Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition of Avedon’s Photographs of President-elect Kennedy and Family Coming to Riverside, Calif.

December 19, 2008
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As a new president-elect and his young family begin their preparations for life in the White House, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition looks back on the eve of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration through the eyes of photographer Richard Avedon. “The Kennedys | Portrait of a Family: Photographs by Richard Avedon” will be on view at Riverside Metropolitan Museum in Riverside, Calif., April 11, 2009 through June 7, 2009.

Following its showing in Riverside, the exhibition will continue on a six-city tour through 2010. Developed by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), “The Kennedys | Portrait of a Family” is supported by the Rudolf Eickemeyer Jr. Fund and Collins Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. The exhibition and national tour are sponsored by The History Channel.

“The Kennedys | Portrait of a Family” features 27 framed black-and-white photographs from the historic Jan. 3, 1961, photography session. On assignment for Harper’s Bazaar and Look magazines, elite fashion photographer Avedon traveled to the Kennedy family home in Palm Beach, Fla. Over the next several hours, Avedon took candid and posed portraits of the young president-elect; his wife, Jacqueline; and their children, Caroline and John Jr. Combining elements of fashion and art photography, Avedon sought to capture the essence of the Kennedys at their finest.

Theses images were the only formal pictures take of Kennedy between his election and inauguration.

Avedon created a single edition of the Harper’s Bazaar images and in 1966, a mere three years after Kennedy’s assassination, donated the prints and negatives to the Smithsonian’s newly opened Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History). For the first time, images from this photo shoot are on view in their entirety.

“Of all the photographs in the Photographic History Collection,” said Shannon Thomas Perich, exhibition curator and associate curator of the museum’s collection, “these poignant and stirring photographs never fail to trigger memories, generate conversation and make visitors recognize that they themselves are part of American history.”

“The Kennedys | Portrait of a Family” reveals how the photographer controlled the viewer’s experience through printing techniques and the first family’s understanding of the power of visual media in building a public persona.

The images from the back-to-back photography sessions appeared in the February 1961 issue of Harper’s Bazaar and Look magazine’s Feb. 28 issue. Just three years later, the January 1964 issue of Harper’s Bazaar ran four additional images with the poem “Sailing to Byzantium” by William Butler Yeats as a memorial to Kennedy.

Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most famous photographers of the 20th century, produced fashion layouts, magazine features, advertisements and his own projects. From the 1950s until his death, he photographed the world’s most prominent authors, civic leaders, performers and cultural figures.

Accompanying the exhibition is a companion book by Perich, “The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family/Richard Avedon” (Collins Design, 2007), with a foreword by Kennedy historian Robert Dallek.

The History Channel is a leading destination for revealing, award-winning, original

non-fiction series and event-driven specials that connects history with viewers. Programming covers a diverse variety of historical genres ranging from military history to contemporary history, technology to natural history, as well as science, archaeology and pop culture.

The National Museum of American History traces American heritage through exhibitions of social, cultural, scientific and technological history. Collections are displayed in exhibitions that interpret the American experience from Colonial times to the present. For more information, visit the museum’s Web site at

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work, and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available at

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Jennifer Schommer