Mydans became devoted to photography while attending Boston University. While working on the Boston University News as an undergraduate, his first reporting jobs were for The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. After college, he went to New York as a writer for American Banker and then in 1935 to Washington to join a group of photographers in the Farm Security Administration.
In 1936, he joined Life as one of its earliest staff photographers (Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke-White, Thomas McAvoy and Peter Stackpole were the original staff photographers) and a pioneering photojournalist.
Mydans recorded photographic images of life and death throughout Europe and Asia during World War II. In 1941, the photographer and his wife Shelley Mydans, herself a journalist, were captured by the invading Japanese forces in the Philippines, held for nearly a year in Manila, then for another year in Shanghai, China, before they were released as part of a Prisoner of war exchange.
Mydans went back to the war in Europe. This time for pivotal battles in Italy and France in 1944.
In the Fall of 1944, General George McArthur sent a plane to pick up Mydans, who was then busy covering the defeat of Nazi Germany, to return him to the Pacific theatre so that he could accompany McArthur on his return to the Philippines.
The general knew that Carl had remained behind with the defenders of Corregidor when they were overrun by the Japanese, and the Japanese had imprisoned him and his wife for over two years.
This resulted in one of Carl's most memorable photos, of McArthur wading ashore.
Some of Mydans's more famous pictures include: the bombing of Chongqing, the Japanese surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri in 1945; angry French citizens shaving the heads of women accused of sleeping with Germans during the occupation in 1944; a roomful of excited royal youngsters and their staid older relatives in 1954; and a 1950 portrait of Douglas MacArthur smoking a pipe.
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