All Available Light

The Life and Legacy of Photographer Ted Polumbaum

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About the Book

As a young journalist during the Red Scare of the early 1950s, Ted Polumbaum defied Congressional inquisitors and suffered the usual consequences—he was fired, blacklisted, and trailed by the FBI. Yet he survived with his integrity intact to build a new career as an intrepid photojournalist, covering some of the most critical struggles of the latter half of the 20th century. In this biography, written two decades after his death, his daughter introduces this quirky, accomplished, politically engaged family man of the “Greatest Generation,” who was both of and ahead of his times. Polumbaum’s fortitude, humor and optimism emerge, animated by the conscience of principled dissidence and social activism. His photography, with its unpretentious portrayals of the famous, the infamous, and the unsung heroes of humanity around the world, reflects his courage in the face of mass hysteria and his lifelong commitment to social justice.

About the Author(s)

Judy Polumbaum, University of Iowa professor emerita of journalism and mass communication, is a journalist, scholar and educator with a long and varied publication record. She lives on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Bibliographic Details

Judy Polumbaum

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 206
Bibliographic Info: 55 photos, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8660-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4407-3
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Note to the Reader xi
Kinship Guide xii
1. The Decisive Moment 1
2. Assignment: Escuminac 4
3. The Birthplace of the Fifties 8
4. A Potentially Very Rewarding Occupation 15
5. Seek, Strike, Destroy 20
6. The Ivied Idyll 26
7. Seeking Haven 34
8. Looking to Launch 42
9. Defiance 48
10. Assignment: Exploding Stars 58
11. The Portals Open 62
12. Assignment: Prelude to Camelot 72
13. Family Pictures 75
14. Assignment: Home Birth 82
15. Finding Perspective 84
16. Assignment: Afterimage 97
17. Up the Cool Potomac 99
18. Assignment: Teen Rockers 106
19. Freedom Is Never Free 109
20. Assignment: The Station Wagon 121
21. Fissures in the American Century 125
22. Assignment: Conversion 136
23. Lost and Found 138
24. Their September Eleventh 142
25. Assignment: Finding Armando 148
26. Varieties of Departure 151
27. Wanderings and Wonderings 156
28. Assignment: Human Landscapes 166
29. Grandpa Is a Stone Wall 171
30. The Mind’s Eye 179
Selected Sources 185
Index 191

Book Reviews & Awards

• Winner, best social justice memoir—Memoir Magazine

• “Do yourself a favor and read the highly original All Available Light, which is really three books in one, each of which deepens one’s understanding of the others: A loving daughter’s memoir of her late father, a Cold War account of the courage it took not to name names during the McCarthyite years (which he didn’t), and an erudite but easily accessible account of how a caring photographer goes about making the images that are still very much still with us.” —Victor S. Navasky, author of Naming Names, former editor and publisher of The Nation

• “This page-turner of a biography embedded in a family memoir could hardly be more timely. The story of a man who bravely stood up to American demagogues in the 1950s—and the life he made after his first career was destroyed—is invigorating reading. A lifetime before digital photography remade his craft, Ted Polumbaum’s images offer us humane visions of truth.”—Linda K. Kerber, author of No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

• “All Available Light is a riveting memoir of the Red Scare and one of its little-known targets, an inspired tale of a man who fought back and won, a daughter’s touching tribute to her dad, and a story for our times as well as Ted Polumbaum’s.”—Larry Tye, author of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

• “All Available Light is a riveting tale of courage, talent and moral certitude. Set in the watershed years of the twentieth century, with the crazed anti-communism of the 1950s as its fulcrum, this perceptive page-turning biography weaves together family, politics and global issues to recount the admirable life of Theodore Polumbaum. Fired as a newswriter for defying the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1953, Ted turned to photography and, traveling the world, created some of the century’s most stunning social justice photographs for LIFE magazine and many other publications.”—Martin J. Sherwin, author of Gambling with Armageddon: Nuclear Roulette from Hiroshima to the Cuban Missile Crisis

• “During an era that we associate with conformity, Ted Polumbaum was all the things you were supposed to be—husband, father, breadwinner, good citizen—without ever giving up the wildly individual nonconformist paths that he chose to take through his life. We often read and hear from the children of Great Men who were damaged or diminished or neglected by their Famous Fathers. All Available Light gives us the story of a great man whose family was always part of his greatness.”—Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Turk and My Mother and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

• “A daughter’s beautifully-rendered story of her father, who had the courage to challenge American demagogues, a virtue that remains every bit as essential today.” —Peter Beinart, New York Times contributing opinion writer and Jewish Currents editor-at-large

• “This book is packed with the joys and sorrows of a family. It is an ode to Ted Polumbaum, who addressed social ills and human struggles with his camera. He used pictures as bricks on the yet-to-be-paved road to peace.”—Binnie Tate Wilkin, author of A Life in Storytelling, co-founder of American Library Association Black Caucus and member of California Library Hall of Fame

• “With exquisite detail, twentieth century America and the world come to life through the story of Ted Polumbaum, renowned photojournalist, and Ted Polumbaum, father. Author Judy Polumbaum brings the warmth of a daughter and the clear eyes of a professor of journalism to this memoir of a man who photographed some of the most consequential moments of the era. A welcome addition to the canon of journalism, richly illustrated with Ted Polumbaum’s photographs.”—Elizabeth Becker, author of You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War

• “In her loving memoir of her father, photographer Ted Polumbaum, Judy Polumbaum offers a personal portrait of the man and artist and captures his central place in twentieth century photojournalism. After sacrificing a newspaper career by refusing to name names for HUAC during the height of McCarthyism, Ted became a regular for LIFE and many other publications—work that took him from India documenting the lives of the poorest of its poor citizens to Hyannis Port recording behind-the-scenes ‘Camelot’ moments with Jackie, JFK and their family. He captured searing images of Mississippi Summer for Time magazine, and traveled to Chile in the early 1970s to document the brief rise and tragic fall of Salvador Allende. Indeed, Ted Polumbaum was that rarest of rare creatures: an artist whose personal integrity, social vision, modesty, and sense of humor guided with his talent to define his career. His daughter does him proud.”—Janna Malamud Smith, author of My Father is a Book: A Memoir of Bernard Malamud

• “All Available Light is more than a book. It is an essential guide on how to live a life with purpose and unshakable principles. Fired and blacklisted from print journalism when he refused to sell out others before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Ted Polumbaum became a freelance photographer, and the book contains riveting photos from the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. Judy Polumbaum’s exceptionally well-written and inspirational memoir of her father shows the importance of what it means to be a citizen-dissident in America.”—Stephen C. Terry, author, Say We Won and Get Out: George D. Aiken and the Vietnam War

• “In this deeply researched book about prolific photojournalist Ted Polumbaum, his daughter Judy expresses in eloquent and evocative prose what her father’s keen eye and compassionate soul brought to his images.”—Garrison Nelson, Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold professor emeritus of law, politics and political behavior, University of Vermont

• “Judy Polumbaum has produced something very special…Her words serve to complement her father’s images of seminal events like the anti-war and civil rights protest movements and key actors like JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and Muhammad Ali. …A journalist herself, [Polumbaum] successfully completes her own assignment: capturing the inspiring story of her father, gone too soon.”—Brett Dakin, author of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

• “A lively, heartfelt, and engrossing book that achieves all its goals in a beautifully synchronized way to deliver rhythm, rhyme and reason. This biography of Ted Polumbaum is at once a daughter’s loving and lovely tribute to her father and family, a professional and personal history of an American and global citizen-dissident photojournalist, and a repository for some of his glorious photography of diverse places, people, and events that leaves one gasping for breath.”—Radhika Parameswaran, Herman B Wells professor of media, Indiana University, Bloomington

• “With her photographer father Ted as the conduit, Judy Polumbaum takes us through an amazing epic journey of the entire Polumbaum family woven through several decades of world history right up to the 2020 election.”—PF Bentley, former Time magazine photographer and special correspondent

• “In All Available Light, author Judy Polumbaum widens the aperture of a poignant family tale to illuminate our nation’s past and present. In this touching portrait of her photographer father we also get a bonus portrait of critical moments in the American Century he chronicled while on assignment for the legendary picture magazines of the era. A truly transporting narrative has the reader joining the author as she peers through her father’s lens at the ordinary people and social movements that shaped America’s early post-World War Two decades. In so doing, we also see the clamor for equality and justice defining our present days.”—Roger Thurow, former Wall St. Journal foreign correspondent, author of Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty

• “In her captivating biography-cum-memoir, All Available Light, Judy Polumbaum chronicles her father’s fascinating career as a photographer; the extraordinary decades spanned by that career; and her search for a life of her own within and beside the extraordinary one forged by her parents. This compelling read includes a careful selection of Ted Polumbaum’s photographs, with excellent and at times poignant orientation. The writing is focused and fierce, full of humor and compassion for a father and a nation, beloved and flawed.”—Sands Hall, author of Reclaiming My Decade Lost in Scientology

• “Not only chronicles the life and work of the man who was as much a social activist as a journalist, but offers an appreciation of the father who taught [Judy] about caring, courage and doing the right thing.”—Las Vegas Review Journal