Portrait of Edward Clark with his camera. (Photo by Hansen/The LIFE Images Collection)

Portrait of Edward Clark with his camera. (Photo by Hansen/The LIFE Images Collection)

Most of LIFE’S photographers had a knack for capturing the essence of people, for laying claim to their most characteristic moments. Ed Clark (1911-2000) had this ability in spades. Perhaps it was his own sense of self. He hailed from Nashville, and after LIFE offered him a contract, he was summoned to New York City. Clark demurred: “I’ll work for you in Tennessee and go wherever you want me to go. I have two small boys. I don’t want to bring them up in Manhattan.” Picture Editor Wilson Hicks responded, “We don’t have a single employee in the whole state of Tennessee, and we’re not going to start now.” But after seeing Clark’s work on ensuing assignments, Hicks folded: “O.K., Ed, you win. You can live in Nashville.” Good decision. Over the years, Clark produced scores of memorable images for LIFE. His favorite? The young painter in Montmartre. “I didn’t know where France was, let alone Paris. It was so beautiful that I just started photographing.”

Young artist paints Sacre-Coeur from the ancient Rue Narvins in Paris, France, 1946. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Young artist paints Sacre-Coeur from the ancient Rue Narvins in Paris, France, 1946. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Navy CPO Graham Jackson crying as he plays 'Goin' Home' on the accordion at President Franklin D. Roosevelt's funeral. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Navy CPO Graham Jackson crying as he plays ‘Goin’ Home’ on the accordion at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Clark had driven all night for LIFE—”Get to Warm Springs, Georgia, any way you can!”—to be able to get a shot of FDR’s funeral procession. Said Clark: “There must have been 135 photographers there from everywhere. The Secret Service lined us all up behind a barrier in front of a small house they called the Little White House so we could photograph the caisson as it came by with Roosevelt’s casket on it…I heard this accordion start to play behind me and I turned around … I thought to myself, ‘My God, what a picture.’ I was the only one who saw it.’ 

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

World's youngest swimmer Julie Sheldon, 9 weeks old. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

World’s youngest swimmer Julie Sheldon, 9 weeks old. (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published May 25, 1953. Featuring actresses Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell in scene from the film "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published May 25, 1953. Featuring actresses Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell in scene from the film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” (Photo by Edward Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

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