A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
At this point in time, over 50 years having passed, The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family by Richard Avedon is a very interesting book. Could the United States ever have another first family with the style and confidence of the Kennedys? Are there photographers who could frame them the way Avedon did the Kennedys on January 3, 1961?
In some ways, this book is just about a day-long photo shoot of the president-elect and his family at a vacation home in Florida. Not all of the details are clear. Whose idea was the session? Did Jacqueline Kennedy choose Avedon after having denied many previous photo proposals? The people who could answer these questions have all died without addressing these questions. What is clear, however, is that Avedon took indoor and outdoor photographs, and then he submitted high impact articles to both Look and Harper’s Bazaar from the images taken that day.
There are some preliminary photos in the book, showing Jackie as a camera assistant at the Washington Times-Herald in 1953, the couple at their wedding, and Avedon photographing Elizabeth Taylor. With these is text by Shannon Thomas Perich, a curator at the Smithsonian, telling about the photographer’s career, about the impact of the articles, and about the donation of all the negatives and proofs to the Smithsonian. Best of all, there are copies of all the contact sheets from the indoor sessions and illustrations showing how Avedon touched up the photographs to make great portraits.
My daughter Laura really liked the series of photographs of father and daughter. Caroline holding her father’s hand to her cheek is outstanding. The series of Caroline holding her six-week old brother is also guaranteed to please anyone who likes babies and small children. These joyous photos contrast with the shots of JFK and Jackie, who seem a bit reserved. It is hard to look at these photos without layering them with the tragedies to come.
Readers interested in the art of photography or in the history of the presidency will find this book fascinating. It is a standout among the hundreds of books about the Kennedys. – Review by Rick