This is the first post in what will be an occasional series titled;
Photographers You Should Know.
Featuring brief overviews of photographers from the past or present that have had a profound impact on photography and have either influenced or informed my own development as a photographer.
What brings this first photographer to the forefront in my mind is the recent attention on former Obama administration photographer Pete Souza. Heralded for his intimate access to the Obama administration and also for his nearly unrestricted access to the President himself and to the First Family. Now, Souza is an amazing photographer and photojournalist, but he wasn’t the first. So let’s meet:
David Hume Kennerly
I originally discovered Kennerly around 1983 through his first book Shooter essentially a career retrospective that I read (for the first time) in the early 1980s having been first published in 1979. The book had a pretty profound effect on me at the time and defined, for me, what a photojournalist was and should be. Despite the lack of concrete proof, I have often though that the photographer portrayed in Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers was a lightly veiled Kennerly. Maybe, or maybe not.
David Hume Kennerly is an extraordinary photographer who, in 1965, after working as a photographer on his high school newspaper, got his professional start as a staff photographer with a relatively small daily newspaper – The Oregon Journal. Then after a stint in the National Guard, he was hired as a staffer at The Oregonian in Portland. It was probably symptomatic of the times, or maybe just f/8 and be there, but during his time at The Oregonian, he was fortunate enough to photograph Robert F. Kennedy, Miles Davis, and Igor Stravinsky among others. On his Wikipedia page it’s mentioned that his photography of Robert Kennedy is what first ignited his interest in photographing the political scene.
By 1967 he had moved to Los Angeles where he became a staffer for UPI (United Press International). While in Los Angeles he photographed RFK on that fated evening at the Ambassador Hotel shortly before he was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. Kennerly got the photo of Ethel Kennedy that night in the back of an ambulance on the way to the hospital with her husband.
The next stop for Kennerly was in 1970 at the Washington DC bureau of UPI, where he eventually became a member of the traveling presidential press pool assigned to Richard Nixon. He was 23 years old.
In 1971 he was assigned to UPI’s Saigon (currently known as Ho Chi Minh City) Bureau in Vietnam Nam where he eventually became Bureau Chief. In 1972 Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography based on a portfolio of work from Vietnam Nam and Cambodia as well as other images including shots from the Ali-Frazier prize fight in Madison Square Garden and photos of Pakistani refugees in Calcutta. After his time with UPI, he became a contract photographer for Life Magazine in Saigon. Unfortunately, shortly after taking the position, Life Magazine folded. His contract was picked up by Time Magazine (the parent company of Life) and, for the time being, he continued his work in Southeast Asia.
He returned to the States in 1973 where, for Time magazine, he walked right into the middle of the Watergate scandal. He photographed the resignation of then Vice President Spiro Agnew, and the selection of Senate Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford as the new Vice President. Ford’s first appearance on the cover of Time was also Kennerly’s first cover for Time (he would go on to shoot over 35 covers for Time and Newsweek). Thus began a long personal relationship between Ford and Kennerly. Kennerly became Chief Official White House Photographer after Mr. Ford ascended to the Presidency (at that point, only the third civilian to ever hold that position), he was specifically requested for the position by President Ford. During his tenure, Kennerly and Ford, along with the First Lady, and the rest of the First Family, became exceedingly close and Kennerly enjoyed unprecedented and unlimited access to The White House, both officially and unofficially. He photographed the President during formal occasions and during more personal moments and he developed a very close relationship with First Lady Betty Ford and photographed her in very quiet and personal situations that normally were not seen by the public. Ultimately these photos gave a very human feel to the Office of the Presidency, and, I think, acted as somewhat of a salve for the wounds suffered by American people during the Watergate scandal. His photos and negatives from this time are now in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor Michigan.
Interestingly, Kennerly had a long relationship with Ansel Adams and invited him to the Whitehouse to meet President Ford in 1975. Kennerly later photographed Adams for a Time Magazine cover that ran on the September 3, 1979 issue – the only instance that Time ever ran a cover photo of a photographer.
Kennerly went back to Time Magazine where he covered some of the most important stories of the time. The following are just a few of the things he covered, in and of itself it’s an impressive list, but they are just some highlights.
- Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s trip to Israel
- The People’s Temple suicide in Jonestown Guyana
- Reagan and Gorbachev’s first meeting in Geneva
In 1996 he became a contributing editor to Newsweek where he photographed president Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, the 2000 elections, and the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon.
In 2016 Kennerly provided election coverage for CNN and photographed President-Elect Donald Trump for their book Unprecedented.
His life is probably best summed up in a quote from James Earl Jones -“David Hume Kennerly is like Forrest Gump, except he was really there”.
In the mean time he had also entered private professional life and worked for years as a corporate photographer for Bank of America covering their Social Responsibility programs and The Girl Scouts where he created new photos for the cookie boxes (sweet job!). These are but just two on a long list of corporate clients.
He has been associated with various universities especially the University of Arizona where he was named the university’s first Presidential Scholar.
Currently his archive of over one million images and other memorabilia are in the custody of the Center for Creative Photography.
At this point he has been exhibited extensively, has several film credits and has written several books after Shooter, including Photo Op detailing his time with the Ford administration and recently On the iPhone a volume dedicated to mobile photography (really showing what a smart phone camera can do in the right hands), as well as others, some outside of the realm of photography and politics.
Writing a piece about a living person is dangerous territory. I have made every effort possible to ensure complete accuracy in this post. As this is not a comprehensive biography and is meant to be an introductory piece to incite the reader to further investigate Kennerly and his work for themselves, I have not covered every detail of his amazing work and life.
A note on sources: All information in this article has been sourced from Wikipedia, Kennerly’s web site, or the three books mentioned; Shooter, PhotoOP, and On the iPhone.
A note on photos: All photos used in this post are used under Fair Use guidelines for editorial and educational content, or are in the Public Domain,
and are credited to David Hume Kennerly unless otherwise noted.
Shooter by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 0-88225-265-8
PhotoOP by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 0-292-74323-8
On the iPhone by David Hume Kennerly ISBN 978-1-939621-13-9
Wikipedia – David Hume Kennerly
Website – kennerly.com
Stay safe and see the world your own way
Thanks for reading