"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

22 November, 2008

Dallas, TX, 22nd Nov 1963: Jackie's Pink Pill Box, JFK & Obama in 2008

The 22nd November marks 45 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas in 1963. The news of the fatal shooting was one of the first, almost instant, global headlines of the post-WWII era. To date, it remains one of the most shocking events to be broadcast internationally, immediately - or as near as damned. Was it perhaps the very first instance of every listener or viewer remembering exactly where they were & what they were doing, when they heard the news?

For reasons which, I hope, are obvious, I don’t personally share any of those memories. I do, however, remember accepting a singular reporting assignment to Dallas in the late 1980s, when I was but a youngish columnist on the FT & the capital markets I was then covering were in rather more robust health than they are today.

One of the “highlights” of the trip, laid on for us lowly hacks by the Association of International Bond Dealers was a bus trip to Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll, the reported location of most of the eye and ear witnesses to the three shots that felled JFK at 12.30 pm CST. At the time, I remember thinking, with an involuntary shiver, that there was no irony whatsoever detectable in the chirpy commentary with which our tour guide welcomed us to our bathetic vantage point over the scene of a 20-year old, 20th century tragedy.

Every element of the image above is somehow seared into the collective consciousness: from Jackie’s pill box hat & bangs, to her husband’s dipped head and raised elbows. Another key factor? The shocking scenes from Dallas were some of the earliest colour images to reach such a huge, global audience.

Choosing a specific JFK/Dallas image was surprisingly difficult; there are even more than you might imagine. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them feature on the most arcane blogs, some of which are devoted solely to the myriad conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination.

The events of 22nd November 1963 in Dallas signalled so many watersheds: not least in Cold War politics and in American society, but in scores of other fields, from international communications to photo-journalism. In 2008, it may be almost impossible for those of us who watched horrified, in real time, as the Twin Towers imploded on 9/11, to understand the shocking power that these last pictures of JFK commanded.

I know that many of us were also watching live only days ago, when Barack Obama won the 2008 US Presidential Election with an uncannily familiar combination of youth, energy, charm & charisma, and of course, perfectly modulated rhetoric.

Perfect dentition and a winning smile are clearly not the only features Obama shares with JFK. The president-elect has already been targetted by the white supremacist fringe. The putative plot was scuppered just days before the election.