A picture may be worth a thousand words, but how many words does it take to tell the story behind the picture? Career LIFE magazine photographer Ralph Morse is blessed with a photographic memory. For every picture he’s taken, he graphically recalls the events leading up to the photo session. The 8th Astronaut is a compilation of Morse’s photos and anecdotes. Like the photos, the stories are themselves snapshots, slices of life which explain the subject matter or technical demands underlying each photographic statement. The pictorial topics unfurl over the five and a half decades from Morse’s earliest assignments as a Second World War correspondent to his final professional photograph of John Glenn’s return to space. The reader grows up and grows old with Morse, while Morse’s verve, dedication, candor, and ingenuity provide the common thread knitting together the stories. Most of the anecdotes reveal that during the process of taking a picture, Morse was also making a friend. It was such bonding that opened doors for Morse which remained barricaded for others in the journalistic community. The gift of gab and the willingness to take risks diminished barriers which would have precluded the preferred lighting or the necessary camera position or even the right to snap a picture. The 8th Astronaut offers an anecdotal history of an era which is rapidly vanishing. In today’s world of automated digital cameras, Morse humbles us with memories of slow shutter speeds, black-and-white film, manual settings, and not-yet-invented remote switches. Many of the narratives capture a moment in history. A number honor the history of photojournalism, while others detail history-making itself of once-in-a-LIFETIME events. Morse is as famous for having designed the necessary technology on the spot as he is for having been at the right spot as the sole photojournalist, capturing history as it unfolded.
Known for his inventive mind and his creative style, Ralph Morse was a career staff photographer for LIFE magazine. Encyclopedias and history books abound with his photos, as he has photographed some of the most widely seen pictures of World War II, the United States space program, and sports events. He is most celebrated for his multiple-exposure photographs. Morse's success as an improviser has led to his being considered LIFE magazine's specialist in technical photography.