Standing in JFK’s shadow
By Brian Snyder
John F. Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, and there are reminders of him all over Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and New England. There’s the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum of course, but also the John F. Kennedy federal building, and many schools, streets, memorials and parks named after him. Kennedy also lived in Massachusetts, campaigned for Congress and Senate here, vacationed in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts and Newport, Rhode Island – and photographs of these events and many more are housed in his library. For the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963, I culled some photographs from the museum’s archives, and set about finding the exact same scene today. Some of these photographs were made by the relatively well known White House photographers Cecil Stoughton and Robert Knudsen, while others are by anonymous photographers.
In order to match the modern scene to the old photographs, I made line drawings of the old photographs and printed those on clear plastic that I could tape to the display on the back of my camera to overlay the scene coming through my lens.
Many of the buildings and landmarks in the old images are still standing, offering clear reference points to line up. As I worked my way around the scenes, I figured out where the photographer had stood 50 or more years ago. The line-drawing overlays allowed me to approximate the focal length of the lens used in the old images, since none of the old images were shot on a 35mm camera. Once I had figured out the camera position and focal length of the lens, I could say to myself, “Cecil Stoughton, or Robert Knudsen, stood here.”