The Photographic Alphabet: A is for Archives
By Liana DeMasi
Remember sitting in kindergarten? Your patent-leather Mary Jane’s barely touching the floor as they swung back and forth with is-it-recess-yet angst while your teacher held up oversized index cards with apples, books, cats, and dogs going over the alphabet? Of course this memory is not the most notable, but it remains. Over 15 years later, my intellectual scope has evolved along with my appreciation for photography. So, I asked myself, “How can we explore photography through the usage of an element as fundamentally basic as the alphabet?” My answer was this weekly series: The Photographic Alphabet. Each week, a new letter will either represent content or a photographer.
This week we begin with A, for Archives, the documented records of people’s work. When I think of archives, my mind goes to the Smithsonian, national galleries, old films, and perhaps morbidly, the deceased. Icons like Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, the Kennedys—people whose lives helped mold the American image and whose faces are now permanently documented in photographs. So, this article focuses on Mark Shaw’s archives, the photographer who had the expertise and access to capture these people.
After his untimely death, Mark Shaw’s son, David Shaw and David's wife, Juliet Cuming Shaw, founded Mark Shaw’s Photographic Archive in 1996 in order to protect and further his work. While Shaw was primarily a fashion and advertising photographer, he is renowned for his work in LIFE Magazine and his photographs of the Kennedys.
The most crucial aspect to consider about Shaw’s work with the Kennedys is his access to them. After shooting photographs of JFK and his wife Jacqueline for LIFE, a friendship developed with the iconic family and he became their “unofficial” photographer. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were known as, and still arguably are, “America’s couple.” John was the charismatic, handsome politician and Jacqueline was the charitable fashion icon by his side. Every 1960’s family was equal parts envious and in awe of the couple sitting in the White House. Simply put, Shaw was given carte blanche to the Kennedys—something everybody wanted.
Shaw utilized this access to encapsulate each stolen glance, each candid moment, each moment of ease—his intimacy with the family is evident. We can credit Shaw with the ability to capture not only icons and images, but also his ability to record a feeling, a relationship, a presence. Gratefully, his Photographic Archive grants us a small peek of the intimate relationship he had with the Kennedys.
© Image courtesy of Mark Shaw and mptvimages.com
© Article by Liana DeMasi