US photographer Kazukaitis dies

The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, Feb 18, 2005 | by Mike Crean

American-born photographer Frank Kazukaitis adopted Christchurch as his home and died in the city this week.

Kaz, as he was known to all, was 77.

His work produced striking images of important historical events from 1942 to the 1990s.

Attached to the US Navy as a photographer, Kazukaitis recorded events in Guam immediately after World War 2.

As a United Nations photographer, he captured images from the Korean War, including the only photographs of the signing of the armistice. While shooting for Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica, during the 1950s and 60s, he discovered Christchurch.

"The minute I saw the place, I thought, `This is for me'," he said in 2001.

He retired from the navy and settled in Christchurch in 1968, working as a TV cameraman for the NZBC. He continued to photograph people, places, and events with acute observation.

He also worked as official photographer to the White House, in Washington, and as chief photographer for Ladybird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon Johnson.

Kazukaitis's work appeared in magazines and exhibitions in the US, and later in New Zealand.

It showed an eye for the unexpected -- the large, Latvian, bikini- clad woman; a monkey in the Guam newsroom; the Spanish horse and dray with BMX bike alongside; the faces of the group interviewing a Korean colonel; the unexpected pain of a child receiving inoculation.

Kazukaitis, born of Lithuanian immigrants in St Louis, Missouri, in 1927, had an Australian wife and three children. He was a steady drinker and smoker for many years until the mid-90s. A stroke he suffered then left him partly paralysed.

He once described himself as a loner, who preferred to move on his own, and an instinctive cameraman who relied on his "eye", rather than any knowledge of photographic composition.

The Press, Copyright of Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2005, All rights reserved.

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu

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