Grapes of Wrath



Blister Gunner


Horace Bristol is one of the original Time/LIFE photographers and the impetus for John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic The Grapes of Wrath. His images of WWII are some of the best known and most revealing war photographs taken during the 20th Century.

Bristol’s celebrated career began when he was invited to be one of the original LIFE Magazine photographers. His work was published in conjunction with such photographers as Margaret Bourke-White and Alfred Eisenstaedt. Assignments granted to the young 28-year-old Bristol led to numerous LIFE covers and spreads and included such honors as covering the construction of Coulee Dam, the untouched and fairly unknown islands of Bali, the famed violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and more.

In 1937, Bristol began making his numerous expeditions to California’s Central Valley with renowned FSA photographer Dorothea Lange. Lange shared Bristol’s interest and compassion for the plight of the Central Valley migrant workers and the unemployed in San Francisco during The Great Depression. With a story submission in mind for his employer Time Magazine, Bristol persuaded John Steinbeck to collaborate on the story, who then accompanied Bristol on subsequent trips to Central Valley. There they met, photographed, and interviewed the real migrant workers, Tom Joad, his Ma and Pa, Little Ruthie, Winfield, and others, who would become the namesakes of Steinbeck’s characters in The Grapes of Wrath. [This year happens to be the 100th anniversary of John Steinbeck’s birth. Click “Grapes of Wrath” image to see series.]

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, Bristol was recruited by Edward Steichen, the most influential photographer of the 20th Century, to be one of five photographers to document World War II under his U.S. Naval command. Bristol, like a true magazine and newspaper man, captured images of patriotism and heroism with the human interest story as the visual focal point. His most recognized image from this time is of a young PBY Blister Gunner nude at his post after rescuing a fellow officer [click on image].

Bristol’s career led him to Asia following World War II, where he spent 25 years documenting the rapid modernization of Japan, Korea, China, Burma, and Formosa (now Taiwan). He returned to the states with his new bride and two children and lived in Ojai, California, until his death in 1997.

Books about Horace Bristol:

Stories from Life: The Photography of Horace Bristol
Horace Bristol: An American View
Little Angels (Picture This)

Images courtesy of The Stephen Cohen Gallery.
Special thanks go to the Horace Bristol Estate and
Madeleine Huttenbach of The Stephen Cohen Gallery.

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