Ivan Massar (1924 - 2014)
Ivan Massar rose to prominence during the 50s and 60s, the heyday of photojournalism. On assignment and on his own behest, Ivan documented both historical events and the daily lives of ordinary people. He was a man who embraced life with irrepressible humor, unceasing curiosity, and warmth, and these personal gifts are reflected in his work. Today, his photographs endure as stunning visual interpretations of the human experience across cultures and time.
Ivan was the second of five children born in 1924 to two schoolteachers in the small town of Warren, Ohio. His interest in photography grew out of an early desire to travel and to learn about the wide world outside the familiar confines of his hometown. While still a teenager, he hitchhiked with a friend to the New York World’s Fair and Washington D.C. and, later, to California (hopping the occasional freight train).
After graduating from high school in 1942, Ivan joined the navy and received his first training in photography. He was stationed aboard the USS Franklin and then the USS Lexington in the Pacific fleet, where he captured harrowing images and witnessed the violence of war firsthand—an experience that made him a life-long pacifist. In the library of the Lexington, he discovered Henry David Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience, one of several works by the author he would go on to quote the rest of his life. Near the end of his three-year tour of duty, having earned five battle stars, Ivan left his ship without leave, traveled to Washington D.C., and declared himself a conscientious objector. He spent several months in the brig and was ultimately given an honorable discharge.
Ivan began formal study in photography at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena California, then moved to Paris with two fellow photographers, where he studied at the Academie André L’Hôte. A photo essay of Budapest’s “Festival of Peace” documenting little-known aspects of life behind the iron curtain was published in Paris- Match, Life Magazine, Picture Post in England, and Illustrazione Italiana, launching Ivan’s career as a professional photojournalist. Meanwhile, during his years in Europe, he created a collection of black and white images that are among his most celebrated photographs.
Back in his native Ohio, Ivan went to work for the Hamilton Journal News, and from there moved to New York City, the epicenter of photojournalism. His big break came not in New York, however, but in Pittsburgh, where he landed an assignment in the Steel Mills for a project headed by Roy Stryker, legendary leader of the Farm Security Agency documentary project. The publication in Fortune Magazine of some of Ivan’s images from the Pittsburgh steel project caught the attention of the photo agency, Black Star, which put him under contract and represented him for decades to follow.
Ivan married and, in 1956, he and his wife moved to Houston Texas, where they began a family while Ivan covered assignments in the southwest region and Mexico for Black Star. In 1957, after a series of mysterious symptoms, Ivan was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. A year later, the couple made a bold decision: Determined to make the most of every moment, they sold virtually all their worldly possessions to finance a year-long sojourn with their two children in the Seychelle Islands, followed by a year in East Africa. That adventure was a magical one, and the wonder and passion for life underlying the experience is abundantly evident in the remarkable collection of photographs from the trip. Thankfully, Ivan’s disease never progressed enough to prevent him from continuing his vibrant life and work.
In 1961, the Massars moved to Concord Massachusetts, where Ivan would live the rest of his life. He worked on assignment in and around New England, as well as across the country and throughout the world. His work was diverse—from portraits of leaders in the arts, sciences, industry, and education, to striking chronicles of everyday life and the natural world, to a portfolio of industrial photography that includes portrayals of people and their machines and beautiful images of details in technology.
Also during this period, inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s call to “slow down … stop, look, listen”, Ivan wandered with his camera around Walden Pond, local wildlife sanctuaries, and his own front meadow, capturing “the beauty that is underfoot” in hundreds of exquisite images.
As a photojournalist, Ivan covered the civil rights movement and the Vietnam anti-war protests while himself participating as an advocate for social justice, a peace activist, and “citizen of the world.” In 1968 he returned to the high seas, this time aboard a Quaker ship bringing medical supplies to wounded civilians in North Vietnam. Ivan explained his activism in an interview, “ …I wanted to be a part of history, I wanted to participate in my time here, and that’s how I’ve done it along the way, with my camera to my eye…”
Ivan Massar’s photographs have been published in major magazines around the world. His extraordinary images of nature are featured in two of his own books. The Illustrated World of Thoreau (1974) and Take Up the Song (1986), a selection of poems by Edna St Vincent Millay accompanied by some of his iconic images of the natural world.
Recent exhibits of Ivan Massar’s work include “The Cellar Doors of Kardiani,” “Paris, 1949” and various exhibits of photographs from the Civil Rights era. A major exhibit of his early work (“Paris, Je’T’aime”) took place at the Proud Chelsea in London in 2010. His photographs have been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and are part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the High Museum in Atlanta, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.