Picturing the Century

Portfolio: Charles Fenno Jacobs

Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, famed photographer Edward Steichen recruited Charles Fenno Jacobs (1904-1975) to join his Naval Aviation Photographic Unit. The U.S. Navy had established this special group to document and publicize its aviation activities and allowed Steichen to recruit the most talented photographers he could find. By 1941 Jacobs had already established a reputation as a photographer, having worked for Life, Fortune, and U.S. Camera magazines and briefly for the Farm Security Administration.

Jacobs, like the other photographers in the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit, followed Steichen's advice to concentrate on the human side of modern war. He photographed aircraft workers in California, capturing the then novel sight of female factory workers. On another assignment he photographed life aboard the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey, shooting the activities of the crew off- and on-duty. Other of Jacobs's images capture the earnestness of young aviation cadets, the humiliation of a Japanese prisoner of war, and melancholy scenes of Navy pilots on leave with their dates.

When the war ended, Jacobs and two of his colleagues, still dressed in uniforms, walked into the offices of Fortune and boldly proposed that the magazine hire them, and assign each a different part of the world as his beat. The magazine agreed and Jacobs was assigned to cover Europe in the immediate postwar years.

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