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The First Amendment and a free people. A weekly examination of civil liberties and the media in the United States and around the world. The program is produced cooperatively by WGBH Boston and the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University the host of the program is the institute's director Dr. Bernard Rubin. I'm pleased to have as my guest today David Hume Kennerly the renowned photographer whose new book shooter has just been published October 15th 1979 by Newsweek books. As some of you may know David Hume Kennerly Best Buy the fact that he was the youngest photographer ever assigned to the White House in the Ford administration. More cognisant people in terms of photography will know that he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 for his feature photography work in Vietnam India and Cambodia. He was one of the first people in the United States to bring the
most I guess severe but real pictures to the cover of Time magazine about the Jonestown massacre. David Hume Kennerly is a comparatively young man. Nobody should be thirty two years of age. I don't I don't I won't be for long. Right. The one hopeful thing that I can do. David Kennerly let me ask you this question of the stars a tough one just doesn't print liars can take pictures and pictures can lie. We're concerned here with the First Amendment What is the obligation of the photographer to tell the truth and how sometimes is the truth manipulated by photographers other photographers. Well I think you know there's so many examples. I was doing a radio show in Eugene Oregon. I'm from that part of the country and a guy called up and was asking me
why is that in Boston pictures showing the racial strife. Why are there only photographs of white people beating up on black people. And of course I had no way of knowing how many kind of pictures are coming out of that situation every day and. It's I suppose it's very easy in a situation to to take a picture it's a good action shot which in will show a certain point of view even though that's not how you intended it. I think the obligation of the photographer is to try to honestly portray what's happening in front of him and that's all I've ever tried to do. Of course you run into the process of an editor somewhere back in New York selecting the photographs are going to run but the same kind of thing applies to them they should look at the whole take and if you respect the photographer who's doing the work you should try to glean from that what really captures the moment.
I mean unfortunately we're dealing in what everybody likes to think of an objective business but just by the fact that you're a human being it makes it subjective to a point and. It is easy to manipulate at times if you want. I think Scoop Jackson once complained down in Florida while I was campaigning that someone took a picture of him standing on a tree stump making a speech and only showed three or four people around. It was a tight shot where in fact there were a couple hundred photos and he got he got really carried away with that. I like to think that the tiger was not doing that on purpose. Do you follow any school or do you have any any leaders like Robert Kapper or Margaret Bourke-White even before you picked up your first camera at a football game or a baseball game to take some pictures. Were you influenced Are you influenced by other photographers and what they're saying with their work. Well absolutely. I think probably one of the most influential photographers of my life was Larry Bird who was killed in Vietnam in
1971. His In fact I write about that and shooter that Larry's photograph I think they were taken in 1965 I believe when I graduated from high school. And at that time I was just really deciding on which direction to go I knew I wanted to be a photographer but I had no real. No guide guiding light. Burroughs did a story called Yankee papa 13 which is a life cover story it was about a chopper and its crew and they got one of the men on board got killed and they dragged another guy in from a helicopter. Some of the most dramatic pictures ever to come out of Vietnam at that stage I said I want to be take pictures like Larry Burrows takes. And ever since and wanted to go down that road I mean he was a man of such integrity and he was a brilliant photographer a very brave man and certainly a great loss to the profession. But he was principally the person that I think influenced me the most.
You were at the White House for about a year and a half in the Ford administration and one day you just said I'm fed up. Everything is too regular here. Send me out to the field send me to Vietnam during the Nixon administration during the Nixon administration and send me to Vietnam. I want to I want to do some real photography in the field. Well. At that stage I was covering the White House for UPI When I was 23 and everything was so controlled. There was no way to get behind the scenes to really give some feeling for what Nixon was like as a man. And of course this is something he didn't want. I just couldn't take it. At that age particularly I was I was I was so filled with enthusiasm about the business I wanted so badly to really show things as they were and was thwarted every every attempt that I did say I want to go to Vietnam but that was part of it in another part of it was the fact that I felt it was the biggest story happening in America at the time
and I didn't want to miss it. And as a photographer I think if you didn't cover Vietnam in my age group say Give me five 10 years on either side. They made a big mistake and I the only excuse I could ever accept from my colleagues was when they if they said I just don't want to do it which is the best excuse in the world that so many made you know said Well I couldn't get the plane ticket or they wouldn't send me I mean I just think that doesn't that doesn't quite fly I learned something of a reputation as a person who didn't want to attend the Five O'clock Follies briefings and you wanted to go out and find out what was happening. I never went to the briefings ever. There was no point. Well I think the question I'm really aiming at is you're a reporter posing as a photographer but basically you're a reporter you're using whatever tool you have that you're most skillful with. But basically you're out for the news and I gather that you're drawn to wherever you feel the news is the most meaningful.
