Last week, our hearts were heavy as we said goodbye to one of our dearest friends and colleagues, David Douglas Duncan.
Born in 1916, David was a distinguished photojournalist, with his long, industrious career as an American combat photographer seeing him capture some of the world’s most powerful images of the Pacific War, Korean War and Vietnam conflict.
But our partnership with David stretched deeper.
“My relationship with Nikon is far more than friendship. Friendship can be casual. This is not casual. This is forever.” – Mr. Duncan.
An encounter that changed the history of the Japanese optical industry
It was in June 1950 when David, who was a LIFE Magazine photographer at the time, joined Horace Bristol (Fortune magazine) and Japanese photographer Jun Miki to visit the Ohi Plant of Nikon Corporation. Following an image of David captured by Jun Miki on the NIKKOR P.C 8.5cm f/2 lens, he wanted to learn more about the outstanding performance of the then little-known NIKKOR lenses, which were sharper than anything he had experienced before.
Making a phone call to Masao Nagaoka, President of Nikon, David arranged a visit to the plant in Tokyo to talk to the makers in person. This was a phone call that changed everything.
David discovered that Nikon’s lens performance rivalled anything he had seen from Leitz and ZEISS (which he was using at the time), so purchased a selection of Nikon lenses to use with his current camera, which he would take to the battlefront of the Korean war later that month.
The resulting photos from Korea made an enormous impact, with many American journalists questioning how such sharp, powerful images were captured. This drew the world’s attention to Nikon and NIKKOR lenses, putting Japanese optics well and truly on the global stage and perhaps most notably, illuminating the path for Japan’s post-war reconstruction.
The casual, almost accidental transaction between these two photographers helped give rise to our brand which celebrated its 100th birthday last year. For this, we are forever indebted to David’s curiosity and persistence.
A video in memory of David Douglas Duncan
Since that initial introduction, David had been one of Nikon’s most influential ambassadors, using our cameras and NIKKOR lenses throughout his career to capture images (many of them masterpieces) all over the world. This included portraits of Pablo Picasso, where he spent years with the artist creating a pictorial record of his life.
His contribution to photography is immeasurable, and his support for Nikon, invaluable.
David Douglas Duncan was the first photographer to bring NIKKOR lenses into the international spotlight. This movie was recorded in 2012, when Mr. Duncan was 97 years old, as a part of Nikon’s 100th anniversary project.
As we express our deepest sympathies at his passing, we also offer a tribute to our wonderful friend and partner with whom we shared the challenges and joys of the last century. He will remain in the hearts of his Nikon family forever.
David Douglas Duncan’s books can be found here.