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50 years after JFK's death: Photos reflect numbness

Famed DAAP professor and innovator Gordon Salchow finally releases his personal images to the public

by Gordon Salchow, graphic-design professor emeritus

President John F. Kennedy Jr. was assassinated 50 years ago (Nov. 22, 1963) when I was a graduate student at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

I heard the alarming radio report while in a cafe across from Paul Rudolph's then new Art and Architecture building. My reaction was to immediately purchase several roles of film and wander around New Haven with my Rolleiflex.

I took random shots of people and places during the subsequent few hours on that shocking day. I then made contact prints but did nothing else with them at the time, and I have not touched them until now.

I admit to periodically wondering if my subjectivity might have clouded objective photography enough to make them uninteresting for anyone else.

Also, documenting the day was a somewhat personal way to acknowledge the tragedy. I have now decided that, if ever, this half-century anniversary was an appropriate time to share these photographs.

Here are several of the photos that, with some poignancy, capture that innocent "Camelot" era in a small American city and the stunned despair of an internationally potent day. Most images show citizens seemingly frozen in a daze, privately digesting the news or numbingly interacting with strangers.

Front page of newspaper laying on the ground reads: Kennedy Slain
Click any image to start slideshow of full-frame photos ►
Newspaper boy selliing papers on a street corner.

Gordon Salchow was founder of the graphic design program at UC's College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

Editor's note
Professor Salchow admits he never showed these photos to anyone at the time, not even his family or his revered photography professor Walker Evans, who pioneered art photography in the 1920s and ’30s, especially in documenting life during the Great Depression. The truth was: Salchow shot the images for personal reasons. But now he says (in his dry sense of humor), "I thought it might be better to pull them out for the 50th anniversary, rather than waiting for the 100th."
Upon being named a 2007 fellow of AIGA, the nation's professional organization for design wrote: "Salchow was appointed in 1968 to conceptualize and to administer a new department of graphic design for the University of Cincinnati. Its pioneering initiatives and its success quickly established the school as one of graphic design’s most respected and influential educational institutions. This program played a key role in engineering the theoretical underpinnings of graphic design pedagogies in America." He retired in 2010 after a 45-year career as a design educator.      — Deborah Rieselman
A man stops in front of a store to read the front page of the newspaper.
People gather around a man selling newspapers.
Christmas decorations have been strung over a street in New Haven.
Sign in the park reads: United Fund, Give Big, Feel Good.
A line of people lean against a brick wall to read the day's newspaper.
On the sidewallk, a cameraman sets up to interview a TV news reporter.
More newspapers being sold in the middle of a sidewalk.
A nicely dressed woman leans against the full glass wall with a numb look on her face.
Men grouped around one man getting his shoes shined.
A man watches the news on a TV he views through a storefront window.
People sitting at a soda counter all stare in one direction, obviously watching a TV broadcast.
An African-American gentleman in a topcoat and hat, using a cane, rest against the edge of a building, with a newspaper tucked under his arm.
A woman sits alone on a bench in a park.
A sign taped to a glass door reads, School is closed for the day.
The back of a couple waiting for transportion, suitcase in hand, with the husband's arm around his wife's waist.
Two women passing on the street share a few words that leave them looking serious.
A policeman makes a phone call from a phone box on a brick wall.
Man reads a newspaper on a park bench, while everyone behind him stands in a line and stares off in the same direction.
A man on the street listens to his transistor radio.
A sign on a wall reads: Thanksgiving Day: Count your blessings and be thankful. Within inches of it is another sign that reads: Fallout Shelter.


posted 11-13