Dirck Halstead was born in December of 1936 in Huntington, New York. It didn’t take him long to decide upon a career choice; while still in high school he began his photographic journey. By the age of 17 he was hired by Life magazine to cover the war in Guatemala, making him Life’s youngest combat photographer. It is rumored that when hired to fulfill this dangerous assignment Life magazine had no idea that he was only 17.
Dirck Halstead went on to finish his education by attending Haverford College, a private school in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Once his education was completed he resumed his photographic career by signing on with United Press International (UPI). He worked with UPI for 15 years covering Vietnam and became their first bureau chief in Saigon in 1965.
Back in the States
Halstead returned stateside in 1966, after receiving an offer from Time magazine to become their White House photographer. His career with Time was long and rewarding; he spent 29 years covering the political scene. One of his most momentous assignments was as one of four photographers assigned to accompany President Richard M. Nixon to China in 1972. This was an opportunity that Halstead often recounts as an unprecedented moment in history due to the ultimate effect this trip had on our nation and the world.
When asked about his photographic brilliance, Dirck has said, “I never thought of myself as a great photographer, what I am is a storyteller.” He went on to admit that his job as a photographer was never about what “Dirck Halstead saw,” but rather about how he fulfills his responsibility as a photojournalist to report history. This is exactly what Halstead has done throughout his career.
During his 29 years with Time, Dirck Halstead was responsible for a record 51 cover photos, the most any single photographer has earned.
Honored for His Achievements
Dirck Halstead has long been honored as a top photographer in the industry, and has received numerous awards and honors proving his prestige among fellow journalists. Halstead has won the National Press Photographers picture of the year award on two separate occasions. He has also received the Robert Capa Gold medal and two Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards for Magazine Photography. In addition, Halstead was presented with the lifetime achievement award from the White House News Photographers Association. Halstead also holds what is considered the highest honor for any Photographer, the Joseph A. Sprague Award for lifetime achievement and service to photojournalism.
Among Halstead’s most famous photos are candid shots of President Reagan’s last moments in office before President Bush’s inauguration. Halstead was lucky enough to get some time alone with the Reagan, while other photographers were busy setting up to cover the inauguration. Halstead ended up in the oval office, camera in hand, recording President Reagan’s movements as he prepared to turn over the controls to the new leader. When asked to select his favorite photograph, one in particular always comes to mind, with good reason: It is a photograph of President and Nancy Reagan hand in hand heading out of the White House doors.
One of his most ground breaking photographs was one that, at the time, Halstead was not even aware he possessed. When grumblings began about a possible White House scandal involving intern Monica Lewinsky, Halstead was called by his photo agency to see if he might have captured any shots of the intern with the President. He put one of his researchers to work examining thousands of transparencies taken over the years while covering Clinton’s presidential appearances. The researcher struck gold with an image of Clinton, back turned to the camera with Monica Lewinsky smiling up at him, at a fundraising event in 1996. Halstead called Time magazine. They purchased the photo, but held it for six months until the infamous trials and then used it as their cover shot.
Photographic Style and Technique
When speaking of a photographer’s style, you can see from the thousands of images created by Halstead that he is a no nonsense artist. He is in the moment at all times. He has covered Presidents from Nixon to Clinton. Halstead has been on hand for two attempted presidential assassinations. When asked what it was like being front and center when President Reagan was shot, he responds that it was quite surreal and frightening. When you comprehend what is going on your first instinct is, “Oh my God, the President has been shot,” and then it takes a moment to connect and say to yourself, “You’re a photographer, start taking pictures.” Some of his images from this event will forever be etched in our minds.
Now a senior fellow in photojournalism at the University of Texas' Center for American History, Halstead continues to share his love of photography. These days, Dirck Halstead can still be found with camera in hand. He currently works as a freelance magazine and advertising photographer and documentary videomaker. He also serves as editor and publisher of The Digital Journalist, an online photojournalism magazine. He is also the director of the Platypus Workshops, which has to date trained more than 250 photojournalists in the language of television news. In addition, Halstead shares his knowledge of photography by teaching a course in visual journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.
Dirck Halstead- University of Austin
The Digital Journalist
Dirck Halstead Official Site