Photographer known for his pictures of the Korean and Vietnam wars

Born: January 23, 1916;

Died: June 7, 2018

DAVID Douglas Duncan, who has died aged 102, was a celebrated photographer best known for his pictures of war and conflict. Instead of portraying soldiers as heroes, he showed them as ordinary humans, tormented or courageous on the battlefield, and exhausted or fearful behind the scenes. A close friend of Pablo Picasso, Duncan also took some of the most famous pictures ever taken of the artist.

Duncan started his career as a photographer with the Marines during the Second World War but established his reputation with Life magazine in the 1950s, taking unsentimental pictures of the Korean War. Later, his pictures of the Vietnam War were also celebrated, particularly a picture of a young trooper, numb from battle, that appeared on the cover of Life in 1967.

His friendship with Picasso also became central to his work. He first met the artist in 1956 and took some 10,000 pictures of him and published many books about him, beginning with The Private World of Pablo Picasso in 1958 right up to Pablo Picasso: A Portrait in 1996.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Duncan's first camera was given to him by his sister as an 18th birthday present and he took his first significant picture while a student of archaeology at the University of Arizona. Having switched on the radio, he heard about a fire at a local hotel and ran down there, taking a picture of a man running from the fire while pulling his clothes on. It turned out later that the man was the gangster John Dillinger, who had left a suitcase full of money and guns; he was later arrested.

When war broke out, Duncan served as a combat photographer in the South Pacific, earning a Purple Heart, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and four Air Medals. His objective, he said, was always to stay as close as possible to the action and shoot his pictures as if through the eyes of the soldier.

He then joined the staff of Life in 1946. His work with the magazine took him around the world and it was during his travels that he struck up the friendship with Picasso. Writing in his 2003 memoir Photo Nomad, he said his aim was always to focus on faces, grand adventures and violence. His mantra for getting the picture was: be close, be fast, be lucky.

He eventually left Life after ten years to go freelance and continued his travels around the world. His images of the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions and how they represented America were also widely celebrated. He also covered the Vietnam War for Life and ABC News.

Later in life, Duncan became an outspoken anti-war activist, particularly during the presidency of George W Bush. He was also passionate about the power of photography to change minds. Cameras are political weapons, he would say.

His archive of pictures is now held at the University of Texas at Austin. Duncan died in a French hospital from complications as a result of a lung infection, according to Jean-Francois Leroy, director of the Visa pour l'Image photography festival.

He is survived by his wife Sheila Macauley.