Portrait of photographer Thomas McAvoy with his camera. (Photo by John Sadovy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Portrait of photographer Thomas McAvoy with his camera. (Photo by John Sadovy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

LIFE debuted in 1936 with four staff photographers—Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Peter Stackpole and Thomas McAvoy—all now regarded as masters. A newspaper veteran before joining the magazine, McAvoy (1905-1966) specialized in candid news shots. He was nearly alone in his approach, as the uncontrived portrait was then revolutionary. McAvoy was the complete pictorial chronicler of Franklin D. Roosevelt; one series of natural shots so unnerved the President that the White House barred further unposed pictures. McAvoy took the first photo of the Senate in session, prompting a rule banning candid Senate shots. The conventions of journalism that restrain photographers today did not hold McAvoy back. He once hired a limousine and improvised a pass to sneak into a high-security cold-war diplomatic reception. He would employ all kinds of trickery—disguises, teeny cameras snapped discreetly—to get an honest picture.

Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers

Blind doctor Albert A. Nast holding his ear to the back of a 3 month old instead of using a stethoscope. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

Blind doctor Albert A. Nast holding his ear to the back of a 3 month old instead of using a stethoscope. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

German Ethologist Dr. Konrad Z. Lorenz studying unlearned habits of ducks and geese at Woodland Institute. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

German Ethologist Dr. Konrad Z. Lorenz studying unlearned habits of ducks and geese at Woodland Institute. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt listening to speeches. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt listening to speeches. (Photo by Thomas McAvoy/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation)

More Like This

Columnist Sidney Skolsky (L) catching a ride on Bob Hope's (R) bicycle on his way from his dressing room to the sound stage. (Photo by John Florea/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

John Florea

American destroyer USS Vesole escorting the Russian freighter Polzunov into international waters. The freighter is loaded with nuclear missiles and related equipment bound for the Soviet Union after being removed from Cuban soil, bringing an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Photo by Carl Mydans/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Carl Mydans

Basset Hound being bathed in back yard. (Photo by Robert W. Kelley/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Robert W. Kelley

Boy looking at a cow in London. (Photo by Ian Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation) Photographer

Ian Smith

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

Dimitri Kessel

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

Fritz Goro