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Lee Lockwood; photojournalist documented communism

By Margalit Fox
New York Times / August 10, 2010

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NEW YORK — Lee Lockwood, an American photojournalist who had rare opportunities to capture political, military and civilian life in communist countries — documenting the treatment of an American prisoner of war in North Vietnam and persuading Fidel Castro to sit for a long, discursive, smoke-filled, and highly personal interview — died July 31 in Tamarac, Fla. He was 78 and lived in Weston, Fla.

The cause was complications of diabetes, said his sister, Susan Lewinnek.

As his work through the decades made clear, Mr. Lockwood regarded photojournalism as a potent instrument for social change. A freelance photographer, he was associated for many years with the Black Star agency, which furnished his images to newspapers and magazines around the globe.

He also wrote several books, including “Castro’s Cuba, Cuba’s Fidel: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Today’s Cuba in Text and Picture’’ (Macmillan, 1967).

In 1967, at the height of the Vietnam War, Mr. Lockwood was the first outside photographer in more than a decade to be allowed into North Vietnam. (Not long before, while in Havana to research his Castro book, he had prudently obtained a North Vietnamese visa there.)

The fruit of Mr. Lockwood’s 28-day visit, a long, heavily illustrated essay titled “North Vietnam Under Siege,’’ was published as the cover article of the April 7, 1967, edition of Life magazine.

Though Mr. Lockwood’s trip to North Vietnam was carefully controlled — he was forbidden to photograph military installations and had a government official with him at all times — he managed to traverse 1,000 miles in the month he spent there.

In words and photos, Mr. Lockwood captured the life of a country then under heavy bombardment by US forces: bare, ruined villages; deserted factories; a boy with a missing leg, lost to a bomb. There were also calmer, quieter images of farmers, flower sellers, and hemp dyers plying their trades.

His most striking encounter, in Hanoi, was with Lieutenant Commander Richard A. Stratton, a US Navy pilot who had been captured in January 1967. As Mr. Lockwood and other foreign newsmen listened, a man identifying himself as Stratton read over a loudspeaker a long “confession’’ attacking US involvement in the region.

Then, from behind a curtain, Stratton appeared, looking, Mr. Lockwood wrote, “like a puppet.’’

“His eyes were empty,’’ Mr. Lockwood wrote. “He stood stiffly at attention while movie lights were turned on and photographers took pictures. His expression never changed.’’

Accompanying Mr. Lockwood’s account was his photograph of Stratton, clad in prison pajamas, making a deep, supplicating bow on orders from a North Vietnamese officer. The image, which occupied a full page of the Life article, was widely reproduced.

Partly in response to Mr. Lockwood’s article, the State Department accused North Vietnam of brainwashing US prisoners to elicit antiwar statements from them.

In an interview with The New York Times in 2008, Stratton, who was released in 1973, suggested that such statements were less the product of brainwashing than of common sense.

“You are being tortured and all you have to do to get them to stop is say the same thing that Bobby Kennedy is saying,’’ Stratton said.

Lee Jonathan Lockwood was born in New York City on May 4, 1932, and took up photography as a boy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Boston University in 1954 and later did graduate work in the field at Columbia. In the mid-1950s, he served with the Army, stationed in Munich.

Besides his sister, Mr. Lockwood leaves his wife, the former Joyce Greenfield, whom he married in 1964; a brother, Roger; two children, Andrew Lockwood and Gillian Rubin; and six grandchildren.

His other books include “Conversation With Eldridge Cleaver: Algiers’’ (McGraw-Hill, 1970) and “Daniel Berrigan: Absurd Convictions, Modest Hopes — Conversations After Prison With Lee Lockwood ’’ (Random House, 1972).

Mr. Lockwood’s best-known book was the one born of his marathon interview with Castro, which unspooled over a full week in Cuba in 1965. The discourse ranged over Marxism, the Cuban missile crisis, American race relations, sex, prostitution, and much else.

It was vital, Mr. Lockwood believed, that American readers be given a full portrait of a man known here as a cipher at best, a demon at worst.

“We don’t like Castro, so we close our eyes and hold our ears,’’ he wrote in the book’s introduction. “Yet if he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible.’’