by the 1950s, ads are like half of the magazine. You'll have like these really iconic images of like, say, covering war issues. And then right next to those images are like a Campbell's Soup advertisement with a smiling, happy housewife. And so they're kind of an interesting juxtaposition of images. 

[00:12:55] Jeff: I was looking at the prospectus for LIFE magazine that I guess was written in the early 1930s. 

[00:12:59] Kelly: Yeah. 

[00:13:00] Jeff: And it's an amazing document. Let me quote a little bit of it, "A prospectus for a new magazine to see life, to see the world. Two eyewitness, great events to watch, the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud. To see strange things, machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon. To see man's work. His paintings, towers and discoveries. To see things thousands of miles away. Things hidden behind walls and within rooms. Things dangerous to come. The women that men love and many children. To see and to take pleasure in seeing. To see and be amazed. To see and be instructed.". 

[00:13:39] Jeff: I mean, that gives me goose bumps. I don't know. I've never read a marketing prospectus for a piece of journalism that was so visionary and so, so audaciously lofty in its goal. 

[00:13:49] Kelly: Yeah, I want to finish the last line, because I have it infront of me also. He writes, "To see and to be shown is now the will and new expectancy of half mankind." So this is really, I think, something that he is really skilled at. Is taking images seriously and the idea that people want to see images because for a lot of the history of photojournalism in the 19th and 20th century, there's kind of some suspicion around images because you don't have to be literate to look at a photograph or a cartoon. People feel like images are kind of like second fiddle to the written word. And if you're a serious person, you read written commentary about the news. You don't look at photographic or in some case, you know, a caricature coverage of the news. And so this idea that he's like, no, we're going to take people's desire to see something seriously and actually make a lot of money off of that is a pretty innovative trend for him to take very seriously and catch on to and then put a lot of financial backing behind. 

[00:14:52] Jeff (V/O): Rich with cash, Luce could reach high. Hiring the best photographers, a huge editorial team, and investing in processes for creating captivating quality photojournalism delivered to your door on a glossy paper every week. 

[00:15:08] Kelly: They standardize this process for making what they call photographic essays in a way that becomes this kind of mechanized, very regular way to start with an idea, and then research that idea, sketch out a kind of storyline for what that photographic essay would look like. Send a photographer into the field with that storyline that they would look for it in many cases, very explicit directions. Like go to this dam, take an amazing photograph that's going to blow apart all expectations of how you would photograph a dam and then photograph, you know, these kinds of people near the dam. Very explicit, detailed step-by-step instructions to the photographer. The photographer sends her negatives back. They get processed. The photo editor in some cases looks through like thousands of images. 

[00:15:57] Jeff (V/O): It wasn't just the new camera technology that made all this possible. To capture the world, LIFE's photographers needed to be able to travel the world, fast. LIFE magazine began and flourished just as global air travel was starting to circle the globe. 

[00:16:16] Kelly: LIFE earns a lot of its viewership off of this idea that they're bringing people close to world events. So when something is happening in India, you know, when Gandhi dies and his funeral is happening and Cartier-Bresson goes and photographs this, this idea that an American audience could see photographs of that not long after it happened in I believe that's 48, because they're flying the negatives back at high speed. And, you know, doing this really rigorous process of standardizing the way that photographs are taken, sent back, received, processed, edited. It's this highly kind of standardized way and process of putting together a story that life really kind of excels at. And that's kind of what smashes apart other magazines approaches to delivering news content via images. 

[00:17:09] Kelly: It's not only a way to think about consuming news through photographs or news through images, but also you get public fascination and the role of the photojournalist themself. So LIFE puts a lot of backing behind, say, like putting these. Well, what I like to call sometimes laying bare the processes of how it makes a story itself. So it loves to have images of, say, like Margaret Bourke-White risking her life hanging out of an airplane to take a photograph to bring this image to you, the reader. And so LIFE really, I think, invents this modern idea of, like, images. Should we have the right to see images? And also that people will then like risk life and limb to give us that right, which feels very American. 

[00:17:55] Jeff (V/O): And that American spirit came through in the magazines politics. 

