James Burke standing with friends and a camera around his neck. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

James Burke standing with friends and a camera around his neck. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE’S photographers hailed from a wide variety of countries, but James Burke (1915-1964) is the only one born in China. He attended college in America, married a newspaper editor from Richmond, then returned to China to write a book, My Father in China, about his missionary father. During World War II he served in that country under General Claire Chennault, and after the war decided to stay as a freelance writer. He did a piece for LIFE in 1948 on a Chinese warlord, and “suddenly realized that my pictures described this warlord so much better than my words that I decided to go much deeper into photography.” Three years later, he was on staff at LIFE. In 1964, Burke was shooting on assignment for LIFE in the Himalayas and while trying to secure a better angle of approach, he lost his footing and fell to his death.

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Pelican riding on a rowboat. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Pelican riding on a rowboat. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published March 21, 1960. Featuring Billy Graham in Africa. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE magazine cover published March 21, 1960. Featuring Billy Graham in Africa. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Communist workers fixing loudspeaker on a stripped coconut tree during the Travancore-Cochin elections. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Communist workers fixing loudspeaker on a stripped coconut tree during the Travancore-Cochin elections. (Photo by James Burke/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Closeup of beautifully weathered hands of Navajo woman modeling turquoise bracelet & ring made by Native Americans. (Photo by Michael Mauney/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Michael Mauney

American sailors on shore leave sit in a pedicab while their buddy takes their picture, Shanghai, China, December 1945. (Photo by George Lacks/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

George Lacks

MIT student using a MAC computer for project study of artificial intelligence. (Photo by Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Leonard McCombe

Wide-angle photo of the floor at the Democratic convention with John F. Kennedy supporters.(Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Ralph Crane

Sidney Poitier in a scene from "Porgy and Bess," 1959. Photographer

Gjon Mili

Street scene during business hours. (Photo by Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Peter Stackpole