American Moments

“Kennedy Funeral” by John Shearer



Many of us remember exactly where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot.  For me, the scene is emblazoned in my mind. I was in my kitchen spooning mashed banana into my toddler’s mouth. The radio soothed some Sinatra… perhaps it was The Summer Wind. From bliss, I went into panic mode as the announcer’s voice came on. Disbelief. This can’t happen here. This is America.

This was a moment when our hearts were torn apart watching a little boy salute his president-father’s coffin, an image captured by one of America’s premier photojournalists, John Shearer.  This 1963 image and others are on view in an exhibition called American Moments: Photographs by John Shearer at the Neuberger Museum of Art.  Shearer’s ability to tell a story in one image is part of his mastery, as in the detail of a veiled-in-black Jackie Kennedy who is frozen in time by Shearer, a prize-winning Look and LIFE magazine photographer.  This particular photo is riveting, but more so for those of us who believed as we were taught, that World War II was the war that was fought to make the world safe for democracy.

Shearer’s incisive eye was there again at the funeral of Martin Luther King. There are vivid photographs of the march from Athens to Atlanta and the historic rage that seems to rival any depiction of the recent events at Charlotteville. Shearer was there for those of us who reveled in the poetic uttering of a sensitive prize-fighter named Muhammad Ali. He recorded truth for those of us who hoped that prison reform would follow the Attica riots.  His legacy is assured for those of us who struggle to identify what exactly has changed in fifty years.

At this exhibition, you can relive the street gangs, the antiwar protests and the trailblazers such as B.B. King and Michael Jackson.  As you wish, you can stay in the moment or you can flash back and remember how things were. Or, you can choose to flash forward and weigh the balance between how things have changed and how they have stayed the same. Ever an optimist, I will look for, hope for, and work for…better times.

American Moments: Photographs by John Shearer will be on display at the Neuberger Museum of Art through December 23.

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