George Silk

Levin, New Zealand, 1916-2004

George Silk’s photographic career began in 1939, when he was employed as a combat cameraman by the Australian government during World War Two. In 1943, Silk joined the staff of Life magazine, for whom he covered the later stages of the war. Silk was captured by German forces in Libya, but managed to escape, and was also wounded by a grenade while covering U.S. forces in Germany in 1944. All told, Silk was active in all of the major theatres of the war, covering the Pacific, Europe and Africa. He also took some of the first photographs of the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki. After the war, Silk continued to work on documentary assignments for Life¸ becoming an American citizen in 1947. As part of his work documenting sporting events for Life, Silk pioneered the use of racetrack photo-finish “slit” cameras to capture images from other sports, resulting in striking photographs with wildly distorted figures and streaked backgrounds, such as Hammer thrower, U.S. track team Olympic tryouts, Palo Alto, California, 1960. Silk was known for his willingness to experiment and use innovative technological solutions to achieve his shots: at various times, he attached cameras to surfboards, used remote cable releases or timers to operate the shutter, and submerged his camera underwater. All of this makes Silk a perfect example of how the post-war technological boom impacted on photography as it did on art in general, and shows the dynamism and excitement with which these new developments were received.