“This was the best picture I ever had taken,” Hemingway reportedly later told LIFE’s editors.

Photographer John Bryson was on assignment for a magazine other than LIFE — taking pictures of Ernest Hemingway’s wife, Mary, at their Ketchum, Idaho, home — when he took this photo of Papa kicking a can down the road.

What’s so notable, especially in retrospect, about the image is the strange combination of playfulness and — with the lowering clouds; the stark, frozen landscape — an almost palpable sense of something like doom. A year-and-a-half after Bryson took this photo, Hemingway committed suicide with a shotgun blast to the head. He was 61.

(see more iconic LIFE photos here)

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