National Archives Unveils New Photo Exhibition
Press Release · Monday, February 21, 2005

Washington, DC

The American Presidency: Photographic Treasures of the National Archives

Washington, DC… On Wednesday, December 7, the National Archives will unveil "The American Presidency" photo exhibit that goes behind the scenes to show unexpected moments that reveal the character of our Chief Executives over the last 150 years. The exhibition, which is curated by U.S. News & World Report, showcases 40 exceptional images. They are drawn from the millions of photos in the National Archives and its Presidential Libraries’ collections -- to capture not just the events of public life, but the human qualities of our leaders. These rarely-seen images reflect the work of the talented White House photographers and their access to the corridors of power. This exhibit will formally inaugurate the new Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery.

The images also represent the transformation in the ways the American public has viewed the presidency over the past 150 years. The exhibit aims to capture the man behind the presidency –and portrays four themes: "Technology and the Presidential Photograph;" "Presidents on the Move;" "Presidents at Play," and "Children in the White House." While the photographs are displayed in chronological order, intermediate panels introduce and explain these different dimensions of Presidential photography, and the ways in which they have shaped our impressions of Presidents and their families.


Presidents at Play: To most Americans, the image of their president at play shaped their perception of the man. John Kennedy playing touch football or sailing on Buzzard’s Bay, Dwight Eisenhower on a golf course, Ronald Reagan on horseback or Theodore Roosevelt going after big game – these activities let the people know that their leaders had healthy outlets for the stresses of office. In one candid photo, Harry Truman plays cards with a group of friends, and in another, Reagan flips a paper plane off the roof of a Los Angeles hotel.

Children in the White House: Abraham Lincoln once credited a Mathew Brady photograph of himself and his son Tad with helping him win the Presidency. Ever since then, Americans have felt reassured and sometimes bemused by the progeny of their Presidents. Amy Carter, only daughter of Jimmy Carter, experienced the scrutiny of curious Americans through the awkwardness of early adolescence. In three consecutive photographs, you can see her race her father across the White House lawn to a waiting helicopter. Lyndon Johnson’s daughter Luci even provided a Presidential grandchild, Patrick Lyndon Nugent, while her father was in office. In general, the leavening influence of children was a tonic to both first families and the people, and the images helped remind Americans that parental issues are universal.

Technology and the Presidential Photograph: The evolution of photographic technology over the past 150 years is reflected by the increasing freedom and spontaneity we see in the images in this exhibit. Ever-smaller and more portable cameras, faster films and shutter speeds enabled photographers to capture moments that otherwise would have vanished unrecorded. The journey from the stiff and formal portraits of the Mathew Brady era to the candid action photos of Presidential children doing handstands in the Oval Office or racing across the White House Lawn is a technological voyage as well as a stylistic one. The most profound impact of the new photographic technology is the sense of intimacy it creates between the viewer and the subject: The President.

Presidents on the Move: Before TV brought their faces and voices into every living room, the nation’s leaders took to the rails when they wanted to talk to the people. The photograph of William McKinley greeting children from his railroad car at the station in Canton, Ohio, shows how close to the people they actually got. Other photographs from bygone administrations dramatize how post-9/11 security concerns have made the presidency a more isolated and remote institution.

"The American Presidency: Photographic Treasures of the National Archives" is the inaugural exhibition in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery, a new 3,000 square-foot gallery for special and traveling exhibitions. The gallery was named in honor of Lawrence F. O’Brien in recognition of a generous gift made in his memory by the O’Brien family to the Foundation for the National Archives, in support of the National Archives Experience.

The exhibit, which is presented by U.S. News & World Report, will be on display through February 21, 2005, and is free and open to the public. The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Fall/Winter hours are 10 A.M. – 5:30 P.M. daily.

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For press information, contact the National Archives Public Affairs Staff at 202-501-5526.


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