1961: The entry into Camelot: In 1958 a young photographer was hired by John Kennedy to follow him on the campaign trail and to the White House. The victory drive in the open car ended in Dallas two years later

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The Independent Culture
I FIRST met the then Senator John F Kennedy in the summer of 1958. I was in my mid-twenties. Two years earlier I had become friends with his younger brother Robert and during the summers of '56 and '57 we spent a lot of time together. I brought my children to Hyannis Port and McLean, Virginia, to participate with the rest of the many kids in what seemed to be perpetual bedlam. And I took pictures. After a year I presented Bobby with a gift - 124 large photographs. He was very happy with them and ordered 12 for his father's birthday. Two months later the phone rang at my house in Manhattan. It was midnight. A slightly inebriated voice said: 'This is Joe Kennedy and today is my birthday . . . and this is the best present I ever got . . . and would you come and photograph my other son?'

When I arrived at the Cape two Sundays later, Jack Kennedy had returned from two weeks of campaigning. He was grumpy, awkward and preoccupied. Still, his respect for his father and his general good manners dictated civility and he agreed to co- operate. I took my photographs. It grew late; I joined the Kennedys for dinner and stayed overnight. In the morning I went back to New York, developed the film and sent off the contact sheets. I heard nothing for weeks, and thought I'd bungled the job.

In late September the phone rang, again near midnight. It was the senator. He was in New York, he said, for the evening. Could I come by now and see him? When the door opened I was greeted by Kennedy himself, dressed in a towel. Jackie was in a bathtub down the hall, as I could tell by the splashing as she shouted a welcome. He apologised for the Sunday in Hyannis Port, explained how tired he had been, and asked for my forgiveness. The pictures, he said, had come out great. We selected a Christmas card picture that evening, among others. We had a late drink. Jackie joined us.

Several months later I received a call from Steve Smith, the husband of JFK's youngest sister, Jean. He asked if I could cover some of the senator's speaking tours. When I asked what kind of photographs he was looking for, he said: 'You're the artist. You have a feeling for the moment. You will be the best judge.' That, it turned out, was the only guidance I would receive over the next five years.

On 22 November, 1963, I was in New York. I hadn't been back to Washington in a year. By 1962 I had pictured the President in every conceivable situation, public and private. My work had been featured on hundreds of magazine covers and on television. I felt that I had fulfilled my assignment.

That morning I had done a Volkswagen ad. At the end of the shoot I was going to walk back to my studio on 28th Street. I suddenly realised that traffic had come to a near standstill and groups of people were crowded around cars parked at the kerb; I walked over to one of them asking what was the matter. 'The President has been shot,' he said. 'What president?' I asked uncomprehendingly. 'President Kennedy]' he said.

I can still feel the chill running down my back. I started running. I ran up the two flights of stairs to my studio; the musicians and my secretary were pacing the floor, tears streaming down their faces. I knew it was all over. Five years later, when Bobby was assassinated, I could bear it no longer. I left the country and stayed abroad for 18 years. I've been back nearly seven years. The pain is gone. The feeling of what might have been has never left me.

(Photographs omitted)

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