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Portraits of power.

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THE SITTER was a young president on the verge of taking office. The artist was an internationally-celebrated fashion and portrait photographer at the top of his game. The striking results of this historic meeting are featured in "The Kennedys/Portrait of a Family: Photographs by Richard Avedon," an exhibition of photos taken of President-elect John E Kennedy and his family weeks before moving into the White House. Iconic images are presented with the contact sheets from which they were selected to reveal the editorial choices made to influence public perception.

On Jan. 3, 1961, Avedon arrived at the Kennedy home in Palm Beach, Fla., to photograph the family for Harper's Bazaar and Look magazines. These were the only formal pictures taken of Kennedy--filled with promise and portent--between his election and inauguration. While the images are expertly shot, with the Kennedys radiating personal power and charisma, it was the selection of photographs for publication that was key in crafting the public personas of the U.S.'s first media-friendly power couple.

"It is rare to be able to see a group of pictures that helps us understand the way a photographer's mind works the way this show does," points out Philip Prodger, curator of photography at the Peabody Essex Museum. "It tells an incredible story of how one of America's favorite, most influential photographers crossed paths with the Kennedys for one magical day in the winter of 1961."

In "Portrait of a Family," the combination of individual prints with enlarged contact sheets--of John, his wife Jacqueline, and children Caroline and John Jr.--made for exhibition enables onlookers to experience firsthand the way Avedon prepared his pictures for publication. Together, they reveal the decisions the photographer made when editing his work while showing the flames the artist decided to use and the ones he set aside, as well as the cropping, retouching, and other alterations that went into finalizing the images. Each choice was made very consciously to project a particular mood, meaning, or manner of being.

Created by the National Museum of American History and organized for travel by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, "The Kennedys/Portrait of a Family: Photographs by Richard Avedon" chronicles the intersection of two American icons at a formative time in history. The exhibit is on view through July 18 at PEM, Salem, Mass.

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Title Annotation:Focus
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
Words:405
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