Description: A pair of unique, Polaroid prints, silver diffusion transfer (Polaroid roll film Type37), each approximately 2.5 x 3.5 in., one numbered 3 on verso, the other numbered 5 .
These are numbers 3 and 5 of an 8 image pack taken on November 22, 1963.
These compelling images capture one of the most newsworthy events in American history: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. One of the two is generally accepted as showing the near exact moment at which Lee Harvey Oswald’s first bullet struck the doomed President. Taken by bystander Mary Ann Moorman, these images were widely circulated at the time of the assassination, though curiously were never included in the Warren Commission Report. Never before publicly exhibited, these remarkable photographs are center pieces of J.F.K. , November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History recently mounted by the International Center of Photography in New York, City.
Mary Ann Moorman: Eyewitness to History
On November 22, 1963, Mary Ann Moorman, a thirty-one year old housewife and her friend Jean Hill drove to downtown Dallas, Texas hoping to catch a glimpse of the motorcade of President John F. Kennedy. The young, immensely popular 35th President was in town for a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Center. The excitement that day was palpable; huge crowds were expected to line the way of the motorcade from Love Field to the Trade Center. Mary Ann took her Polaroid camera, hoping she could capture something to show her eleven- year-old son Ricky who was in school that day. "Truth be told," Moorman remembers, "We both wanted to see Jackie."
Arriving downtown about 10:30 in the morning, they parked their car on Main street, and, after realizing the Polaroid needed more film, purchased an 8-pack at a nearby department store. They stopped at Mary Ann’s Thunderbird and took two photographs, one of each other standing or sitting by the car. Jean kept those “test” photographs, the first two in the pack.
Walking towards Houston Street, they found the sidewalks were already crowded with spectators. They turned the corner at Elm and found a grassy area on Dealey Plaza opposite the Texas Book Repository sparsely populated. It was a misty morning and both wore raincoats, Moorman in blue, Hill in red. They took up a position that placed them in what they felt would be the direct line of the motorcade. As the morning cleared, they continued to wear their blue and red coats. They waited.
A motorcycle policeman approached, and Moorman recognized him as Glenn McBride, an old childhood friend, and took a picture. They coated the Polaroid with the chemical pad to fix the image, and Mary Ann pocketed the print, her third picture of the day. Shortly afterwards another motorcycle approached, driven by George Lumpkin, whom Mary recognized as working the traffic detail at her church on Sunday. Stepping into the street, she took Lumpkin’s picture, and later gave it to him as his souvenir of the day when the President came to town.
Stepping back onto the grass, Mary Ann and Jean now saw the Presidential motorcade turn the corner onto Elm. Now the President and Jackie were clearly visible. Jackie was wearing a bright pink dress - "Pink!" - Mary Ann and Jean commented to each other.
Moorman lifted her camera to take the fifth of her eight photo pack. It would be the last picture she would take that day. With the presidential limousine merely feet away, she pushed the button to activate the shutter, and heard Jean yell “Mr. President, look this way, we want to take a picture.” Later that day, she gave official testimony to the Dallas County Sheriff’s office, describing what she had just recorded on film:
"As I snapped the picture of President Kennedy, I heard a shot ring out. President Kennedy kind of slumped over. Then I heard another shot ring out and Mrs. Kennedy jumped up in the car and said ‘My God he has been shot.’ When I heard these shots ring out, I fell to the ground to keep from being hit myself. I heard three or four shots in all. After the pictures were developed, the picture of President Kennedy showed him slumped over. When the pictures were developed, they came out real light. These pictures have been turned over to Officers investigating this incident."
Mary Ann’s photograph is generally acknowledged to show the President at the near instant he was hit by the first of three bullets that Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the Texas Book Repository. In the chaotic moments after the assassination, Moorman can be seen in other surviving photographs of the scene, including a widely circulated image of her being questioned by a newspaperman, and she and Hill are clearly visible in frame number 298 of the famous film taken by Abraham Zapruder. Both wear their raincoats, Mary Ann with her Polaroid camera to her eye.
