Power plays

By GREG COOK  |  May 21, 2010

The exhibit offers nine vintage photos plus 18 contact sheets that show the more than 200 shots he took to get the six that appeared in that February’s Harper’s Bazaar. Many of the prints seem washed out —the rich, burnished tones of his reproductions are missing. But in the contact sheets, you can track his thinking as he applies the mythmaking familiar from his fashion work.

The Kennedys might smile or squirm or mug, but Avedon picks shots in which they look stately. Three-year-old Caroline stands next to her father; his hand is on her shoulder, and she seems to be squinting into the future. Jackie and Caroline cradle six-week-old John Jr. Jackie poses in an evening gown. Jackie sits behind JFK, with her arm around him, the model couple.

Avedon works hard to fashion a calm, collected, regal portrait of the Kennedys. How could one resist seeing them as glamorous, young, fresh, and sexy after Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, Harry and Bess Truman, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt? But the shoot makes clear a curious phenomenon of our democracy — and perhaps a lesson for Ix K’abal Xook. Our rulers don’t have to commission artists to project their glory — our artists volunteer to do it for free.

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