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)

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