John Dominis was an American documentary photographer, war photographer and photojournalist. Dominis was born 1921 in Los Angeles. He studied cinematography at the University of Southern California. In 1943 he enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. After the war, he worked as a freelance photographer for several publications, such as Life
magazine. In 1950 he went to Korea as a war photographer in the Korean War. Later he worked in Southeast Asia, in America, Africa and Europe, including President John F. Kennedy's 1963 West Berlin speech. Dominis went to six Olympic Games. One of his best-known pictures was shot during the 1968 Summer Olympics when Dominis pictured Tommie Smith
and John Carlos
during their Black Power
Dominis worked for Life
magazine during the Vietnam war and later also went to Woodstock
. In the 1970s he worked for People
magazine. From 1978 to 1982 he was an editor for Sports Illustrated
. He often pictured stars like Steve McQueen
or Frank Sinatra
, and these photo series were later published as illustrated books. Together with Giuliano Bugialli he published several books about Italian cuisine, with Dominis being responsible for the food photography.
In John Loengard's book LIFE Photographers: What They Saw
, Dominis reported about the staging of his picture A leopard about to kill a baboon. The picture was shot in 1966 in Botswana when a hunter had brought a captured leopard to a bunch of baboons. Most fled immediately but one faced the leopard and was killed subsequently. Dominis was heavily criticized after the staging became public and apologized for it. He mentioned that during the 1960s the staging of pictures was very popular and he wouldn't use this method today.
Dominis died on December 30, 2013, in New York City of complications from a heart attack. He was 92.
After an Air Force tour in Japan, John Dominis wanted to remain in that country and work. Freelance work was illegal there in 1946, but his photographer colleagues helped him stay and get his start. He would return many times to Asia to cover wars. Back home, he shot sports (he had played end for USC in the 1944 Rose Bowl), politics, celebrities, even food. He spent three months trailing Sinatra to witness him in his element, among swank and boozy stars.
That experience of tracking a subject helped the stalwart Dominis on his famous The Great Cats of Africa
. The series won him an award even as he was still in the bush—and even though he orchestrated his famous baboon-leopard encounter (the feline was a rental dropped in among the simians)—Dominis had never suggested otherwise. “Frankly, it was set up,”
he said. “In those days we were not against setting up some pictures that were impossible to get any other way.”
On the occasion of Sinatra’s soth birthday, Dominis went to Florida, where he was performing. Dominis ended up spending three months with him, resulting in an unrivaled set of images of the entertainer.
“Steve McQueen was really a nice guy, but he’s another of the ones who didn’t really want to have even one picture taken, even though he’d agreed to the story… I had done quite a lot of sports-car racing when I lived in Hong Kong, so for fun I rented a Jaguar. I knew he had a Jaguar, and I thought it would help a little bit… He drove my car and I drove his. I started shooting a few pictures. I didn’t hang around him a long time, maybe three weeks, and finally, he relaxed.”