From the jungles of Vietnam, where he shot a photo of "the loneliness and desolation of war" that won a Pulitzer Prize, to the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, David Hume Kennerly witnessed and photographed most of the history-making moments of the last third of the twentieth century. As the millennium turned and he set out to cover his eighth presidential campaign, however, the veteran photojournalist sensed something missing. In his words, "I had the uneasy feeling that I couldn't focus only on the story at hand while bypassing the texture of life that surrounds it.... This time I wouldn't speed across that covered bridge to get to the big event on the other side, but instead I would slow down a bit, maybe even pause to take a picture of the bridge."
Photo du Jour is Kennerly's visual diary of "the texture of life" at the start of the twenty-first century. As he traveled more than a quarter of a million miles across thirty-eight states and seven countries, Kennerly took a picture every single day in the year 2000, using just one camera and one lens. Some offer candid, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the men who would be president—John McCain, Al Gore, and George W. Bush. Most of the photographs, though, seek to capture not the big, historic moments but rather the ordinary, even whimsical moments when the essence of a person or a place reveals itself to the observer who takes the time and has the heart to really see. Travel with him from Beijing to Boston, Moose to Miami, and Whynot to Weimea in Photo du Jour, and you'll quickly discover that David Kennerly is just such an observer.
I always felt that I missed something along the way.
For more than thirty-five years I photographed some of the most gripping events of my generation, and was on the scene for the "big picture" dozens of times.
I was there as the last Americans walked point in Vietnam, when Richard Nixon left the White House in disgrace, and there in the Oval Office when President Ford pardoned him. I accompanied Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his historic mission of peace to Israel, and was at Jonestown to document the mass murder and suicide in that remote jungle clearing. I was present when Ronald Reagan first sat down with Mikhail Gorbachev by the fireplace in Geneva, signaling the end of the Soviet Union, and in Washington for the impeachment trial of President Clinton, which didn't signal the end of his presidency.
When reflecting on my years as a photographer I think as much about the pictures I didn't take as about the ones that I did. There were too many times when all I could see was the assignment, ignoring the landscape around it.
Toward the end of 1999, as I looked forward to covering my eighth presidential campaign. I had the uneasy feeling that I couldn't once again spend all of my time focusing only on the story at hand and bypassing the texture of life that surrounds it.
However, the approaching year was about more than just another election. It was 2000 A.D. The turn of the century. From today's perspective, after the unspeakable horrors of September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the year 2000 seems a bucolic haven. People now look upon it as the time before "the attacks." However, from the other side of the Great Millennial Divide, the idea of the ensuing new year was just about the most exciting thing going.
I decided to create a visual diary of the first year of the twenty-first century. This time I wouldn't speed across that covered bridge to get to the big event on the other side, but instead I would slow down a bit, maybe even pause to take a picture of the bridge. It was a simple concept. One camera. One lens. One year. Photo du Jour.
I had worked with a medium-format camera before, but mainly on vacations. It was completely different from anything else I had used. It felt like painting on a bigger canvas. It was the natural choice for my picture-a-day project. I continued to use the more versatile Canon EOS1N cameras for my news work, but each camera exercised a different side of my brain.
I chose the Mamiya 7 for Photo du Jour. It is a medium-format, range-finder camera. The 6x7 cm negative size is almost five times that of 35mm, and the image quality is sensational. It's also easy to use, light, quiet, and looks a bit like a Leica on steroids. I chose the 43mm 4.5 wide-angle lens as the only one I would utilize for the project. I loved its perspective.
Doing two projects simultaneously didn't seem like a problem at first. At the beginning of 2000 my principal assignment was photographing Senator John McCain's presidential campaign for Newsweek, so I was going to see a whole lot of New Hampshire early on, which would most likely produce a few good frames. Frozen politicians and the frigid press. A chilly combination. But as the days unspooled it became clear to me that I really had to split the politics from Photo du Jour, even though the two would frequently intersect.
