Jim Colburn...Don't Ask 
LIFE Sucks,
Then You Die
As soon as I heard the news of Life Magazine's latest demise, I just knew that those cutesy headlines would appear: 

It Was A Wonderful Life. 
A Life Worth Living. 
Life Is But A Dream. 
Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates (And Your Brothers Eaten All The Good Ones.) 

Has anyone ever bothered to read through the old LIFE Magazines? The weekly one? I've been going through bound copies of LIFE for the last few years checking out every issue. And you know what? It sucked most of the time. It was filled, on a weekly basis, with bad photography and pointless stories. It was a PR man's dream since every third story seemed to be about some new starlet at the beach, or some actor filming the latest epic, or the newest, biggest, widest thing on the market. 

There were shots of the Governor of Indiana planting a tree. There were pictures of a French contortionist who could swallow a bowling ball. There were pages of pictures of the new Grand Duke of Liechtenstein and his oh-so-cute family. There were stories on some of the most boring and banal things imaginable. Today's tabloids seem to be oases of good taste by comparison. 

And then there were a few stories from Eugene Smith or Ed Clark or one of the other great LIFE photographers, but not enough.  

The golden reputation that LIFE Magazine had and has in the photographic community is based on the fact that nobody has bothered to look at the actual weekly magazines. Everyone read THE BEST OF LIFE and LIFE'S FIRST 50 YEARS and LIFE'S 100 BEST PHOTOGRAPHS and that's where the myth developed. 

If all you're going to see is "The Best Of" a weekly magazine that was published for more than 30 years then it's going to make that mag look very good indeed. I dare say that if you put together a "Best Of The National Enquirer" and published it as a glossy coffee-table book you'd probably have future generations believing that the Enquirer represented a high-water mark in American photojournalism. 

If you want to continue believing in the glory-that-was-LIFE, settle back on your couch with your Best Ofs and a beer. But if you're willing to be shocked into reality, go to a large library and spend a while leafing through a few years of LIFE. You'll wonder what all the fuss was about. 

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are barely my own much less my employer's so don't blame Time Magazine, Time Inc. or Time-Warner for anything written here. If you have to blame someone there's all those boy-bands like N'Sync that keep putting out new CD's that my daughter just HAS to have..... It's bankrupting me. 

Jim Colburn 
(aka james.colburn@pressroom.com)

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