Controversies have swirled around Moorman’s photographs just as they have around nearly every aspect of the assassination and its witnesses. After the assassination, Jean Hill (1931-2000), Moorman’s companion spoke repeatedly - and inconsistently - about the events that day, and whether intentionally or accidentally, provided fodder for conspiracy theorists. For her part, however, Mary Ann Moorman has remained largely silent until very recently, when she has granted several extensive interviews. Her recollections about that dreadful day remain unchanged from the deposition she gave in 1963. Regardless, for many conspiracy theorists, Moorman’s Polaroids are like a Rosetta Stone for unlocking the secrets of the assassination.
Mary Ann Moorman: Citizen Journalist
Beyond their historical significance, these images mark the dawn of an era. In a day where hundreds of millions of photographs and videos are taken daily by cell phone users -- many of which record newsworthy events -- it is easy to forget that at the time Moorman took these photographs, photo-journalism was almost exclusively the domain of professionals. Newspapers in every major city had special departments employing professional photographers whose sole job was to ensure that they were in the right place at the right time to “get the picture.” Much of what passed as “news” photos were carefully staged photo-ops where the news photographer was part of a “scrum” of press, waiting patiently with a cumbersome Speed-graphic, or later, 35mm camera.
The exception, of course, was the combat photographer. Robert Capa had produced unforgettable images during the Spanish Civil War; during World War II and the Korean War that followed, official Army photographers routinely sent back images that captured the immediacy of the moment. At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, the War in Vietnam was just beginning to ramp up. Soon, Americans would view the horrors of war nightly on their televisions.
But in 1963, America was at the dawn of the mass-media era; television was still in its infancy, and the American consumer was being exposed to new advances in photography. While Edwin Land had invented instant film in the years following World War II, the Polaroid camera that Moorman used on that November day was still new to the market and because of its price, out of reach for many. Just a few months earlier, Kodak, long a leader in making photography available to the average consumer, introduced the Instamatic in February, 1963. Between 1963 and 1970, when the line was discontinued, more than 50 million Instamatics were sold.
The rise of mass media in the 1960s developed a new sort of intimacy between the American public and public figures. Kennedy, probably the most photographed President of the 20th century, early on recognized the power of television and used it to his benefit during his 1960 campaign debate with Richard Nixon. He also recognized the importance of the rope-line, where supporters could “snap” a picture of the candidate and later use it as a trophy of their moment in history. Moorman’s photographs, though not much to look at, must be viewed through this historical lens. She was not a professional, merely a bystander with a camera. And yet, as Brian Wallis, Curator of the International Center Photograph has so aptly pointed out, she was only one of a number of amateur photographers that day, all of whom beat the professional media to the punch. In the aftermath of the assassination, the images these casual picture-makers captured challenged the classical notion of photojournalism. While the professionals were waiting for their photo-op at the Dallas Trade Center the real news pictures – grainy and blurry, yet horrifying in their intimacy – were being made by some of the first, unsuspecting citizen-journalists.
As imperfect as they may be, this pair of images -- from one of the most memorable days in the last half century of American history -- are icons of national importance, as much for the history they have left, as the history they recorded.
J.F.K. November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History. International Center of Photography. October 4, 2013-January 19, 2014. (Note: The photographs will be removed from the exhibit and returned to Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. on November 11, 2013.)
1. Cowan’s is grateful for discussions with Brian Wallis, Curator of Photography at the International Center of Photography, and who is the organizer of the recent exhibit : J.F.K. November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History which explores the role of the amateur photographer in recording events in Dallas on the day of the assassination. Moorman’s photographs were publicly exhibited here for the first time.
2. Cowan’s also wishes to acknowledge both the personal verbal history communicated by Mary Ann Moorman Krahmer, as well as her interview with Mr. Gary Stover, in 2011, the transcript of which can be found online (http://www.iantique.com/pages/Mary-Moorman-Interview-Transcript).
3. A condition report by Slyvie Pénichon, Conservator of Photographs at the Amon Cater Museum accompanies each photograph.
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Politics in America > Politics After Lincoln > Photography