cover image Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotypes to Digital

Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotypes to Digital

Cara A. Finnegan. Univ. of Illinois, $22.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-25208-578-9

Finnegan (Making Photography Matter), a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, demonstrates in this captivating work how photographs of U.S. presidents both shape public experience and have served as catalysts for “dramatic transformations” in the history of photography. “Presidential photographs represented elite leaders and became prominent contexts in which the implications of new visual values played out,” she writes. She begins with daguerreotypes from the 1840s depicting John Quincy Adams, whom, she notes, often lamented that they were “hideous.” (The technology was replaced by film in the 1880s.) She then moves to the “snapshot” presidents around the turn of the century, and writes of how the 1901 assassination of William McKinley led to a public “morbid race to publish his last photographs.” The “candid camera” era that followed found Herbert Hoover and FDR to be the first presidents to have an official White House photographer document their daily activities. Finnegan’s discussion of contemporary methods zeros in on the Obama administration’s use of Flickr, which allowed presidential photographer Pete Souza to share more than 6,000 images on social media. Broad in scope and rich in anecdotal detail, this will please photography and history buffs. (Apr.)