Don’t let the billing fool you. Though Kelley’s books (Oprah, 2010, etc.) are often unauthorized biographies heavily resisted by their subjects, this is a labor-of-love collection of work by the photographer she praises as “my best friend…a pal without parallel.”
First with United Press International and later with Look, Tretick developed his relationship with the first family into his own personal beat. It was the extraordinary access he gained with the wire service that led to the magazine hiring him, assigning him to shoot an amazing 68 different stories on the president and his family before it ceased publication in 1971. Though Kennedy remains known as the first “TV” president, the intimacy and range of these shots (on horseback, wearing a hard hat or an Indian headdress) reminds readers that in the era before the 24/7 cable-news cycle, a still photographer largely captured the public image of the Camelot presidency. Because “[i]mage was paramount to JFK,” the relationship that he and his family had with the photographer had plenty of push-and-pull tension; most of the revealing shots here are also the most intimate, the least guarded. Yet, as Jackie Kennedy (who was most protective of her children’s public exposure) said to the photographer, “There’s a small group of people who really loved Jack, and you’re one of them.” There may be some shots here that the Kennedys wouldn’t have approved (a few that they resented when published and others that they refused to permit Look to publish), but this book is by no means an exposé. It’s a tribute to a photographer, a president and a time when the former functioned as the world’s eyes into the latter.
A pleasant mixture of iconic and surprising shots—a photo book that is ultimately as much about the photographer, and the access he gained, as it is about its subject.