JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History


Unidentified Photographer, [John Connally, Nellie Connally, John F. Kennedy, and Jacqueline Kennedy in presidential limousine, Dallas], November 22, 1963 (2013.23.1)

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, the event and its aftermath were broadcast to a stunned nation through photography and television. Reporters used dramatic spot news photographs by professional photojournalists as well as snapshots by unsuspecting witnesses to explain the events: the shooting of the President, the hunt for the assassin, the swearing in of the new president, the widow’s grief, the funeral, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. Viewers interpreted these photographs in various ways: to comprehend the shocking news, to negotiate their grief, to attempt to solve the crime. The combination of personal photographs assuming public significance and subjective interpretations of news images disrupted conventional views of photography as fact or evidence.  JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History examines the imaginative reception of these iconic photographs, most of which are drawn from ICP’s collection. Come see the exhibition, which is on view through January 19, or buy tickets to hear the exhibition’s curator, Brian Wallis, discuss Who Shot JFK? with a group of panelists on November 20.




Mary Ann Moorman, [John F. Kennedy slumping into arms of Jacqueline Kennedy after being hit by assassin's bullet, Dallas], November 22, 1963 (2013.1.1)


Unidentified Photographer, [Television image of Lyndon B. Johnson's swearing-in ceremony aboard Air Force One], November 22, 1963

2013_44_17Unidentified Photographer, [Television image of John F. Kennedy's accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald being transported to county jail moments before being fatally shot by Jack Ruby], November 24, 1963 (2013.44.17)

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Part Photograph, Part Painting, Part Etching, Part Sculpture

From its beginnings in 1839, photography was seen as an alternative to traditional painted portraiture. Clients who were photographed knew that their image would be considered true to life. But photography had a major disadvantage with respect to painting: it was not in color. While the world awaited the discovery of natural color photography, many a photographer throughout the nineteenth century experimented his way out of this problem. One of the alternatives was the use of pigments to hand-color photographs—some went even as far as over-painting their pictures entirely to achieve a more colorful image.

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified Woman], ca. 1878 (2012.111.55)

With the introduction of tintype technology, photographic portraiture was brought to the masses. Painted and decorative framed tintypes were produced in large numbers from the 1860s through the 1890s in many parts of the United States, especially rural areas. The creation of these objects employed framemakers, photographers, and folk art painters whose portrait business had declined in the face of this quicker and cheaper technology. Hand-coloring photographs became a common practice in commercial studios and having an over-painted portrait became a status symbol—the more paint was used, the more expensive it was. Poorer people could only afford a little touch of the brush, often enough only to add some rouge on the cheeks and some gold paint to accentuate jewelry. According to Geoffrey Batchen (Each Wild Idea, 2001: pp. 61-64), even the smallest addition brings a subjective, “artistic” element to the otherwise dull objectivity of a standard studio portrait.

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified Woman], ca. 1888 (2012.111.60)

Batchen emphasizes that these portraits are fascinating for what we do not see—the photograph, for example. In many of them, the photographic base has been almost entirely covered by paint, or, in the case of some of the backgrounds, erased through the application of acid. Since the resulting image was then often elaborately framed and matted, Batchen characterizes it as a strangely hybrid piece of work—part photograph, part painting, part etching, part sculpture.

Unidentified Artist, [Traveling mirror with portrait of man wearing a hat], ca. 1860s (2001.2005)

Batchen states that the procedure for making these objects is odd as well. First you take a photographic portrait, in order to create a realistic image of the person being portrayed. Then you hide the “proof” beneath a layer of often unprofessionally applied paint. The mechanical exactitude of the camera is present—we are aware of its foundational role—but the eye perceives only the traces left by the hand of the painter. Nevertheless, Batchen argues that however clumsy the artist, the over-painted portrait is still supported by the supposedly true value of its original photographic nature.

