Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: The Original Fan in a Flashbulb

In Cornell Capa’s introduction to The Concerned Photographer (1968), he explains that the Fund for Concerned Photography was “born out of respect for the image of the past, anxiety for the photographic direction of the present, and concern about the existence of true documentation of the future.” Similar notions were later reiterated in a 1975 New Yorker article, published shortly after the International Center of Photography’s opening.  Using Capa’s words, the anonymous author creates an intimate portrait of the man behind the museum:

All their negatives, all their life’s work—I could save them. But what happens with the other photographers? The family puts their photographs in the attic, and one day they get thrown out. All the history of the twentieth century will be in photographs—more than in words.”

While cataloguing a recent donation of photographs taken during John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, I myself have been absorbing history through photographs more than through words. Specifically, I have been learning more about the former First Lady, her link to Capa, and their shared concern for preservation.

The two met while Capa fervently documented the final stretch of Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign. In collaboration with fellow Magnum photographers, Capa documented the beginning of the new presidency in Let Us Begin: The First 100 Days of the Kennedy Administration. During this project, Capa captured many intimate images, including a portrait of the woman behind the president, as she strolled the White House grounds with her newborn son.

Cornell Capa, Jacqueline Kennedy and John F. Kennedy, Jr. on the grounds of the White House, 1961

Perhaps to her disadvantage, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is celebrated for her style and grace during her extremely public and well-documented life. However, Onassis quietly played an influential role in fostering New York’s cultural heritage. Her efforts to preserve and promote our cultural narrative are evident in glamorous structures like Grand Central Station and institutions like ICP.

David Kutz, Cornell Capa and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, ca. 1975

Onassis not only contributed to ICP as an advocate and as a founding board member; this savvy former First Lady authored the anonymous New Yorker article that praised the newly opened museum in 1975. The image of Capa and Onassis above captures their collaborative relationship, a kinship based on the collective mission to preserve our cultural history. Onassis’ passion is clear, standing by Capa’s side with a  contagious and illuminated smile.

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1 Response to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: The Original Fan in a Flashbulb

  1. William Kuhn says:

    In addition to collaborating with Cornell Capa and writing about the ICP in The New Yorker, Jackie threw launch parties there for some of her books when she was an editor at Doubleday, including for Diana Vreeland’s Allure (1980), with an exhibition to accompany the book.

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