Thursday, November 21, 2013

Witnessing History

50 years ago today I was in Miss Brown’s 1st grade class at Wilshire Crest Elementary School when the Principal stuck his head in and motioned her to come outside.  A few moments later, she returned, and with tears in her eyes, said the President had been shot and we were all being sent home.

My Mother was waiting outside.  It was the first time I’d seen her cry.   

We were glued to our black and white television.  The funeral cortege went on for hours.  I don’t remember what my parents told my sister and me about President Kennedy, just that they were incredibly sad and shaken.

Soon after, on a visit to my Grandparents apartment, I saw their commemorative LOOK Magazine on the coffee table. It was devoted to the coverage of President Kennedy’’s assassination.  Around fifty images in black and white of November 22, 1963 in Dallas and the aftermath:  the State funeral in Arlington National Cemetery: Jackie, Robert and Teddy dignified in their grief and anguish, hundreds of thousands of Americans lining the procession of the horse drawn casket, Lee Harvey Oswald’s arrest and murder by Jack Ruby, and finally the last image on the back of the magazine, of John-Jonh’s salute of his father’s casket. 

Pouring over those images became my reason to go to Grandma’s.  I hunkered down in the corner chair with my historical treasure, oblivious to other family members.  Each photograph is seared into my mind’s eye: black and white,  light, angles and shadows on grieving faces. 

I willed myself to enter each picture, to be THERE.  A  I wanted to be an eyewitness to such a momentous event, to  understand and experience how history feels.  I knew then what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to live my dream.

A really great friend and mentor once remarked that photographs are seemingly meaningless moments made immortal.   That may be true, but even more so, photography is at its core, as Sontag wrote, “Darkness illuminated by little points of light.”  

So it’s my hope and prayer that on this 50th anniversary of one of the most horrific events in American history,  that the light with which JFK is immortalized in thousands of images pierces the darkness in which we find ourselves as a nation now.

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