Big news events get me thinking about the historical perspective because I am a big history buff, and this blog gives me a great outlet to ruminate a little (with a photographic angle of course). I am particularly fascinated with the American Presidents!
Getting To Know Our American Presidents
We have been on a family mission to visit all the homes of our presidents (we’ve been to 11 so far) and I am reading at least one book on every president. For better or worse these men led the country and at one time they were very important to all Americans. This November 22nd marked the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s death. I thought as a photography studio the best way to remember JFK on November 22nd on Facebook was to post a photo of him and the photo I picked was one of him clapping and enjoying a moment with his children in the White House. That got me thinking about photos of the other presidents, and after searching around the web for some of my favorites I came up with a handful I am sharing and discussing here. I was looking for some of them specifically and some I just came across that I had not seen before. They are not based on political beliefs or any ranking. I just think they are fascinating.
President John Kennedy
JFK captured our imaginations as a young vibrant president with his beautiful wife and adorable young children jumping and playing in the White House. I love this simple photo of a father enjoying a moment with his kids.
President Martin Van Buren
I mean no disrespect, but is it possible to look at this photo and not be struck by Mr. Van Buren’s hair? This photo was produced after his term as president and I find it hard not to focus on his hair. Styles come and go and there were of course eras of presidents with wigs or long beards but Martin Van Buren seems to have a style all his own. The famous photographer Mathew Brady made this photo and back in the mid 1850’s people didn’t just sit for portraits like this every day, so I am sure President Van Buren prepared for this.
President Theodore Roosevelt
Teddy Roosevelt was truly a larger than life figure and this photo really captures that in my opinion. He was a man who lived life to the fullest to be sure – a prolific author and historian, an explorer, a warrior, hunter, conservationist and just a flat out tough guy – I am not sure there has been another American quite like him. We have visited his boyhood home in Manhattan and his adult home at Oyster Bay on Long Island and I highly recommend seeing both.
President Rutherford B Hayes
Yes I am a fan of President Hayes. He was a good man who much like Gerald Ford almost 100 years later came into power following an administration tainted with scandal (President Grant) and restored some dignity to the office. He had several horses shot out from underneath him while fighting in the Civil War, and he was from Fremont, OH less than an hour and a half from our studio. His home is one of my favorites and it is the closest – absolutely worth a day trip. I am also an admirer of Lucy Hayes – a great first lady and I chose this portrait of the two of them together.
President Ronald Reagan
Something about this photo of President Reagan struck me – he just looks strong and very much a leader. I have always believed that the figurehead role and appearance of a president is a very important trait, fair or not, and this picture just strikes me as confident and fearless.
President William Howard Taft
I stumbled upon this photo online of President Taft. I love it – the whole scene just captures a unique moment in time and it’s a photo of Mr. Taft looking very animated and very much in control as he delivers a speech. The obvious perception and first thing people think of with him is that he was the president who weighed the most, but this photo cuts through that a little and shows that there is more to him than just “the fat president”. We have visited the home he grew up in in Cincinnati and we were very impressed with it.
President Abraham Lincoln
This photo was taken on October 3rd, 1862 at the Antietam battlefield at Sharpsburg, MD which was fought 2 1/2 weeks earlier on September 17th. 5 days after the battle and 11 days before this photo President Lincoln called his cabinet together for a preliminary issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was this battle that provided the timing President Lincoln needed to make such a statement. The Confederacy was hoping to win a great victory on Northern soil to convince Europe that they would be backing a winner, and when they didn’t get that decisive victory at Antietam, Lincoln pounced on the opportunity to announce that this was indeed not only a war to preserve the Union, but to end slavery which ended any hopes the Confederacy had of gaining much support from Europe. At this time Lincoln was not happy with General George McClellan for not pursuing Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after the battle, and as Abe towers over the diminutive general (6th man from the left and facing Lincoln) I feel like you can sense or at least imagine the tension. Oh – and that’s Captain George Armstrong Custer standing off by himself to the far right.
