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Globe-Trotting Photojournalism Pioneer Dies
San Francisco Chronicle

December 19, 2007---Jack Byron Fields, whose photographic essays from far-flung places appeared in magazines such as Life, Look and National Geographic and helped to transform photojournalism, has died.

Mr. Fields, who was 87, died of heart failure Thursday at his home in Placerville (El Dorado County), according to Wes Larsen, funeral director at Foothill Cremation & Burial Service of Placerville.

Mr. Fields took up photography while stationed in New Guinea with the Army Air Forces during World War II. In the 1950s, he became one of a relative handful of freelance photographers who used a combination of the advent of 35mm film, newly available jet plane travel to remote locations, and good business sense to tell dramatic visual stories from foreign lands for top U.S. magazines.

Previously, American photographers typically had not traveled as far and wide, and they had worked with large, clunky cameras that were difficult to use )spontaneously and did not capture movement well, according to Kim Komenich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Chronicle photographer who met Mr. Fields when Komenich was a student at San Jose State University in the late 1970s.

Mr. Fields and some other photographers of his time moved from the tradition of taking static, single pictures, to shooting multiple images that represented a narrative, Komenich said.

Mr. Fields traveled to Europe, Africa and the South Pacific with his wife, Dorothy Gindling, a writer who collaborated with him on numerous articles and books, including the 1973 book "South Pacific." They made a living globe-trotting and reporting what they saw.

"They came into journalism when photography and magazine journalism was in its heyday," Komenich said. "There was no CNN, and people waited patiently for their Life magazine to show up." Sal Veder, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer for the Associated Press, said Mr. Fields took photography beyond a craft and made it an art form.

"His eye was a little different than others," said Veder, who is now retired. "He had a foreground, background and middle ground. ... Your eye followed his photographs like a painting."

Mr. Fields was born in Thermopolis, Wyo., in 1919, and later moved to Kansas. He earned a bachelor's degree at Kansas State College (now Kansas State University) and was heading toward a teaching career. But his plans changed when World War II broke out and he was sent overseas and assigned to take photos for the Army Air Forces' Yank magazine, according to Mr. Fields' photography Web site (

His life took another unexpected turn when he contracted tuberculosis and was returned to the United States to recuperate. While at a sanatorium, he met Gindling, also a patient suffering from tuberculosis.

After their wedding, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where Mr. Fields attended the Art Center College of Design and his wife took writing classes.

The couple started their careers by traveling to Europe and freelancing for magazines back home, including Smithsonian and the Saturday Evening Post.

Later, they went to the South Pacific and reported on Micronesia, Mr. Fields' Web site says.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Fields served as a visiting professor at San Jose State University, where he became a mentor to Komenich and another longtime Bay Area press photographer, Paul Chinn, among others. Komenich and Chinn went on to work as photographers at the San Francisco Examiner, where Komenich won his Pulitzer Prize, and joined The Chronicle when the Hearst Corp. bought that paper in 2000. Komenich and Chinn said that Mr. Fields not only taught students the craft of photography, but also schooled them in running a good business and maintaining ownership of their work.

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