Pictures are included from when Bristol worked as a freelance photographer for “Life” magazine. Included is a series produced on the South Pacific island of Bali. He made images in New Mexico and of 1930s water irrigation projects in the arid west.
“To some degree Bristol was never really happy working for ‘Life,’” White said. “He liked the fact that his photographs were being shown and wanted them to be used as a tool for social change and awareness but had a lot of difficulties with his photo editor at the magazine.”
Those job conflicts were rendered irrelevant by WWII. In 1941 Bristol became a member of the U.S. Naval Aviation Photographic Unit under the command of noted portrait and fashion photographer Capt. Edward J. Steichen. A picture of Bristol from those days shows a Hollywood-handsome 33-year-old in Naval Officer’s uniform gazing resolutely away from the lenses.
“His photos from WWII are fascinating,” White said. “Part of the tour is from ‘Operation Torch’ in North Africa, some from the Pacific theater and shots of the Alaska campaign.”
Many of these images were widely viewed by Americans hungry for news during the war but they didn’t necessarily know who the photographer was. Bristol has a place in the American collective memory mostly without the fame.
White’s primary challenge organizing the exhibition was selecting images. The Bristol estate maintains a vast library of his photos and they worked closely with the museum.
“I wanted to capture the important aspects of his career while showing a side that is unfamiliar to most Americans,” White said.
This involved choosing pictures that ran in “Life” magazine but also ones that were compelling but without prior broad public exposure. Soon after WWII, Bristol relocated his family to live and work in Occupied Japan. Photos from that era have been seen by relatively few.