Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Review: Photo exhibit in Dallas captures goofy and grim presidents
The exhibit at the Sixth Floor Museum shows the human side of the men who ran our country.
DOWNTOWN DALLAS Throughout 2013, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza will commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination with special programming and events. While most are specific to the Kennedy administration and Kennedy legacy, one photography exhibit -- The American President: Photographs from the Archives of The Associated Press -- broadens the museum's scope by examining the office of presidency through the lens of one of the nation's most renowned news agencies, the Associated Press. The traveling exhibition features 71 photographs from the AP archives documenting iconic moments in history, exploring the men who have risen to power under the glare of the camera.
Composed of candid shots, the exhibit has been described by President H.W. Bush as capturing the "ecstasy and agony of the American presidency." The photographs range from poignant to posed and are curated together without any seeming ideological bias. Some offer glimpses of apparent authentic humanity from those who have held the office, while others seem to document characters enacting an elaborate political scheme. As in life, determining which photographs most accurately portray those behind the podiums is left to the viewer's discretion.
Among the photos featured, a few are well known: Elvis Presley visiting with Richard Nixon in the Oval Office; Harry Truman holding up the newspaper erroneously announcing his defeat; Franklin Roosevelt cockily holding a cigarette and filter between his teeth.
Others are less recognizable, but no less amusing, like a photo of Ronald Reagan cutting in (or attempting to) while Nancy Reagan dances with Frank Sinatra; H.W. Bush and Lee Atwater making duck faces at one another while jamming onstage with B.B. King at the Inaugural bash; Socks (the Clintons' cat) poised upon the president's podium.
More still are deeply stirring, like Jackie Kennedy grasping JFK's chin moments after he is sworn in; the lines in Lyndon Johnson's forehead following his announcement that he would not seek reelection; wounded Secret Servicemen on the sidewalk after taking bullets for Ronald Reagan.
From moments of unadulterated joy to simple humanity -- epitomized in Barack Obama's goofy grin over tacos or Jimmy Carter climbing on the roof of a car in order to shake hands during a routine motorcade ride -- the exhibit offers history buffs both honest glimpses as well as what seem to be administrations' more calculated attempts to control the narrative. Think, for example, a shot of the Clintons walking hand-in-hand the day after the president admitted having an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky or Carter clasping hands with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin following the signing of a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. However staged some of the photographs may seem, that fact does not suggest bias on part of the photographers whose job was to remain both physically close to major leaders while professionally distant. Instead, the exhibit explores the singular difficulties of maintaining that very balance.
The American President: Photographs from the Archives of the Associated Press opened August 18 and runs through October 27 at the Sixth Floor Museum. Cost is free with general museum admission.
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