B. Anthony Stewart was born in Lynch Station, Virginia, in 1904. He National Geographic in 1927 initially as a photo lab bookkeeper, but quickly came to the attention of National Geographic chairman Gil Grosvenor as a talented photographer.
Until he retired in 1969, he was always a staff photographer and did not engage in self-promotion or public showings. He did not consider himself an artist. Nonetheless, his work epitomizes the early days of documentary photography.
And because he worked for a magazine with far-reaching global influence, his images had a world-wide influence as well. The purpose of his work was always to tell a story.
He used all of the emerging photographic technologies but his technique came from an earlier era and he took painstaking efforts to set up every detail in a photograph so composition was perfect.
He would say that his shots were planned but not staged. His Depression Era close up of the sooty, sweaty, unshaven face of an Appalachian coal miner with pale piercing eyes and a haunting determined look became and remains an icon of the age.
When in July 1959 National Geographic decided to break its nearly century long policy of not having photographs on its cover, it was a patriotic image shot by Stewart that was chosen to launch its series of the world’s most recognized magazine covers.