David Burnett: The Presidents from JFK to Obama

Art Life , Exhibitions May 23, 2014 No Comments

From Andrew Frost


The alternate histories suggested in the images of US Presidents and also-rans imbue the images in David Burnett’s exhibition of reportage shots of the holders and candidates for the most powerful political office on the planet with pathos and tragedy, but also with the tantalising possibilities of – what if? The beaten presidential candidates of recent campaigns presented the world with some stark choices – the probably-quite-good John McCain contrasts with the more-than-likely-disaster that would have come with a Romney presidency. But how would the world have fared post 9-11 with Al Gore as president? Indeed, where would we be now with the US leading the world in carbon reduction policy and technology? The poignancy of Burnett’s shot of a grinning George W. Bush with Gore is almost too much to take – not so much a case of what if, as if only

QT_May 23_David Burnett

Working as a photojournalist since the early 1960s, Burnett has taken photos of every US president since John F Kennedy to Barack Obama and the images have the you-are-there black and white immediacy of mind-century film to the causal reality of contemporary digital imagery. His shot of Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva in 1985 has the aura of a classic still life while his 1970s shot of Jimmy Carter has extraordinary immediacy but his 2001 image of Gore, taken with a Lomo camera, with its glowering sky and Gore’s raised hand, speaks to us from another place and time, where none of this ever happened.

Until July 25

Female Orphan School, Parramatta
Pic: David Burnett, Al Gore, 2001.

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Andrew Frost

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