Final Edition: Life Magazine Stops Publication

For generations of Americans, Life magazine was a window to the world.

This weekend, Life is ending its run -- but not without leaving us with an incredibly rich diary of our times.

Life de-mystified far-off places.

Its cover brought home the sorrow of Franklin Roosevelt's death, and of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

It brought the tragedy and brutality of war -- and the bursting joy of peace -- back to the home front.

Before television, it brought the faces of American heroes into American living rooms.

"We did one thing which T.V. can't do," said former Life photographer Ralph Morse. "We made an individual picture, with photojournalism, that lasts forever. Every history book can use it."

Morse, now 89, recorded the space program for history. He shot Life's famous Mercury 7 cover, and even convinced NASA to let him mount a camera on the launch pad to capture the exact moment man left Earth for the moon.

"For two years, I worked with NASA about putting a camera on top of the gantry, and man left Earth through the camera," Morse said.

The image of General James Doolittle taking off for his raid on Tokyo, the first inside Japan after Pearl Harbor, lives forever because of Morse, as does the grim reality of World War II though his photos of wounded soldiers. Bringing the reader to the front lines was one of the things Life did best.

"It provided a place where the notion of the picture story, the notion of photojournalism as we understand it today, really could be developed to the maximum," said Willis Hartshorn, director of the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Every week, America anticipated the printing of Life's big, glossy pages. At its peak, nine million people stopped to look at history on Life's pages, before a decline in readership hit the magazine industry.

Life at War

Former Life photographer Co Rentmeester, like Ralph Morse, covered war for Life. He went to Vietnam despite the danger.

"I needed to show what conflict of man against man was like," said Rentmeester. "Nothing is more dramatic and shocking -- war -- the ugliness of it, the pain, the suffering."

Rentmeester was wounded during the Tet offensive, and it was then that he discovered another of his favorite subjects -- nature.

"I had enough, clearly," said Rentmeester. "I got away from the misery of war, whereby I showed the beauty of the country, and of animals."

A New Life

Life's pictures are not dying with the magazine. Ten million of them, most of which have never been seen by the public, will live on at a new website set to launch in the fall.

"Photos have an ability to connect people to events and emotions that they don't remember otherwise," said Andy Blau, president of Life. "The Internet gives us a way to bring that alive that was unthinkable 20 years ago."

Co Rentmeester's last Life cover celebrated the survival of a premature baby, dramatically capturing its tiny size. He says it's not the pictures that have changed; it's the times.

"The world goes faster and faster; information is being pounded so quickly," Rentmeester said. "People in general are harder to sit down and relax, and look and think about an image."