[00:17:59] Kelly: And I think what is really great about a lot of work on LIFE these days is understanding how it made photojournalism possible, made this image of who the photojournalist was, but also thinking about its particular framing because it's not only like a grand image of bringing photographs to people as a show book of the entire world. But, you know, there's a specific goal in pushing an idea of an Americanism, too. I think that is really interesting to think about. So LIFE magazine really wanted to drum up American anti-communist sentiment and be a celebration of an American-style capitalism. And so it's interesting how the image gets incorporated into a lot of that, because a celebration of being able to consume the world, this shows you the power of capitalism, of being able to go around the world and make images, have a slice of anywhere you go, as opposed to, say, like what they want to frame as a repressive communist regime that doesn't allow you to consume in that way. 

[00:19:06] Jeff: Yeah, it's an interesting thought that this was a for-profit venture that was groundbreaking in its innovation, but also came with a kind of specific political lens. 

[00:19:17] Kelly: Yeah, definitely. 

[00:19:18] Jeff: Am I right, though, that they put a fair amount of focus on race and the divisions within America during that period of real tension in the fifties and sixties? 

[00:19:28] Kelly: Yes, of course, if there's a current event that's happening, such as like sit ins and protests that are happening across the United States, they cover it, but it's done explicitly, usually from a quite kind of politics of what being white and middle class are in the United States. 

[00:19:46] Jeff: So I'm sitting here in London, England. I mean, I guess the term that's sort of hitting my mind as we're talking is it's almost a colonial approach to a colonial lens on the world. 

[00:19:55] Kelly: I think people would definitely agree with that terminology. Yeah. And that's why in my mind, there are some National Geographic parallels with its strategies for representing people around the world. There certainly are exceptions to, you know, these cases and there are black photographers that are employed by LIFE magazine. But on the whole, it's a magazine of pictures trying to capitalize on this idea for people to consume the world through pictures, but also pictures brought to a relatively educated audience. 

[00:20:27] Kelly: This differentiates it from other magazines who are using pictures to get audiences through, like publishing nude photos of models or, you know, these are cultivated pictures for audiences, not salacious images of like nudes or like car crashes in the early 20th century. There's a lot of like car crash photographs that are meant to draw readers in, which are kind of harder to imagine these days because that's really fallen out of a lot of journalism. 

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[00:21:26] Jeff: As LIFE grew over the years, the scope of the project eventually led the team to new technologies. And though the Leica helped launch LIFE, it became a casualty of the magazine's success. 

[00:21:38] Kelly: I was doing some research on Margaret Bourke-White recently, and, you know, when she goes to Japan to photograph the Korean War in the 1950s, she discovers this thing called Nikon cameras and Canon cameras, which are budding camera companies in the 1950s coming out of Japan. She and also other photographers who are staff photographers at LIFE like David Douglas Duncan, are really interested in these new cameras coming out of Japan. They buy up a ton of them, which LIFE pays for, bring them back to New York and Chicago and start introducing other LIFE photographers to these cool new things that are being produced in Japan. Which would, in the next 20 years kind of replace the Leica as kind of the standard cameras of photojournalists. 

[00:22:23] Kelly: Without that kind of financial support of LIFE, you know, paying for these photojournalists at high volume to be stationed around the world and constantly producing work, you wouldn't get that kind of like interest in, oh, what's happening in cameras in Japan? And then these LIFE photographers are really responsible in many ways for introducing American audiences to new camera technologies from Japan. 

[00:22:47] Jeff: So the Leica gets eclipsed? 

[00:22:50] Kelly: I mean, the Leica still to this day is a very important camera and many people are still using it. But you see, by the 1970s, especially that Nikon cameras, especially the Nikon SLR, really starts to take prominence over the Leica. And one of the reasons for this is that, it has to do with film speed and then lens technology. So especially during the Korean War, where it was really, really cold on the Korean Peninsula. Photographers like David Douglas Duncan and Margaret Bourke-White noticed that their film is freezing and not advancing, like the advancing mechanism in their camera would just totally lock up. But, and that was in their Leica cameras, but Nikon still worked in really freezing conditions. And so certain small technological innovations that allowed Nikon to then become the favored camera of photojournalists for very adverse contexts. But then gradually it starts pulling ahead, even for use in even other contexts like that. 

[00:23:58] Jeff: So LIFE magazine is launched in the thirties. It has this huge impact through the forties, fifties, sixties, but by the 1970s something's happening and its dominance is starting to wane. What's going on? 