I didn't really start to hit my stride until January 15 on the campaign trail in Des Moines, where I took a picture of an empty parking lot with a bare tree and a parking meter in the foreground. Something clicked, no pun intended, and I suddenly realized what it was. Des Moines in the middle of January is desolate. My picture showed that. I finally realized I could shoot something simple and ordinary, yet dramatic, that didn't relate to the campaign. In Vietnam I won a Pulitzer Prize for pictures that the awards committee said "captured the loneliness and desolation of war." Those are themes that compel me.
The ensuing months took me to thirty-eight states, and seven countries. I traveled more than a quarter of a million miles crisscrossing America from coast to coast forty-one times, jetting across the Pacific Ocean four times and the Atlantic twice. On one leg I flew from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on Air Force One, a historic first for that aircraft. I also logged thousands of miles on John McCain's campaign bus "The Straight Talk Express," among other modes of transportation. During my journey I shot pictures in more than 300 cities, towns, and villages—from Beijing to Boston, Moose to Miami, and Whynot to Weimea.
Most days when I woke up I had no idea of what I was going to shoot for my personal project. In some cases, due to the fact that we were in a different town every night, I hardly knew where I was when I opened my eyes. Photo du Jour was a relentless pursuit. I had to make a picture a day, not let it slide and take two different photos the next afternoon. That would have been like cheating at solitaire. I couldn't just hang my camera out of the window and press the shutter. The pictures had to be good.
Photo du Jour was particularly difficult when I was home for short periods during the campaign. The last thing I wanted to do when I had a little time off was to pick up my camera. It was particularly hard in September, when I had knee surgery and ended up on crutches. Luckily, I have three boys who are good subjects. Whether it was my youngest son Jack, two years old, walking around with nothing on except rain boots, five-year-old Nick confronting a giant goose, or sixteen-year-old Byron watching out for them, I could always come up with a picture.
There were poignant moments. I photographed an elderly gentleman making his way up the stairs in San Francisco. The next day, on the other side of the country in Arlington, Virginia, I shot the statue of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima. The man was Joe Rosenthal. His famous picture inspired the statue. Another such instance was a simple photo of three women in Washington, Virginia, holding a portrait of Jeff MacNelly, an extraordinary award-winning cartoonist. The event was Jeff's funeral. The three women were his wife and two of his three ex-wives. Jeff was one of my best friends.
There were significant historical events that also doubled as my photo du jour: McCain ending his presidential campaign against the majestic backdrop of Sedona, Arizona; the Republican and Democratic conventions as well as the debates in Boston, Massachusetts; Danville, Kentucky; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and St. Louis, Missouri. I was in the Governor's Mansion in Austin, Texas, on election night—the tension of the moment evident on the faces of the Bushes and others in the room.
A week later, the election still undecided, my Mamiya and I journeyed with President Clinton to Vietnam. This was the first time an American president had set foot there in more than thirty years. But the real action was in Washington, D.C., after I returned to the states. I photographed Republicans and Democrats haranguing each other outside the Supreme Court as the Gore v. Bush battle played out inside.
My last political picture of the year was in the Oval Office as I documented President-elect Bush and President Clinton sitting together for the first time, an American tableau of peaceful political transition. The next day, on the other coast, I took a shot of the Mad Hatter at Disneyland....
What finally emerged from my trek into the new millennium was a very personal, sometimes whimsical, and always eclectic look at America, and a few far-away places. I had finally melded my job as a political photographer with the photographic equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.
By David Hume Kennerly
David Hume Kennerly has won numerous awards in addition to the Pulitzer. A selection of Photo du Jour images received five prizes in the 2001 White House Press Photographer's contest, including a first prize for best 2000 campaign coverage. Kennerly was also included in the Washingtonian magazine's end of the century list of the top fifty journalists. In addition to serving as President Gerald R. Ford's personal photographer, Kennerly has been a contributing editor for Newsweek magazine and a photographer for Time, Life, and George magazines and for United Press International. He was also a contributor to Good Morning America Sunday. Kennerly has published three previous books, Shooter, Photo Op, and Sein Off. He lives in Santa Monica, California.
2003 Western Books Exhibition Selection Rounce & Coffin Club