Well yeah because in most cases the most meaningful news produces some of the some of the really dramatic photographs and that's certainly the case in war I mean there you're running the gamut of every every human emotion from fear to terror the kind of pictures you take there tend to I hate to say to be overly dramatic but it's a very very dramatic thing and I've always been attracted to vents like that and I don't think it's out of a sense of being a vulture In fact I never would have gone in 99 percent of the places I've gone just to look. And I really I felt a very strong sense of purpose in going to Vietnam or going to Jonestown or going to wherever something was happening that I felt to be photographed. Are you allied in your own mind with people like Yousef Karsh and let's go to the other extreme. I have a don. I don't fill it all line with Avid I wouldn't think so use of Carson is very dear friend of mine is a brilliant photographer and does in his own right.
Well he brings out the characters like like nobody have ever seen I mean a lot of people don't like his pictures because they say they're too stylized I like them for that reason that his use of lighting and his ability to bring out the personality in a subject in a very static situation like a studio is unparalleled. And Carson is the greatest. I really love him. Now a good deal of the photographic work that we're getting is consists of ego trips for politicians or routine stuff aside from war and open blatant evidence of man's hostility to man where you get this range of emotions. We're on the front tiers for photographers reaching into the deepest story let us say Are we going to have another school of photography that is going to do the picture story of the Okies of the 1930s that's going to do the picture stories of the people on the bread lines. Are we really grasping at the big
stories at home or are we following assignment editors. I'm not sure about that I think. One problem you have with photographing the story of the economy is things are so desperate in an outward way that you can take good pictures of that. You know there are people staying on bread lines for the most part unless you know transients or whatever that the situation between now and the days of the Depression it just it's so hard. It's one of the hardest things on earth to photograph as a story about the economy. And I don't know if there's a new school growing out of that I doubt at all in the sense that it's almost impossible to get a handle on it. It's not impossible to go to India and take pictures like that it's not impossible to go even now to Thailand or Cambodia to see what's happening to refugees that's right out in front having been in those places I agree with you but I want to get back to the old Life magazine format of the original LIFE magazine where they had say 50 pictures on a two page spread in which
they attempt to tell a story. Was that an early stage of news photography or. Or can I do you tell a story in a sequence of pictures is that passing now. I don't think it's passe I just don't think there's really an outlet for it. The New Life magazine is a monthly. Great they are not a picture. Yeah they're much more feature oriented I mean it's not penetrate you're not getting the penetrating kind of stories out of life now that you did when it was weekly because that was the only visual outlet America had until television as well as look and Saturday Evening Post to an extent. The nature of the business now is is such that a magazine just won't go into like you won't get that out of time because everything is so immediate and they do not do very thoughtful kind of stories I mean they have a hard enough time just keeping abreast of the world events. So I think that's I don't like it so much passe is there's just no way to put it.
What was your most difficult story was it the Jonestown story. Was it something in Vietnam. Well I mean Jonestown has to be my most difficult story in the sense of what it did to my head because. That was that was something that nobody should ever have to see. But on the other hand I felt that it should be photographed because it did happen as an individual walking around among the bodies in Jonestown. I mean I really didn't want to be there and it was so removed from anything I had seen before and I've seen certainly plenty of bodies and as a result of war. Well that's a tangible thing as awful as it is at least you understand what happened. There was no understanding of Jonestown for me and as I've pointed out to my friends and also I wrote about it it was the only story that ever gave me nightmares because it was just there was no no hook there was no handle there for me and the same thing applied to everybody that went there I think every journalist that went into Jonestown there only about 12 or
14 of us in total all had the same reaction. It was a hard one to handle really. It brings up another inquiry of mine that we discussed for a moment just before we started this program I'd like to repeat it because I like you to explore the answer even more fully. I suggested that I would never make a good photographer because I when I see something that would be a good photograph or make a good photograph I get concerned about the privacy of the person that I'm photographing it might be a very poor person begging or whatever it might be. And so I my tendency is not to take the photograph I can write about it very easily. How does this how does this cause reactions in the professional photographer. Well I can only speak for myself but I have a real problem photographing people who are either mourning over their dad or people who are living in extreme poverty the only way I can really.
