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Halstead started in photojournalism while in high school. At age 17, he became Life magazine's youngest combat photographer covering the Guatemalan Civil War. After attending Haverford College, he went on to work at UPI for more than 15 years. During the Vietnam War he was UPI's picture bureau chief in Saigon.
Time designated Halstead as their Senior White House Photographer. In 1972 he accepted a contract with them which lasted for the next 29 years. Halstead was one of the six photographers who accompanied Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972. His photographs have appeared on 47 Time covers, more than any other photographer. During this period he also worked as a "Special Photographer" on films to produce photographs used in advertising materials for the major commercial studios. The films he worked on included, Goodfellas, Memphis Belle, Shaft, Black Rain, Dragon, Dune, Conan the Barbarian series, Greystoke, and Cliffhanger.
Halstead is also a senior fellow in photojournalism at the Center For American History at the University of Texas at Austin, which holds his photographic archive.
He has won the NPPA Picture of the Year award twice, the Robert Capa Gold Medal for his coverage of the fall of Saigon, and two Eisies (). In 2002 he received the lifetime achievement award from the White House News Photographers Association (), and in 2004 he won the Joseph A. Sprague Award () for lifetime achievement and service to photojournalism. The Missouri Honor Medal () from the University of Missouri School of Journalism was given to Halstead in 2007 for superior achievement in journalism.
Halstead's father, William S. Halstead, was an inventor in radio and television development.
His book Moments in Time: Photos and Stories from One of America's Top Photojournalists New York: Harry N. Abrams, was published in December 2006.
Dirck Halstead Photographic Archive
The photographic archive of Dirck Halstead resides at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin.The Dirck Halstead Photographic Archive consists of over 500,000 photographic images in various formats, including prints (color and black & white), mounted prints (color and black & white), laminated prints, contact sheets (color and black & white), transparencies (including 35mm slides), internegatives (4"x5" and 8"x10"), 35mm negatives, 120mm negatives, correspondence, printed materials, creative works, business records, and artifacts. These images are largely in transparent format and are available for research by appointment only.
The photographic material covers Halstead's work from the 1950s through 2001 and includes subject matter such as world events, topical news stories, famous personalities, and the United States presidencies from Kennedy to Clinton. The personal papers include presidential trip itineraries, magazines (and magazine covers), and assignment materials related to his work with United Press International (UPI) and Time Magazine. The artifacts include press passes and awards.
The Briscoe Center provides researchers with unparalleled resources on the history of photojournalism. This actively growing component includes the archives of Dirck Halstead, Eddie Adams (photographer), Flip Schulke, David Hume Kennerly, Diana Walker, Shel Hershorn, Wally McNamee, Bruce Roberts, Dick Swanson, P. F. Bentley, Darryl Heikes, Dennis Brack, Lucian Perkins, and Margaret Sandahl Thomas. The collections include unpublished as well as published images. In addition to photographic holdings (such as slides, negatives, prints, and tear sheets), the photojournalism collections also include such archival materials as personal papers, correspondence, diaries, news stories, and other archival materials.
- 2006 - "Moments in Time: Photos and Stories from One of America's Top Photojournalists" Dirck Halstead, Harry N. Abrams, ISBN 9780810954410
- The Digital Journalist
- Guide to the Dirck Halstead Photographic Archive, 1955-2001
- Dolph Briscoe Center for American History - Photojournalism