Friday, November 16, 2007

History in the Making

Extraordinary Circumstances

The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford
by David Hume Kennerly
University of Texas Press, October 2007
224 pages/hardcover/125 tritone photographs/$49.95

Reviewed by Jain Lemos

Extraordinary Circumstances documents the unusual life acceleration of Gerald R. Ford as he takes his place in history during times of heightened political turmoil. As Ford’s personal photographer, David Hume Kennerly, who has a rather nonchalant shooting style, set the White House darkroom standard in the 1970s by developing fly-on-the-wall shots of the powerful comings and goings of a U.S. President. There isn’t a grip-and-grin or was-my-face-red snap to be found in this book. Dave, as Ford called him, was a trusted friend.

Extraordinary Circumstances is a prime example of proper photojournalistic publishing. From uncropped frames, professional image editing and expertly written captions to balanced white space, refined Italian printing and large reproductions, it’s all very classy. Critics expect nothing less from Pulitzer Prize-winner Kennerly, who uncovers thirty-year-old negatives and turns them into a big presidential production.

Through Kennerly’s aim, Ford is depicted as vulnerable and strong; as a smiling-waving-clapping politician and as a loving family man. Although many images were taken during significant meetings and powerful historical moments—with Ford somberly concentrating in others—the President seldom appears as if he is actually working. One doesn’t get the sense that Kennerly was running around to keep up with him either, for that matter. There are whimsical photographs of Ford as well. He’s seen goofing off with George Harrison and Billy Preston in the Oval Office and cracking jokes with Jackie Gleason before a golf tournament.

Naturally, Extraordinary Circumstances includes photographs of the incredibly forthcoming First Lady Betty Ford. Kennerly catches her during times of pain and triumph; in playful moods or pensively looking out a window. The results are touching portraits of a very complex woman. In her bathrobe at the residence she hugs her husband just days after her mastectomy. It is unthinkable that someone else would be in the room with them.

Kennerly’s individual photographs are technically and aesthetically astute and in its entirety, this volume gets high marks for being traditional and respectful. The accompanying text is informative and includes quotes by Ford’s peers and an introduction by Tom Brokaw. Kennerly also wisely enlists documentary book veterans Tom Walker, Dawn Sheggeby and Sandra Eisert to handle art direction and editing.

History buffs will find that Extraordinary Circumstances provides the consummate visual record of an American leader. Journalists will applaud Kennerly’s ability to further the cause for relatively unhindered photography access to the White House. Plus, the political rollercoaster ride of the 70s never looked so good!

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