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