Obituary: LIFE Photographer Art Shay, 96

May 3, 2018


"Brando and Pet Dog, 1950," by photographer Art Shay, who died April 28.

Art Shay

“Welcome Democrats,” 1968. © Art Shay/Courtesy Monroe Gallery

Photographer Art Shay, who covered politics, the civil rights movement and American culture for LIFE, Time, Fortune, Ebony, The Saturday Evening Post and other clients, died of heart failure on April 28 at home in Deerfield, Illinois, according to Monroe Gallery, which represents his work. He was 96.

Born in the Bronx, Shay began making photos as a teen. During World War II, he served with the Eighth Air Force, earned several medals and published his first photo—of a mid-air collision over an air base in England. After the war, he worked as a reporter and editor for the Washington Post and then LIFE magazine, where he worked with Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole and other photographers.

In 1951, he decided to become a freelance photographer. While shooting for a number of publications, he followed John F. Kennedy on the campaign trail and covered civil rights demonstrations. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Shay flew to Memphis and photographed mourners viewing the civil rights leader’s body before it was transported to Atlanta. In 1968, he was covering demonstrations outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago when he was beaten by a police officer. “He was wielding his baton mercilessly at a young, elusive college woman, aiming to draw blood from her suburban head protected only by an already red-dyed high school babushka,” Shay wrote of the incident in 2012, noting that three fingers of his right hand were still mangled. “I was merely a target of opportunity for daring to point my Leica at this uniformed asshole as he swung, grunted and danced with the unbalanced effort of malfeasance.”

Through the years, Shay made portraits of Marlon Brando, Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin and Elizabeth Taylor, among other celebrities. He also took corporate and advertising jobs for Zenith, GM and McDonald’s, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 2017, Shay won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lucie Foundation. His images are in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago and other institutions.

The Sun-Times reports that Shay is survived by two sons and two daughters; a third son went missing in Florida in 1971 and has not been found.