Photo collection portrays Kennedys' young love

Jacqueline Kennedy, books under her arm, walks with fellow students to an American history class.

Jacqueline Kennedy, books under her arm, walks with fellow students to an American history class.

John F Kennedy, the junior senator from Massachusetts, studies a document through thick-rimmed spectacles. The newlyweds examine a pile of wedding photos.

Those are scenes from Camelot At Dawn, an exhibit of 55 black and white photos taken in May 1954 – during the first year of marriage of the US president and his wife – at their Washington townhouse near Georgetown University.

The exhibit opened last Friday at Washington’s Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building.

Photographer Orlando Suero, now 78, took the photos during a four-day shoot for McCall’s magazine for an article intended to portray a typical week in the young couple’s life.

Married on September 12, 1953, the couple were eager to ”project an idyllic portrait of happy young newlyweds” even as Kennedy was positioning himself to run for higher office, the museum said in a handout accompanying the exhibit.

The exhibition, which runs until January 4, is based on Camelot At Dawn, a book by Anne Garside, public relations director at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute in Baltimore, in which the photos also appear.

Like many politicians, Kennedy usually avoided being photographed with glasses, but there is a shot of the bespectacled senator intently looking over some papers in his Capitol Hill office as Mrs Kennedy helps with the mail.

Besides photos of the couple there and at their modest home at 3321 Dent Place - a less fashionable area of the city than it is now – there are scenes of the newlyweds walking arm and arm in Georgetown and doing homework together on her American history course at Georgetown University, as well as shots of Mrs Kennedy walking with fellow students and, in another shot, walking a dog.

Some photos hint of the elegant, dazzling hostess Mrs Kennedy was to become during Kennedy’s White House years. One image captures her descending the stairs in a strapless crinoline gown as her husband waits at the bottom, seemingly in rapt attention.

But Kennedy also used the occasion to tease his wife with ”his usual deprecating humour”, the books quotes Suero as saying.

“Jack said something like, ‘Jackie, you look absolutely gorgeous’,” Suero recalled, “but he was always kidding her, so he followed up this compliment with, ‘But if you stood sideways, you’d disappoint half the men in America’.”

Mrs Kennedy responded to the teasing by “solicitously straightening Jack’s bow tie”, the book notes.

The exhibit also features shots of Kennedy’s brother, Robert Kennedy, as well as photos of the brothers playing football – images that would later become familiar to Americans.

“It’s too bad I didn’t stay in touch with the Kennedys,” Suero said. “I might have been another Jacques Lowe.”

Lowe was the photographer whose intimate shots of the Kennedys are often credited with evoking the “Camelot” myth that likened the Kennedy presidency to the halcyon days of King Arthur and his court, as portrayed in the 1960 Lerner and Lowe musical.

The pictures were given to the family of Robert Kennedy, the president’s brother, who became attorney general during the Kennedy presidency.

More in this section

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox