1976 The First Year

In February 1976, Robert Pledge and David Burnett launched Contact Press Images out of New York City. Pledge, a French-British journalist specializing in African affairs, and Burnett, an American who became the last photographer contracted by Life magazine to cover the American war in Southeast Asia, had been introduced by their common friend, French filmmaker and photographer Raymond Depardon in New York in the summer of 1973 when all three were associated with the agency Gamma. Pledge and Burnett would be joined within the year by Israeli Alon Reininger and American Annie Leibovitz. This international character of the agency would continue to be reflected in the varied origins and styles of its photographers throughout the years, including such famous talents as the great British war photographer Don McCullin and China’s Li Zhensheng.

1976 itself would prove to be a pivotal year in history. In China, the deaths of Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong marked the passing of an era. In the US, the election of Jimmy Carter signaled a new turn after the disastrous war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. And throughout the world, issues of human rights and the environment came to the fore. These changes were matched by sweeping changes in the world of photojournalism as color television challenged photographers to remain relevant and informative. The images made that year by Burnett, Leibovitz, Li, McCullin and Reininger in the US, China, Lebanon and South Africa, showcase the young agency’s answer to that task.