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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

David Hume Kennerly

Easter Sunday, David Hume Kennerly--the right place at the right time.                            
(Viet Nam, 1968)                               
David Hume Kennerly
One of the most important attributes in being a good photographer is being in the right place at the right time. Some might consider this trait as mostly a matter of luck; and there is, of course, that element involved. But someone once said, a successful individual "makes their own luck." That is, they plan, prepare, do, and say that which increases the likelihood that good fortune will frequently strike to their benefit. The good photographer must be willing to push his or her way into a position in the forefront of the action in order to "get the shot." That's especially true of the photojournalist. Being shy or reticent doesn't make it. By the same token, going too far in the other direction, being pushy, inconsiderate, and obnoxious, gains one the reputation as ruthless, impolite, and despicable. The good photographer needs the cooperation, friendship, and trust of those around him, both subjects and colleagues. All these attributes are in addition to a masterful technical expertise and an acute, opportunistic eye for creative expression. And if you're a photographer in a war zone such as Vietnam, it helps to be brave. Being brave might get you a Pulitzer Prize. However there's a fine line between bravery and foolhardiness. Being foolhardy will get you dead. Just ask David Hume Kennerly.

David Hume Kennerly--who he knows.
There's another trite old saying, it's not what you know but who you know. For the aspiring photographer, this saying carries a lot of weight, especially if you have both "what" and "who" working for you. That, too, is true of Kennerly (above). Born in 1947, Kennerly began shooting photos of famous people such as Miles Davis, Igor Stravinsky, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes right out of high school as a photographer for The Oregon Journal. This would have been around 1965 while he was also in combat training with the Oregon National Guard. Both experiences would see him in good stead as he decided to become a photojournalist.

Nixon Wants YOU, ca. 1970, David Hume Kennerly.
Senator Robert F. Kennedy, June 5, 1968,
Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles,
David Hume Kennerly
Kennerly's knack for being in the right place at the right time found him in Los Angeles in 1968, working as a staff photographer for UPI. He took some of the last photos of Senator Robert F. Kennedy just moments before he was assassinated. The following year he was assigned to New York to cover the World Series and the "Amazing Mets." From there he moved on to Washington, D.C. where he took his first ride on Air Force One as a pool journalist covering the Nixon Administration. Even haven risen that close to the seats of power, Kennerly had he feeling he was missing out in covering the "real" news. In 1971, at the age of twenty-four, he was transferred to Saigon as a UPI combat photographer. A short time later he became UPI's Saigon bureau chief. Even with what could have been a full-time desk job, Kennerly spent most of his time in the field. In 1972, he came back from Vietnam with a Pulitzer Prize.

Untitled, 1971, David Hume Kennerly
Ford and Kennerly on the way to work.
Shortly after Kennerly's returned to the U.S., he found himself back in Washington covering the resignation of then Vice President Spiro Agnew and Nixon's appointment of Gerald Ford to be the new V.P. It was during this time that Kennerly developed a close relationship with the Ford family, and, as it turned out, the next President of the United States. One of the new President's first acts was to appoint Kennerly as his personal photographer, giving him almost continuous, daily access to the workings of the White House, as well as traveling once more on Air Force One wherever President Ford took to the skies.

The President turns the camera on the photographer, ca. 1975.
With the defeat of Gerald Ford in 1976 and the arrival of a new president, Kennerly's White House stint came to an end, but not his career as a respected photojournalist. Being a "republican" photographer, Kennerly had little access to the Carter White House, but with the advent of the Reagan era, though not with the President on a daily basis, Kennerly was there for the ending of the Cold War, the two Bush administrations, the coming of the Clintons, and the inauguration of President Obama. It would seem that no event in Washington could be considered really historic unless David Hume Kennerly was there to capture it on film (or with pixels).

Reagan and Gorbachev in Iceland. Was this the end of the Cold War?
Kennerly has published seven books covering his life and times as a photojournalist, each page laden with photos, many of which have become familiar icons of American history (top). Although slipping now into a reluctant retirement, Kennerly travels about as a lecturer while continuing to be a contributor to a number of news magazines and media outlets. The most difficult aspect of writing about photographers such as Kennerly is deciding what to leave in and what to leave out. Below is a sampling of what I can't bear to leave out.

Five Presidents, 2009, David Hume Kennerly

A Time magazine tribute upon the death of President Reagan.
(Notice the lipstick on his cheek.)
Kennerly, fireworks, and Newsweek welcome the Clinton's to Washington, 1994.
The Obamas--hope and change

Hillary Cringes, 2006, David Hume Kennerly.
Get used to this, you may be seeing it
a lot during the next few years.


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