In my own mind I think that it's the right thing to do is figuring that maybe there will be some relief brought to people like that if if they see what's going on if they see these pictures I'll give you an example of some case where there was no reason really for me to take a picture I was doing a story in Oman earlier this year and I was out flying around with the military the Omani army and some girl had been killed in an accident and they were taking her body up to a really remote village way up in the middle of nowhere and I asked if I could go along it was no problem when I got there. I noticed the funeral was going to be held right on in this field in this barren kind of landscape it was a very dramatic situation. Now there was really no point for the pictures fires making anybody understand anything except for people grieving over this body and it was an interesting photographic. Situation what I did was to an interpreter I asked the family if they would mind if I photographed the
funeral and they said that would be fine. So in that case I had no problem if they would have said no I wouldn't have. And then you take it you take the extreme. When Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles and I was there you were right there in the hotel. I was at the hotel I was not in the room where the shooting occurred to UPI photographers covering that night and I was in the back and he was right up on the podium with Kennedy and followed him into the kitchen. But when they brought Kennedy out of the hotel to the ambulance I rushed outside and I saw what was going on. And I leaned through the front door and it was kind of. A panel that opened up into the back and I took a shot of Ethel Kennedy as Robert senator was being put into the ambulance. Now I had a real problem with that even though he was a public figure and Mrs. Kennedy and I was there and these are people everybody knows it is a
national a national tragedy. I took the picture. And ever since then it's bothered me because in a way that's very a tremendous intrusion so I've never really qualified in my own mind will I do the right thing or not. And it was my instincts even though I was very young as a news photographer that that made me do it. So you just have to know or I don't know where you draw the line on it. And I suppose that was a legitimate situation. But it's you know on a case by case basis that's the kind of thing I have to deal with every day. You've you followed people like Nixon around and of course you're very close to the Ford family an awful lot of pictures of them especially the President and Mrs. Ford. The tendency is to follow notables around. Now you and I have both been in places like Cairo where there's one story that you're after you took a notable notably good picture of Saddam near the pyramids and other pictures and many other pictures but you're surrounded by
Cairo this swirl of a story from a photographer's point of view. Do you sometimes say look you guys go on to the next story or get on the plane. I want to just stay here because I'm seeing things that that ought to be a portfolio of pictures that I should take while I'm here. Well that's that's one of the problems of the business because you're constantly moving from one story to the other. And I think a better way to describe it is being on a presidential trip where you're kind of in this cocoon traveling around the world and you're with the same people and just the change of scenery through your speeding car is about the only difference between that and Washington you're meeting the head of state or whatever. It's very frustrating. To go through some of these really fascinating places no you can't stay there. And I've always lived without I mean that's just part of the job I guess. To date I've been in something like 70 countries on assignments. Yeah I mean sure sometimes you want to stick
around and explore a little bit and get into what's happening. But it's almost prohibitive in the sense that I have to go and do something else. When you're on a presidential plane or when you're on a government plane of course you know in a sense protected by the fact that the aura of the U.S. government is around you and you could make certain demands upon local officials. Have you run into situations where they've grabbed you camera stand on your film shoved you around and left you have to be frustrated because they didn't want you to leave with those pictures. Well you run into that on occasion I haven't had too many bad problems at a very serious thing happen in Northern Ireland in Belfast where I was wanting to photograph an IRA or a funeral. And I was taken into an alleyway by about seven guys all of them big enough to look like King Kong and. And about twice as mean. They looked at my passport which I fortunately had with me and asked me
questions. You know I felt that I was in jeopardy. Certainly none of these guys had any sense of humor and the kind of existence or leading in the area in which I was led me to believe that I might not make it out of there. In fact later I went back to after they said I could go but I couldn't take pictures. The cab driver was a Catholic said well don't worry lad he said. They were giving you a fair trial for the kills and not much consolation is that important in the can only really what's ahead. You get a fair trial before the cure. It's like the queen of hearts and mind I give them a trial and then off well that's exactly what it was. What are some of the late stories or later stories that you've been working on or recent stories. Well one of the most pleasurable jobs I've had was photographing Mansel Adams for the cover of Time and he's the dean of American photographers nature photographer Yeah and he actually my work is really not that closely aligned with his at all but I
admire him and respect him I've known answer for probably five years and I suggested that story to time and they thought it was a perfect. Situation because he was having a big show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and he really is I mean he's an inspirational kind of character and so they went ahead with it and he's the first photographer it's ever been on the cover of Time to play a part and that made me very happy. I wish all my stories were so pleasurable to photographers then get submerged by their in their primes of their personalities in the main by the fact that their photographs are too representative of them. A writer is often enhanced by his work a photographer like yourself wins the Pulitzer Prize and that signifies that you are one of the better ones are the best ones. But most of the luckier ones you want but most disappear in terms of being behind the photograph do they know.
Yeah I mean there are certain people you can look at their pictures like Carson you know that's a car sport or you know that's an ancillary terms. They have their stamp of the way they do things. Like of any artist when you get into my field I think I can recognize sometimes pictures that colleagues have taken but it's certainly more anonymous and I don't know if that's good or bad I just think that's the way it is for the most part. New stars won't have a show they don't their work doesn't get known as a block of work. And that's one thing they live. I mean there is a certain anonymous quotient there that a lot of people have asked me if the fact that I am getting well-known interferes with what I do I don't have a good answer quite frankly. And yet there were photographers of the 30s and before like I think I'm correct a Frenchman Ray whose photographs are almost
artist to man arranging man and and his gallery of museum pieces goes around you know as do the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Alfred Eisenhower stat had a certain stamp. There are certainly it's not. There are photographers you could pretty much tell you that I couldn't stand to lose in New York. Oh yeah am I correct and takes long range photographs from his balcony of his apartment trying to get little vignettes of city life in Greenwich Village. No I don't know that's not I says that I'm wrong on that. The name is right out of my head you know. But he's an older man in his 80s one of the renowned photographer Yeah I'll take a second. But now I mean everything. So one of the problems is covering events as a photojournalist. And this is one of my major problems with the business now is that every small country has an
Information Ministry. You have to you have to go through them to get to so-and-so to get to so and so everybody's so conscious of the media that it's very hard to function anymore and it takes a lot of it out of any of the pleasure I get out of doing my work. That road blocks are just put in your way every time you turn around the United States is certainly a good example every every department has. There are press secretaries and it's just it's getting to the point where it's out of control I think. Now we're worried about the new Nesco we worried about a certain third world countries and others the Russians are behind it to try to get everybody licensed and photographers and reporters licensed by the state. And of course the Russians would love that and dictatorially mind of third world countries would like that. But the very art of reporting whether it's with the pen or whether it's with the camera is getting around that it's getting around. You bet. Standing up against it.
Well I agree and I'm all I'm saying is that I almost wish that I could have function in the in my prime in the 30s and the 40s in the 50s because those were the good old days of the business where you really had to use a lot of initiative. It was harder to get to places that I could practically be anywhere in the world on the scene of any story in 24 hours almost and certainly within 48 hours. But so many countries and that's what you know I keep telling people I think you know I'm sounding very conservative when I say this but. Despite some of the hang ups with press secretaries everything here it's a hell of a lot easier to function the United States and most countries around the world and certainly the communist countries. Now you and I can get to any place in a hurry you especially get a hell of a lot more places than I do. But nevertheless the question is can you really understand the story if you just arrive on the scene or do you need gearing up time some environmental time to to feel that you're in Bangkok to take one
of the places we have done a lot of work. Well yeah I tell you what there are advantages and disadvantages to having been somewhere or appearing fresh on the scene I think in many ways the pictures I took in Vietnam in the first six months were much better than anything I did for the rest of time because everything was so new to me I was seeing things I hadn't seen before and things were striking me and you know much with a lot more impact. Then after I'd been there a while and I was starting to get a little bit taking things for granted. Is there an imprint you talked about caution and some items. Is there an imprint that would mark your photographs as you see them. Yeah they're all out of focus. Yeah you most of all I don't notice on news that portray news. There are people who say do they portray views in the main as well.
I think in a way I'd like to think not except to say that war is bad Francis I mean I've never tried to make heavy political points I think if you could show what's going on. People can draw from that their own conclusions. And that's one of the that's why I say I don't have a Kennerly stamp. There are people who say they can recognize my photographs. But is that coming as an inevitable that at a certain point your character will determine where you point your camera your own individual reminiscences about where you've been in the past and we're going in the future. I can't answer that because I just don't know I'm not at that stage now and I don't know if that would happen. Is it the film is it the equipment is it the art. Well is it the man with the film. It's the I I mean it really is I've seen people who had much better equipment than I do. They can't take pictures I mean they just they just don't see anything. And it's the person behind the camera. I mean it has to be.
Well I'm glad that you said that because I have this Kodak Instamatic that is almost 20 years old but I've had a problem photographing the Houses of Parliament they tend to bend in on one another is the camera or the photographer could be the political climate. As the dollar shrinks it's right over the European. Everything is going down the tube. Everything is going to get distorted. Well we wish you all kinds of luck with this new book. Shooter David Hume Kennerly. And I guess the best thing has been said about you by your friends is that you're a good shooter. And as an old American expression that you're a square shooter meaning an honest photographer or an honest person. I sense that you have been all teary emotive as every reporter does to try to get a little bit of the truth. And I thank you for being with us for this edition Bernard Reuben. The First Amendment and a free people a weekly examination of civil liberties and the media in
The First Amendment
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David Kennerly
"The First Amendment is a weekly talk show hosted by Dr. Bernard Rubin, the director of the Institute for Democratic Communication at Boston University. Each episode features a conversation that examines civil liberties in the media in the 1970s. "
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