President James Madison
Okay so this is NOT a photo. I included it because I feel that it is an incredible painting and I believe that it is an attempt to capture a true likeness of President Madison. To my relatively untrained eye when it comes to painted portraits I prefer a likeness that isn’t obviously stylized or cartoonish looking. I had a little difficulty determining exactly what year this was done, but it clearly is an older Madison we are seeing here – the lines in his face visible on a man who has been through it all – first as a revolutionary who helped found a country and later as a President who led America through a somewhat indecisive second war with England that saw the burning of our capital by British troops. No it is not a photo, but I believe that this is exactly what President Madison looked like at the time of this portrait.
President Harry Truman
You have to love this. Before twitter and CNN news was not always reported in real time. Granted newspapers still exist today but I’m not sure we would ever see something like this happen again, where a newspaper mistakenly calls a close election for the loser. Then again in 2000 a clear winner didn’t emerge right away either and these days there is always such a race to scoop a story in real time on social media that scenarios where incorrect results are reported could easily happen. I love this photo of a victorious President Truman on November 3rd, 1948 holding up the newspaper with the headline incorrectly reporting his defeat during a stop at a train station in St. Louis.
President Benjamin Harrison
You may know that President William Henry Harrison served the shortest term in office, dying of pneumonia one month after being sworn in in 1841. His inauguration was a cold and wet day but contrary to myth was not responsible for him getting sick despite the fact that he delivered a 2 hour inaugural speech without an overcoat or hat. The Harrison family is undoubtedly one of the great political dynasties with William Henry Harrison’s father being a signer to the Declaration of Independence and his grandson Benjamin becoming president in 1889. What I found fascinating about this photo though that I had not seen before was the fact that 48 years after his grandfather was sworn in on a day with bad weather, the rain came down again on another Harrison inauguration. I don’t recall seeing a scene such as this one with all the umbrellas at one of these ceremonies in my lifetime…
President John Quincy Adams
None of our first five presidents lived long enough to be photographed, but our 6th did. John Quincy Adams was photographed at least twice around 1843 – 14 years after serving as president. I love to be able to see a photo of a man who was around during the revolution while his father John Adams helped to found the country and was appointed minister to the Netherlands by George Washington himself at the age of 26 in 1793. Then after serving as president, he re-entered politics and served in congress long enough to serve together with Abraham Lincoln for three months until he died in 1848. What a life!
President Warren G. Harding
I love this photo of President Harding. This is the type of behind-the-scenes photo we post on instagram on a regular basis – a photo of someone being photographed. I just found this one to be fun and President Harding seems to be enjoying a lighthearted moment with this canine. I have studied President Harding and been to his home in Marion, OH and I believe he has been unfairly judged as one of our worst (and by some the worst) president. In my opinion he wasn’t that bad.
I hope you enjoyed these photos of American Presidents along with my commentary – I may even be compelled to post a “part two”. 🙂
UPDATE – here is “part two”. 🙂
Nice compilation of pictures, Doug. I take a keen interest in the presidents…my goal is to read a biography on each one. I have 32 to go. lol.
Thanks Jenine! I’m doing the same thing… I’ve read bios on Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Harding and currently Monroe so far (as well as Franklin and currently Hamilton on audio). My goal is to get through the history of the country from beginning to now by covering the presidents chronologically as well as other important figures and topics as I go.
Hi Doug, I loved your take on these president. I also love looking at faces in photos and these are some remarkable ones. Great work!
Thanks Lisa! Glad you enjoyed this! 🙂
Good photos. The one of John Quincy Adams is real interesting. I did not think there was a photo of him. As for General George McClellan, I think we all know what a disaster he turned out to be. I just wish there was a photo of Abe ripping into him.
I think there are actually three existing photos of John Quincy Adams believe it or not. And yes as for General McClellan he was one of several disasters in Union military leadership over the course of the war and he wasn’t even nearly the worst. I guess you could say there sort of is a picture of Abe ripping him…
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