Some of the most famous images from the twentieth century were taken on a single day in Dallas, Texas. Those would be the images of JFK’s last day and the images taken in the aftermath of his assassination. We all recognize them even if some of us weren’t born yet. There’s the photo of Vice President Johnson being sworn in as President on the plane. There are the images of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald. The photos of Kennedy getting off Air Force One that morning at Love Field. All of these images have achieved iconic status in that just about everyone has seen them regardless of what country they live in or how old they are.
The Kennedy assassination was probably one of the most well-photographed events in the twentieth century. It occurred at a time when the average American could easily afford to engage in photography and when early adopters, such as Abraham Zapruder had started getting video cameras. And, President Kennedy was, at the time, one of the most photogenic politicians. So, it is little surprise that so many people had cameras with them as Kennedy made his way through Dallas. However, what is remarkable is how many iconic photos were generated in just a 24 hour period. In a country that was just seeing its allies and enemies rise out of the rubble of World War II and had its own troubles in dealing with Cold War enemies in Cuba and Russia, there were plenty of things to photograph and plenty of reasons to want to preserve those memories. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the tension of the Cuban Missile crisis brought home to everyone just how close the world stood to disaster and that, in the future, the tattered photographs of day-to-day life might be the only thing to give descendants a hint of how people lived before the nuclear conflagration. So, photography was a thriving hobby industry in those days and the First Family were considered to be quiet photogenic, even by their opponents.
Now that it has been fifty years since the Kennedy assassination, the International Center for Photography is holding an exhibit centered around the photos taken by bystanders along the parade route on November 22, 1963. If you have never had the chance to see some of these famous images in their original settings and conditions, then you should head over to this exhibit and check it out before it ends in January. Just try not to fall headlong into any conspiracies while you’re visiting.
— da Bird