Presidential Image-Making at Southampton Arts

An exhibition that examines how photographic images have shaped the perception of political candidates throughout recent history
Cornell Capa’s photograph of John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie Kennedy, campaigning in New York, Oct. 19, 1960 International Center of Photography/Magnum Photos

Public life these days is filled with images, some posed and others less scripted or welcome. While celebrities and starlets can refuse to participate in requests for selfies and such, those holding elected office have to consider how the public will view them if they are uncooperative. Fearing reprisals, the world of political photography has moved from very stilted setups to a more casual and natural feeling.

The International Center of Photography will open an exhibition at the Southampton Arts Center on Saturday that examines how photographic images have shaped the perception of political candidates throughout recent history. Susan Carlson and Claartje van Dijk, assistant curators at I.C.P., have chosen work by photojournalists and art photographers such as Cornell Capa, Grey Villet, Elliott Erwitt, Mark Bussell, Chris Buck, Stephen Crowley, Ken Light, Mark Peterson, Antoni Muntadas, and Marshall Reese, whose still photos will be presented alongside campaign materials, posters, and videos.

Spanning some five decades, “Winning the White House: From Press Prints to Selfies” compares and contrasts the image-making of John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who ran against each other in 1960, through the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump this year.

At one time, the public held its elected officials in high regard and expected decorum in their presentation. In the age of social media, those expectations have loosened up, and now many want their representatives to be more approachable. Campaigns have to work hard now to find a balance of gravitas and folksiness. 

As images have migrated from print to phone screens, they often appear more improvised and natural. “With ‘Winning the White House,’ we examine that evolution and put it side to side with the screened selection of campaign images,” Ms. van Dijk said in a release.

An opening reception will be held Saturday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, the curators and several of the participating photographers will host a gallery talk at 11 a.m. Admission is free to both events. The exhibition remains on view through Sept. 11.