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George Silk, 87, noted war, sports photographer

NEW YORK -- George Silk, a photojournalist who spent 30 years with Life magazine, earning fame for his coverage of World War II and later pioneering the use of a special camera for depicting athletes in motion, died at a Norwalk, Conn., hospital Saturday of congestive heart failure. He was 87.

Mr. Silk, born in New Zealand, joined Life's photo staff in 1943 and spent the next two years covering Allied invasions of France and Italy during World War II. He shot the first pictures of the atom-bombed city of Nagasaki and Japanese war criminals awaiting trial in postwar Tokyo.

He became an American citizen in 1947, the same year he married the former Margery Gray Schieber. They lived in Westport, Conn.

Mr. Silk was ''superbly versatile" and was at ease with every subject, said Bobbi Baker Burrows, a photo editor who worked at Life. ''He also was lovably cantankerous, a larger-than-life character who would break into 'Waltzing Matilda' at the slightest excuse."

In December 1972, he was in Nepal, shooting an assignment on Himalayan game parks when he received news that the magazine had folded. According to the 1977 book ''That Was the Life," Mr. Silk replied by saying, ''Your message . . . badly garbled. Please send one-half million dollars additional expenses."

''He was very innovative and creative," his wife said in a phone interview yesterday, recalling how Mr. Silk had adapted a racetrack photo-finish camera to take sequential stills of hurdlers and other athletes for the 1960 Olympic trials and used it for other purposes -- including a famous series of his own children in Halloween costumes.

The ''strip" camera, in which film was exposed as it rolled past a hole, helped Mr. Silk become a leading sports photographer.

As a war photographer in New Guinea, he walked 300 miles with allied forces, an ordeal later described in a book, ''War in New Guinea." He was with US forces in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and was wounded by a grenade during a river crossing in Germany.

Mr. Silk was named magazine photographer of the year by the National Press Photographers Association four times.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Silk leaves two daughters and a son.

No memorial is planned.

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