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified Woman], ca. 1875 (2012.111.9)

Unidentified Photographer, [Soldier], ca. 1882 (2012.111.34)

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The Future of America: Lewis Hine’s New Deal Photographs


Lewis Wickes Hine, [Worker pressing rubber bodies, Paragon Rubber Company and American Character Doll, Easthampton, Massachusetts], December 1936 (778.1975)

Among the least known but most prescient photographs taken by social documentary photographer Lewis Hine (1874–1940) were those he made as chief photographer for the National Research Project (NRP), a division of the federal government’s Works Project Administration (WPA) founded in late 1935. The goal of the NRP was to investigate recent changes in industrial technologies and to assess their effects on future employment. In over 700 photographs, taken in industrial towns throughout the Northeast in 1936 and 1937, Hine revealed not only working conditions in aging industrial factories, but also in new industries and productive workplaces. The NRP published hundreds of reports illustrated with Hine’s photographs on a broad variety of agricultural, manufacturing, and mining activities. His works captured the look of labor and industry in transition, while the entire NRP story provides provocative parallels to today’s economic challenges. The Future of America, organized by Hine scholar Judith Mara Gutman, draws on ICP’s archive of more than 300 of Hine’s prints from the NRP series and the master holdings at the National Archives. The exhibition will be on view in ICP’s galleries through October 19, 2014.

hine_lewis_799_1975Lewis Wickes Hine, [Semi-skilled worker inserting balance screws in rim of balance wheel, Hamilton Watch Factory, Lancaster, Pennsylvania], January 1937 (799.1975)

hine_lewis_963_1975Lewis Wickes Hine, [Machinist shaping section of driving rod for largest locomotive, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Eddystone, Pennsylvania], April 1937 (963.1975)

hine_lewis_897_1975Lewis Wickes Hine, [Two workers stamping glass jars with new device for lettering painted bottles, T. C. Wheaton Company, Millville, New Jersey], March 1937 (897.1975)

hine_lewis_841_1975Lewis Wickes Hine, [Bedroom and living room in company-owned home of workers at Highland Cotton Mills, High Point, North Carolina], January 1937 (841.1975)

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Coeburn, Virginia

sternfeld_joel_86_1984Joel Sternfeld, Coeburn, Viginia, April 1981 (86.1984)

Joel Sternfeld is known for his large-format photographs of America in the early 1980s. Sternfeld traveled throughout the country extensively, capturing the beauty of the American landscape but also producing subtle and ironic commentary on the political issues of the time. The photograph from Coeburn, included in his iconic book American Prospects, possesses all the signature qualities of its maker. It is perfectly composed and pleasing to the eye, yet its subject matter encourages the viewer to reflect on larger issues relating to the photographer’s native country.

We are first struck by the image’s beautifully balanced colors and the strong diagonal line formed by the coal train. The composition is clearly divided into foreground, middle ground, and background. Our eyes first land on the largest train car in the bottom left of the picture. Our attention gravitates towards the large dark mass of coal and the cold metallic frame of the freight car. From there our eyes are “dragged” along the train track to the top right edge of the picture, floating over a never ending river of coal, only to come to rest on the slope of a lush green hill. Next we are pulled back to the center of the picture, where we pause in an oasis of pink. Those are blossoming trees, and their color complements the browns and greens of the rest of the picture in what can only be described as absolute color perfection. Once the beauty of the blossoming forests is no longer able to hold our attention, we climb down the hill into a small town at its foot. We walk through the scattered buildings, run out on a small farm field, and end up back at the starting point, where we notice a dead tree with limbs removed near the train track. Our eyes keep travelling in this loop around the photograph, as if trapped. The pattern is broken only when we zoom in on one of the many details that Sternfeld’s 8×10 camera captured.

The high level of detail allows us to step into Coeburn in 1981. We see a man standing outside one of the houses. Why is he just standing there? Sunlight catches a car parked between two sheds. We feel an urge to sit on a bench on the side of the field. A thin band of trees separates us from another farm. If we look closely among the trees, we find an old car left to rust away and grow into the land. Laundry drowned in the sunlight as it hangs to dry, a sign of less than ideal economic conditions. We also notice the velvety texture of the coal.

The trains cut through the landscape and disrupt what otherwise could be an idyllic rural scene. Where is this “black gold” going? Who benefits? Sternfeld seems to be giving us some clues. The ominous appearance of the dead tree anchored at the tail end of one of the trains cannot be a coincidence. Destruction comes with the mining industry. The man outside the house becomes a witness to this process. His uncertain posture makes him seem vulnerable. His tiny size relative to the giant trains illustrates his insignificance within the economic system of the industrialists and his country’s capitalist government.  Thoughtful viewers are faced with their own relationship to this scene. Most of us are in one way or another contributing to the forces powering those trains. Sternfeld’s beautiful photograph captures a place and people that we are connected to through our daily choices.

