Ed Clark

Internationally recognized Life photographer Ed Clark was born in Nashville in 1911. Pursuing an early interest in photography, Clark dropped out of Hume-Fogg High School to work as a photographer's assistant at the Nashville Tennessean. For thirteen years he served as staff photographer, photographing such events as the Shelbyville riot of 1934 which destroyed the local courthouse.

Clark's work attracted the attention of the new picture-oriented magazine Life, and in 1936 he began working for the publication as a stringer. A Tennessee photo opportunity came his way in 1942 when Sergeant Alvin York, famed World War I hero, registered for the “old man's draft” in Pall Mall. Clark's photo of York so impressed Life editors that they invited him to New York and hired him as a staff photographer. During World War II Clark covered the home front and later served as a correspondent in postwar Europe, covering the Nuremberg Trials.

Clark's photographic exposes captured the prosperity and change of postwar America. The best known Clark image is that of a grieving Graham W. Jackson playing “Goin' Home” on his accordion in honor of President Franklin Roosevelt's funeral procession in 1945. His 1946 image The Harvest That Saved the World portrayed the abundant fields of the Midwest. A series of 1948 photographs brought attention to the West Memphis School District in Arkansas and led to construction of a new building for African American students.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Clark's work took him from Washington to Hollywood and around the world. He photographed Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon, and such Hollywood celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. In 1955 an unexpected invitation to Russia gave him the distinction of being the first Western photographer in the Soviet state in thirty years.

Retrospective shows in Birmingham, Nashville, Jackson, Mississippi, and New York have showcased his three decades of work. In 1990 Clark received the Photographic Society of America's Understanding Through Photography Award.

Suggested Reading

Frank Herrera, Ed Clark: Decades: A Photographic Retrospective, 1930-1960 (1992)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Ed Clark
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 17, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018