[00:24:11] Kelly: LIFE is part of a mass movement away from print media and towards television. It's not just LIFE, it's all periodicals have this great crisis of viewership drops because suddenly the news is coming at them through the television. And now you have moving images. And then, especially with the Vietnam War, getting coverage on a daily basis of conflict through television is a really kind of big draw for people, as a lot of people in North America especially have, you know, family and friends who are involved in the war. And so this is kind of a familiar story because print media today kind of is still kind of battling this constantly evolving world of how do we deal with new media taking dominance and kind of taking viewers and eyes away from more traditional forms of print media. 

[00:25:02] Jeff: So we're now living in an age where everyone has a camera in her or his pocket where, you know, we take more images in a month than our parents or grandparents probably took in a lifetime. 

[00:25:14] Kelly: Oh, yes. 

[00:25:15] Jeff: Where does photojournalism fit in to the world of today? That classic Henry Luce, LIFE magazine photojournalism? 

[00:25:24] Kelly: I think people are more and more trying to understand, like, how could photojournalism actually be more inclusive and create spaces for new narratives? And so a lot of awards going to photojournalists around the world, I think are trying to emphasize that more these days. Think about what new narratives of communities that actually haven't been represented, especially represented by people from those communities, could we bring to light? And so I think this question of photojournalism today, like it's many pronged, you know, because there's a question of like, for instance, how do periodicals support high-level photojournalism? And these days, in order to do that, you have to basically be like The New York Times or a pretty high, highly funded organization in order to be able to have on staff such high-quality photojournalists. But then the people who work as freelancers, I think we're seeing some openings for more support for freelance work that is coming from new perspectives, which is really exciting. 

[00:26:21] Jeff: LIFE magazine is really gone from the conversation today, except for maybe people like me who grew up with it as a child, is there an enduring influence on our culture from LIFE? 

[00:26:34] Kelly: Yeah, I mean, I would say, well, it depends what part of the culture you're interested in. But I would say, you know, so recently there have been actually some big exhibitions of LIFE magazine. And so for anyone who's really interested in learning more about LIFE magazine, there's a great book out recently called 'LIFE magazine and the Power of Photography'. And so I think that LIFE magazine still exists for, as an incredible model for thinking about what images can do to tell stories. And so, you know as we've discussed, there's some issues with the way that LIFE frames its own sense of politics in relationship to those images. But I think we still today have an enduring belief in the images power to tell a story. And that's why new platforms that are very popularly participated in. And you're like, okay, TikTok is a moving-image platform. Instagram is kind of blended, but I think any new technologies that get people to participate in photography or in the creation of images have an incredible hold on us and on popular culture precisely because of the way that images are so powerful. And that will never change. 

[00:27:43] Jeff: I was at a flea market in Maine this summer and somebody was selling old LIFE magazines, and I was, there were a group of us. We just completely we got lost in the old magazines. They are a physical thing, a magazine. You open and you can open the pages to another era and 1930s and 1940s, the 1950s. All of the millions and billions of images that are being shot today are digital. 40, 50 years from now, when they're talking about Joe Biden, when they're talking about Trump, all of those images and all of the lesser images, the less famous moments of history are on our cameras and they're behind passwords, in fact. 

[00:28:23] Jeff: So it's quite likely, I'm guessing, that when we die, a lot of those images will die with us. And even if they live in the archives of The New York Times or the big publications, they're digital. And it's not as easy to come across in a 2022 issue of The New York Times, 50 years from now, because first of all, most of us read it digitally and there aren't as many print editions. But it feels to me like we have this physical record of this period from the 1930s to the 1970s or eighties in these physical magazines that you can still stumble across and bring to life. That experience is not going to be the record of the era we're living in today. 

[00:29:07] Kelly: Yeah, I mean, what to do with the massive, massive amounts of images that are being created is a question that scholars and even artists take up. There are some artists that like print out every single photograph uploaded to Flickr, like in one week and just fill galleries that there's piles and piles of photographs. As an archival project, it's almost insurmountable, like the amount of images that are created. And then, yes, you're totally right, that are actually rendered totally inaccessible because they're behind passwords. They're not meant for public consumption to begin with. And it's different, you know, in the past when someone was a prolific amateur photographer and create thousands of images in their life, their family might donate their images to a local library or university, but who. Libraries and universities are not likely to collect 24,000 digital photographs taken by just any person. And so it's actually a really big quandary for thinking about how to make a record of this moment. 

