A new photo exhibit at the LBJ Presidential Library features a variety of seismic moments from recent U.S. history, reminding observers of both the violent and tragic as well as the beautiful and inspiring trajectory of the American experience.
News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency showcases the Briscoe Center for American History’s photographic collection, highlighting the 13 presidential administrations from the 1930s to today. It captures the interaction of each president with his era and the tumultuous events that swirled around each man.
Original photographic prints include Old Glory being raised by U.S. Marines on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima, white female students yelling at African-American students during school integration in Montgomery, Jacqueline Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery accepting the folded flag that covered her husband’s coffin, and Martin Luther King Jr. lying mortally wounded on the concrete walkway at the Lorraine Motel.
“I’ve never seen a body of work like this in one place,” said David Valdez, former personal photographer to George H.W. Bush.
A roll call of renowned photojournalists featured in the exhibit attended the opening reception on February 15, including Dirck Halstead, David Kennerly, Lucian Perkins, Margaret Thomas, David Valdez and Diana Walker.
“It’s the photojournalist equivalent of having the likes of George Clooney, Harrison Ford and Meryl Streep all in the same room,” said Mary Bock, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism.
Although the photos displayed conjured the past, those who’d taken them voiced their opinions about the future of photojournalism in a social media-saturated world.
Journalists used to research stories for up to two years, said Lucian Perkins, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who for 27 years worked as a staff photographer for the Washington Post. But the funding mechanism no longer exists to support such investigative journalism, and Perkins wonders who will be able to tell America’s important stories.
Diana Walker, Time magazine’s White House photographer for 20 years, pointed out a photo she took of Hilary Clinton where she sat on a C-17 military transport plane wearing sunglasses and using her smart phone, which went viral on the Internet after Tumblr posted it.
She’s pleased how many more people are now empowered to enjoy photography thanks to smartphone camera technology. But there’s a huge difference between people taking photographs for fun and those who dedicate their lives to photography, she said.
“I’ve been doing this for 50 years, and more people see my work now than ever before thanks to the Internet and Facebook,” said David Kennerly, who won a 1972 Pulitzer Prize for his portfolio of Vietnam War photographs.
But today's photography concerns have been seen before. When 35mm cameras first emerged, there was uproar similar to present concerns about new technologies’ impacts, said David Valdez, former personal photographer to George H.W. Bush. And while he's a big fan of Instagram, he’d love to sharpen up the black and white of its signature filter, as well as have photo shapes besides a square.
Despite the current flux in photojournalism, the exhibit highlights how the old techniques proved powerfully effective. For those keen to see how the masters once applied their craft, the exhibit runs until October 1, 2013.
“I’ve never seen a body of work like this in one place,” Valdez said. “I’m a Texan — to have my photos displayed here is huge for me."
News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency runs through October 1 at the LBJ Library in Austin.