Paul Fusco: RFK to be Released

In 1968, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy—the younger brother of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy and then-candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination—was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The event’s effects were observed throughout the nation, as President Johnson declared an official day of national mourning, which was succeeded by an extended public wake at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and a final procession-by-rail to Arlington National Cemetery, where his remains were interred not far from his brother’s. Among the observers on the train rode Paul Fusco, a photographer on assignment for Look magazine, whose documentation of the social grief will be revisited this fall with a new book from the Aperture Foundation, Paul Fusco: RFK.

Coinciding with the fortieth anniversary year of Kennedy’s assassination—this book marks the first appearance in print of over seventy images taken by Fusco during the killing’s aftermath, including a quantity of images drawn from the Library of Congress’ Look magazine slides collection. Although Look had assigned Fusco to cover the funeral with the intention of printing his work, the bi-weekly publication cycle and the appearance of similar images in a concurrent edition of Life magazine led the editors to select other images, printing instead a retrospective album of Kennedy’s life. This deferred Fusco’s pictures to the magazine’s archives, and ultimately—following its financial collapse in 1971—to the physical donation made by the defunct journal to the Library of Congress.

Fusco’s series was first rediscovered in 1998, when a photo editor named Natasha Lunn connected George magazine with the forgotten images, and several were published in coordination with coverage of the 30th anniversary of Kennedy’s death. Since that reemergence, publishers and gallerists have embraced the photographs, presenting them in a variety of artistic and historical contexts.

To this end, Paul Fusco: RFK is the second book of its kind, following the 2000 volume RFK Funeral Train. Its material surveys a broader scope than the original volume, however, expanding well beyond the fifty-three images released within the original Umbrage Editions book to present 120 four-color photographic plates depicting scenes surrounding the assassination, many of which deviate further from the subject of the coffin’s railway voyage.

Scheduled for public distribution on September 1st, Paul Fusco: RFK contains three catalogue essays, penned by Vicki Goldberg, Evan Thomas, and Norman Mailer. The works of Evan Thomas—a Kennedy biographer who also works as an editor for Newsweek magazine—and Norman Mailer are new editions of essays that first appeared in RFK Funeral Train, as is the tributary note contributed by Kennedy’s surviving brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Goldberg—a critic of photography and the author of Light Matters, an autonomous work that she published with Aperture in 2005—provides this volume with its singular original work in prose.

A supporting exhibition of Fusco’s photographs appeared in the New York gallery Danziger Projects from June 6th until July 31st, and will reprise its presence there from September 4th through October 4th, in coordination with the book’s launch. The exhibit contains photographs drawn from both books, as well as unique works from the Library of Congress’ collection of over 1800 unpublished Fusco Look slides, and from Paul Fusco’s private body of Robert F. Kennedy images.