The Digital Journalist
David Hume Kennerly:
an appreciation
December 2007

by Marianne Fulton

David Hume Kennerly photographs with an exact sense of balance and great humanity. Nowhere is this approach better seen than in his new book, Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford.

In the Blue Room of the White House, President Ford sits down with Japan's Emperor Hirohito before a state dinner in his honor on October 3, 1975. It was the emperor's first trip to America's capital.
Kennerly was assigned to cover Gerald Ford by Time magazine on the day he was appointed President Nixon's vice president to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew. No publication had ever dedicated a photographer full time to follow a vice president—but this was a unique circumstance, and Mr. Ford allowed Kennerly unprecedented access to himself and his family. Gerald Ford's role as vice president was short-lived, and when he ascended to the presidency he took Kennerly with him. The 27-year-old photographer had just returned from 2 1/2 years covering the war in Vietnam when he stepped into the White House, and immediately set to recording his boss as he cleared the nation's minefields.

Photojournalists in Vietnam suffered the same trauma as the soldiers: blood and death were always close. To make a complete about-face and enter the serious world of statecraft is a remarkable and abrupt transition. Yet Kennerly succeeded with great aplomb. He shows photos, many seen here for the first time, of a president who was a good leader and family man, but also a complex person. First Lady Betty Ford also plays a large part in the Ford presidency as shown in these image

The history of the portraiture of statesmen goes back to the beginning of photography in the 1840s. Daguerreotypes exist of Andrew Jackson (1845), William Henry Harrison (1841) and Dolly Madison (1848). Mathew Brady made an early portrait of Abraham Lincoln during his campaign for president. Kennerly's work is within this more formal tradition. His photographs, however, are much closer in approach to the great photographer Erich Salomon, whose casual pictures of European statesmen meeting in the Hague were groundbreaking in the 1930s. This is particularly true with the image of the tuxedoed President Ford having a quiet talk with Emperor Hirohito during the latter's first trip to Washington in 1975. The nearly silhouetted figures backlit by an elegant lamp have an intimacy within formal surroundings seen in Salomon's best work.

A photographer's greatness is judged not only by several well-known images but also by his consistency and persistence. David Hume Kennerly succeeds because he has a singular vision. In Extraordinary Circumstances he allows us to appreciate a very particular man's daily life while seemingly revealing President Ford's inner struggles as he grappled with the nation’s toughest job.

View The "Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford" Gallery

© Marianne Fulton