[00:30:06] Jeff: Because we see history, I think, through the technology that it's captured in. So, you know, I think of my grandparents birth in black and white. Yeah. And of course, it wasn't it wasn't what they were children. It wasn't to their parents. And then, you know, I think of my parents in that kind of color print film era Kodachrome slides and slightly faded, washed out blues and greens of those prints from the 1950s and sixties that really weren't very sharp. And LIFE magazine frames that era with its really crisp, beautiful photographs. 

[00:30:40] Kelly: Yeah. 

[00:30:40] Jeff: In a way that has a kind of drama and a presence that is bookended by the beginning and the end of LIFE and magazines like it, as you say, probably like National Geographic, too. 

[00:30:51] Kelly: Mm hmm. 

[00:30:52] Jeff: And today we, the record and our view of this period 50 years from now will be framed by whatever survives of those TikToks and Facebook images that people can come across. 

[00:31:04] Kelly: It's incredibly fraught. I make a conscious decision to not post photographs of my children on social media because I am horrified at the idea that my child will become conscious at age eight or nine or whenever, that there are thousands of photographs of them as a baby posted on the Internet. And so it's like, you know, and I don't have an experience of that because I'm lucky enough to not. I was, I think, maybe the last generation to not have social media around as I was coming of age. And so it brings up a lot of questions for how the next generations will view this era and what will they have access to. And I sometimes roll my eyes at articles that are sort of like listicles of trending things on TikTok or whatever, but actually, like those might be important archival articles that give people in the future a glimpse of, "Oh, people were this was a really funny or interesting thing". 

[00:32:13] Jeff: We like to end this show with a couple of questions. What single piece of technology could you not live without? 

[00:32:23] Kelly: I mean, sadly, and this is the most boring answer to possibly give, but sadly it is my phone. I mean it, you know, or I mean, you know, sadly, I'm sitting next to you, like in my office here. I have a bookshelf full of analog cameras that I used to use. And I was pretty adamant always about taking film photographs. But I don't even know the last time I took a film photograph. It takes so much effort to do that these days. You know, you have to have film, you have to find a place to develop it, which is so much harder these days. And, you know, for some of my cameras, the films that I learned how to shoot on are not even in production anymore. And so sadly, my phone is now my camera. And so that's the main thing I think of is like, what would I take pictures on if I didn't? And, you know, so, yes, I hate that answer. 

[00:33:15] Jeff: Do you have a least favorite technology? 

[00:33:18] Kelly: Well, I don't own any of the like the dots or the Alexa's or the any of the home tech stuff. And precisely because I really dislike the idea of being able to connect all the time. And that's something that I'm trying to be really active about balancing is in my own personal life, but also professionally is like, when are you fully connected and logged in and, you know, consuming all the information? And when are you taking a step back and, you know, disconnecting? And so I don't have any of those like home devices because I know I would just constantly Alexa, tell me this, Alexa do this and I would never I would be such an addict. 

[00:34:00] Jeff: If I had Alexa on, I feel like I should say Alexa, say goodbye. Say thank you. So I don't have Alexa on, so I'm just going say thank you. That was really, really fascinating to go with you on the journey of LIFE. 

[00:34:15] Kelly: I am always happy to speak about this journey of LIFE. 

[00:34:20] Jeff: Thanks Kelly. 

[00:34:29] Jeff (V/O): That was Kelly McCormick, an assistant professor of history at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. 

[00:34:36] Jeff (V/O): StoryTech is produced by Antica Productions, Trint and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in association with WAER Syracuse, an NPR member station. 

[00:34:50] Jeff (V/O): Our senior producer is Kevin Sexton. Our associate producer is Emily Morantz. Mixing and sound design by Philip Wilson. Our theme music is by Josh Spear. Stuart Coxe is the president of Antica. Our executive producers are Laura Regehr and me, your host, Jeff Kofman. 

[00:35:10] Jeff (V/O): If you have ideas, suggestions or thoughts, you can send me an email at Here at StoryTech, we are insatiably curious about how technology and innovation shape the way stories are told and heard. If you found this conversation interesting, you can help us get heard by telling your friends about us, subscribing to StoryTech and, if you really want to help us, spread the word on your social channels.

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