Bill Ray taking a picture of his own reflection as he is being fitted for a suit while on assignment during Hubert Humphry's visit of Saigon. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Bill Ray taking a picture of his own reflection as he is being fitted for a suit while on assignment during Hubert Humphry’s visit of Saigon. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

“When a LIFE magazine photographer came to a small town in America, the headline might be ‘Missouri Floods-100,000 Homeless; LIFE Photographer Eisenstaedt in Town,'” said Bill Ray (born 1936), who took up the camera to escape his tiny Nebraska hometown. He always wanted to be closer to the action. He turned down a job at National Geographic to be a freelancer in New York City covering people. When LIFE sent him to Vietnam, he would goad pilots to fly him lower. “Damn it, I didn’t come here to photograph stars,” he once yelled at a pilot, who grinned and took him down. When LIFE planned “One Day in the Life of America” in 1974, Ray was set to shoot pictures in a missile silo. “My mother died, and her funeral was on that day. So that was my assignment.” He photographed her funeral for LIFE. Ray said his mom would have liked it that way.

Japan's greatest industrialist/philosopher Konosuke Matsushita, 69, walking in the raked gravel garden of his philosophical institute. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Japan’s greatest industrialist/philosopher Konosuke Matsushita, 69, walking in the raked gravel garden of his philosophical institute. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Ray spent three and a half months in Japan in 1964 for a LIFE special issue. “I did pictures of Konosuke Matsushita, the Henry Ford of Japan. I had him walking through his garden—a beautiful rock garden—and if I wanted him to go back and do it again, he did it. I don’t know if I asked him in English or what. I guess I waved at him or something. A lot of gardeners would come out and rake all the stones just in the right place, and he’d walk again.”

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Actress Jane Fonda carrying a Louis Vuitton bag as she walks down the street. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Actress Jane Fonda carrying a Louis Vuitton bag as she walks down the street. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Oberlin College students kissing in a co-ed dorm. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Oberlin College students kissing in a co-ed dorm. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

A pilot looking out the window of a plane. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

A pilot looking out the window of a plane. (Photo by Bill Ray/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Bikini clad actress Jayne Mansfield posing with shapely bottles floating around her in her pool. (Photo by Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation). Photographer

Allan Grant

Rock group The Doors performing at the Fillmore East. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Yale Joel

Technician at Washington State University measuring lumps of cow fetuses. (Photo by Oscar Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Fritz Goro

Washington, D.C. skyline in 1901. (Photo by Charles Phillips/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Charles Philips

Soldiers working on a locomotive. (Photo by Myron Davis/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Myron Davis

Lone house. (Photo by Dimitri Kessel/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Dimitri Kessel