William J. Sumits (1914-2006) became interested in photography when he was hired as an errand boy for the Eastman Kodak store in Kansas City in 1930. Time spent in the darkroom there was encouraging, although there was a brief detour toward aeronautical engineering. The final direction became clear with the advent of LIFE in 1936; Sumits bought some developing equipment and turned to photography in earnest. After a decade of advertising and PR shoots, he received some assignments from LIFE that worked out, then he joined the staff. A few years later, in 1950, he became a technical researcher of new gear and processes. In 1953 he was named chief of LIFE’s photo lab, and served in that all-important position with considerable distinction.
—Adapted from The Great LIFE Photographers