Jan Cieslikiewicz, ICP GS 2013

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Bill Eppridge (1938-2013)


Bill Eppridge, [Juan Romero, busboy at Ambassador Hotel, kneeling to help fallen Robert F. Kennedy after he was shot by Sirhan B. Sirhan, Los Angeles], June 6, 1968 (1197.2005)

Sadly, we mark the passing of Bill Eppridge (1938-2013), one of the great photojournalists of the twentieth century. Best known for his harrowing picture of a busboy cradling the dying Senator Robert F. Kennedy moments after he was shot on Jun. 23, 1968, Eppridge seemingly covered everything in the 1960s, from the Beatles and Woodstock to Vietnam and politics. But perhaps his greatest achievements were his searing and insightful photo essays for LIFE, including one on the gay scene in San Francisco (“Homosexuality: A Secret World Grows Open and Bolder,” June 26, 1964) and one on Needle Park (“John and Karen, Two Lives Lost To Heroin,” Feb. 26, 1965). Always willing to go wherever necessary to get the difficult shot, Eppridge made the impossible photograph look easy.


Bill Eppridge, [Patrons of gay leather bar, San Francisco], 1964 (1238.2005)

eppridge_bill_1240_2005Bill Eppridge, [Barney Anthony with sign he put up his bar on Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles], March 16, 1964 (1240.2005)

eppridge_bill_1949_2005Bill Eppridge, [John, a heroin addict, mainlining, New York], 1965 (1949.2005)

eppridge_bill_1770_2005Bill Eppridge, [Herion addicts Karen, her boyfriend Johnny, and his brother Bro, lying on hotel bed, New York], 1965 (1770.2005)

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Monocular Vision and Absurd Perspectives

John Pfahl, Australian Pines, Fort DeSoto, Florida, 1977 (416.1984)

From 1974 to 1978, American photographer John Pfahl (b. 1939) worked on a series of unmanipulated color photographs on the theme of The  Altered Landscape. The series consists of landscape photographs with different added elements, depended on the given scene. In these pictures Pfahl manipulates the optics of the camera and is playing tricks with perspective by using cleverly placed man-made objects to mislead the viewer’s eye.

John Pfahl, Shed with Blue Dotted Lines, Penland, North Carolina, 1975 (562.1983)

Especially the photographs in which the perspective of the depicted scene is corrected piqued my interest. They reminded me of the series Perspective Correction (1969) of the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets, who exploits the illusion of perspective created by the camera. One of the interesting aspects of photography is the difference between the monocular view of the camera and binocular seeing in real life. Thanks to our binocular vision, we are able to see the three-dimensional world by using both of our eyes, which gives us a wider field of view and a precise perception of depth. The single-eyed lens of the camera sees with a monocular vision and thus creates in a photograph a two-dimensional representation of our three-dimensional world. Perceiving a monocular perspective photograph of a place as “being in that place” means, according to the Dutch scholars Hilde van Gelder and Helen Westgeest, that one is able to imagine looking with both eyes at a three-dimensional space. So, if we can image ourselves be present in the space of the photographed place, why then are we unable to see the rectangle in Pfahl’s photograph Library Protection or the squares in Blue Grid as a trapezoid lying on the floor or spread out over the stones?

John Pfahl,  Library Projection, Tampa, Florida, 1977 (566.1983)

John Pfahl, Blue Grid, Pembroke, New York, 1977 (425.1984)

In David Green’s article “Between Object and Image,” he writes the following on the work of Dibbets, which is also applicable to Pfahl’s Altered Landscapes: “In exploiting the difference between what we know and what we actually perceive, [the photographer] does more than draw attention to photography’s ability to deceive: he suggests that the ‘reality’ which it offers is itself problematic. Thus, the camera records a trapezoid that cannot be ‘seen’ and reveals a square that does not ‘exist’ and a conundrum is set in motion that involves a reality that is there and not there, a truth which is evident and concealed, and evidence that is visible yet in some sense invisible.” (Cited by Hilde van Gelder and Helen Westgeest, Photography Theory in Historical Perspective, 2012, p. 128)

Like the lines in Pink Rock Rectangle and in Shed with Blue Dotted Lines, when photographed from a pre-calculated vantage point, they appeared as non-perspectival rectangular shapes. By exploiting the consequences of the monocular and their central linear perspective in photography, Pfahl is not just playing with our ideas of perspective, but also with our understanding of what a photo is, because he draws attention to the fact that we are looking at a photograph by the absurdity of the perspective.

John Pfahl, Pink Rock Rectangle, Lewiston, New York, 1975 (563.1983)

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Government Shutdown


Weegee, [Baby elephant a top of Capitol, Washington, D.C.], ca. 1960 (3041.1993)

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