Thursday, September 6, 2007

Post-mortem squabbles over John-John Kennedy's funeral salute mar obit


Photographers are famously contentious. A dispute over a favourite photo lands in an obituary decades after it was snapped; the New York Times is forced to amend its article, according to the corrections website, "Regret the Error."
Questions still are being raised over who should receive credit for the famous photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's casket in 1963. DigitalJournalist.org was first to provide a lengthy look at whether recently-deceased photographer Joe O'Donnell should have been given credit for the shot. At issue is an August 14 obit of him in the New York Times that said, "...the O'Donnell photograph of John F. Kennedy Jr. saluting his father's coffin became the most reproduced version of that memorable scene."
It appears there is strong evidence that the photo was in fact taken by UPI's Stan Stearns.
From Digital Journalist:

When Gary Haynes saw the reproduction of the John-John salute alarm bells went off. Haynes, a retired UPI photographer and author of "Picture This!" (Bulfinch Press, 2006), a compilation of great UPI photographs, got in touch with The New York Times. "I alerted The Times, on Aug. 15, the morning after the obit ran, that the photo they had credited to 'O'Donnell' was, I was 99% certain, the famous UPI photo shot by Stan Stearns…. There's no question that the photos are identical. It is impossible for two photographers, even if they are gaffer-taped together, to come up with identical photos.
"I not only relayed this to The Times, but also the Downhold group [a listserv for ex-UPI personnel], and trust me, if you want something checked out by a couple of dozen of the world's best journalists – only some of them retired – this is your group...

Stearns also offers his perspective:

"The true story about John-John saluting … Made by me and it was a "world beater" for UPI. I was chosen to walk with Jackie and the world leaders from the White House to St. Matthew's for the JFK service. When we got there I had to go behind the ropes with the other 70-odd photographers. All squeezed in an area for 30. Wow! UPI photographer Frank Cancellare squeezed me in next to him…. I had the longest lens, a 200mm. ... I just watched Jackie. She bent down and whispered in [John-John's] ear. His hand came up to a salute. Click! One exposure on a roll of 36 exposures...

Hmmm. Might more than one photographer have captured that sad little boy's gesture?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dude, did you read the article? The photo claimed by O'Donnell is actually 100 percent the same historically iconic photograph by UPI's Stan Steans. Sure there may have been other photos, but this is the one iconic photo -- the only one. And it's impossible for two people to have shot the same exact photograph even if they were holding cameras right next to each other.

Gary Haynes said...

Of course other photographers shot versions of the salute - but none of them (and I've counted four) had the same angle Stearns did. One other photographer, Harry Leder, WORKED for UPI, as did Stan Stearns. And Leder's photo in its own way is dramatic in that it has Ted and Jackie and Bobby together with Caroline (if you examine the general view Stearns shot, a sailor in the honor guard blocks Caroline) and John=John. But Stearns' "closeup" - the saluting son cropped from his more general view - was the version of choice in the world's newspapers. The issue here is a guy, O'Donnell, who did NOT shoot the photo. claiming for all these years that Stearns' photo was his own, and offering it, copyright notice and all, for SALE in a Nashville art gallery.

Lois Lane said...

Sad that these image- stealing accusations did not come up while O'Donnell was around to either defend himself or to apologize. It seems nasty to erase the eulogies and say, actually , folks,the old guy was a thieving liar who sold other people's work as his own...but it is good that the truth comes out.
JohnJohn's salute was also immortalized in tv footage...but you are right, Gary, that b/w cropped photo is the Money Shot. The Memory Shot. (Without the nasty color of the kiddy coat to detract from the somber mood.)
JFK-dead
JohnJohn-dead
Jackie-dead
O'Donnell-dead
Stearns- still around and selling his photos
It is a shame that the NY Times did not factcheck-it is all there on Stearns website.