Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Kennedys 50 Years Ago

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through February 28, 2011

This is a small exhibit, easy to fit into a lunchtime visit. The photographs are gorgeous, taken by Richard Avedon for a spread in Harpers Bazaar, between Kennedy's election and the inauguration. Caroline is a little girl, and John John is an infant. The Kennedys, love them or hate them, were a photogenic bunch, and this comes through in the pictures.

There is very little information given to you in the photographs, so different than the usual portraits of famous people, with the tools of their trade around them. The backgrounds are absolutely plain, so all you have are the people themselves. It's easy to read a somberness into the photos, given everything that was to come, but I can't imagine that was the contemporary reaction.

The museum notes that Harper's made a typo in the article, calling the Kennedys the 34th first family, when Kennedy was the 35th President. It occurs to me that perhaps they simply counted the Clevelands once.

Accompanying the photographs are negatives for some of them, which somehow seem more human than the final images. The Kennedys seem more relaxed in the photos that didn't make it into the magazine spread. There's also an exhibit called the "art of retouching" that shows how the original negative is changed to become a final portrait - very interesting to someone like myself who knows next to nothing about photography.

Verdict: Don't miss this small show. The photos are beautiful, and it's easy to spend lots of time seeing everything.

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