Sunday, April 24, 2016

As a photographer I didn't have any problem giving JFK directions, but I was too shy to shake his hand

I've taken pictures of two, maybe three, American presidents. JFK I photographed for my high school newspaper. Bill Clinton I photographed for the heck of it. Same with Hillary.

About 6 weeks before the 1960 Wisconsin presidential primary JFK made a campaign stop in Madison and spoke about the importance of primary elections and Wisconsin's role in the history of primaries. This was still the tail end of the "smoke filled room" era, and former President Truman had recently dismissed primaries as "eyewash." JFK said eyewash would be the drink that made Wisconsin famous. It certainly put him on the map -- his upset victory over Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey in his own backyard really shifted his campaign into high gear.

Three of us from The Madison Mirror, Madison Central High School's student newspaper, decided to do a story. When we approached the senator, he was incredibly patient and gracious. (Maybe he was thinking we would be voters by the time he ran for reelection.) Jean Nelson and Marilyn Mitchell handled the story. I had tagged along as the photographer, which is why I'm mentioned in the story but not pictured.

"Senator, would you please move to your right," I said, trying to maneuver him closer to our intrepid journalists. With a politician's automatic response to a camera, he did as he was told, and I snapped the photo. I had no problem telling the future leader of the free world what to do, but that was only because I had a role to play. Later, when Jean and Marilyn went through the receiving line to shake the hands of Jack and Jackie, I didn't join them. I had some misbegotten idea that photographers should be neutral, but really, I was just shy.

The photo is really dark and muddy, because it was badly processed and exposed (back then I rarely used flash, even when I needed it). The original negative and 3x5 print were lost long ago. So all I have now is a low-res copy of a copy from a microfilm of a bad halftone in an old high school newspaper. But memories are like that. They don't always come in high resolution.

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