WASHINGTON – To fill the election-to-inauguration gap,the National Archives opened a photography exhibit Tuesday that reveals private moments in the lives of past U.S. presidents.
After combing through thousands of pictures from the National Archives and 11 presidential library collections,editors from U.S. News & World Report selected 40 photos for “The American Presidency: Photographic Treasures of the National Archives,” which runs until Feb. 21.
“The camera,in the hands of a skilled photographer,can pierce through the surface and give us insight into the character of our presidents,” according to the exhibit's introductory panel written by Michael Barone,a senior writer for the magazine.
The exhibit documents 150 years of the presidency,starting with James Buchanan and ending with Bill Clinton.
“I think usually the glimpses that we have of the presidents and their families are formal. This shows us that they have another life that we don't see,” said Susan Cooper,director of public affairs for the National Archives.
Cooper said the editors who collected the pictures looked for “what would be compelling in terms of telling a story.” She said the exhibit is important because,even in a media-saturated culture,Americans usually do not see private images of the first family.
A series of three photos shows Jimmy Carter racing his daughter,Amy,to the presidential helicopter,Marine One,during a 1977 trip to Camp David. Earlier in the exhibit's chronological lineup,is an image of John F. Kennedy watching his daughter,Caroline,perform handstands in the Oval Office.
In other frames,visitors can see Harry Truman playing poker,Ronald Reagan laughing at one of his own jokes and Lyndon Johnson imitating his howling pet dog.
Looking at a 1972 picture of Richard Nixon grimacing while using chopsticks at a banquet with then-Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En Lai,Chris Turley,31,a visitor from Irvine,Calif.,said he liked how natural it looked.
“I've been in that position before,” Turley said. “It's just two people eating,but they're the leaders of two of the most powerful countries in the world. It's very human.”
A rare close-up of Franklin D. Roosevelt – who hid his disability from public view – shows him sitting near a fireplace in his home in Warm Springs,Ga.,wearing the leg brace he needed after surviving polio. Margaret Suckley,the photographer,was able to capture the 1945 photo because she was Roosevelt's cousin.
Photographer David Valdez caught an introspective George H.W. Bush walking near the White House Jan. 16,1991,after giving the go-ahead for Operation Desert Storm.
Charles Knief,57,an Irvine,Calif.,resident who was visiting the archives with Turley,said the most recent photos are also the most candid because camera equipment has improved over the past 150 years.
“You don't have to stand up and wait for the gunpowder to go off,” Knief said,pointing out the technological advantages Pete Souza had when capturing the shot of Ronald Reagan laughing compared to Matthew Brady's stiff 1857 portrait of Buchanan.