When President John F. Kennedy said in 1962 that cameras were the best inspectors, he was talking about the ability to use aerial photography to assess the state of an arms build-up in Cuba. Now, however, as the nation prepares to celebrate the centennial of his May 29, 1917, birth, the Smithsonian American Art Museum is demonstrating that the remark can be interpreted in more than one way.
Kennedy himself was frequently the interest of photographers’ cameras. Not only was he the President of the United States, he also had youthful good looks and a famous sense of style — and the luck to come to power just at a moment when American photojournalism was experiencing what the Smithsonian refers to as a “golden age.” As a result, the photographic record of his time in office and his career leading up to those few short years is vast.
The images above are just a few of the dozens of such photographs, from a variety of sources, that will be displayed at the museum starting Wednesday as part of the new exhibition American Visionary: John F. Kennedy’s Life and Times. The show, which coincides with the release of the new book JFK: A Vision for America, edited by Stephen Kennedy Smith and Douglas Brinkley, will be on view through Sept. 17, before going on the road.
“It is our hope that the compelling images of President Kennedy’s life and work on view in this exhibition will remind visitors not only of the values that defined his presidency,” said Smith, the 35th President’s nephew, in a statement about the exhibit, “but also will introduce him to new audiences and future leaders.”