Sunday, June 22, 2008

BOOK REVIEW - A Time it Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties

Book Review - A Time it Was - Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties by Terry Divyak

Two hundred thousand American soldiers at war with troop surges that would rise to half a million. A shooting at the University of Texas that left 14 dead and thirty one others wounded. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the rise of Eugene McCarthy. A country with the enraged spirit of the young that was not only felt in America, but over most the world.

Does this sound like a familiar story? It was forty years ago and still the politics of war and policies of paranoia grip a nation.

The one shining light that gave the nation hope was extinguished before his time and Life Magazine Photographer Bill Eppridge was able to capture the enthusiasm and possibilities that Robert Kennedy brought to the country in "A Time it Was"

The book starts with a great introduction by Author and Journalist, Pete Hamill. Pete was a friend of Robert Kennedy's and persuaded him to run for President. He shares with the reader the early beginnings of the campaign and details the night of joy in winning the California primary and remembers the chant of "We want Bobby, we want Bobby" as Sirhan Sirhan stepped into the light and created another dark chapter in this nations history.

Bill Eppridge shares his story where he took a photo of Bobby as he smoked a cigar on Air Force one, during President Lyndon B. Johnson's Northeast campaign tour. This was the first time a Life photographer was able to document an entire trip of the president of the United States. He then narrates many of the images, many with detailed captions. I was also surprised to see one from my hometown of Everett, Washington, with a photographer from the then, Everett Daily Herald, as he captures an image of Robert.

The book is almost two hundred pages and is filled with many images that were never published. Bills wife was cleaning out some boxes and ran across 2,000 photographs - in unopened boxes - that were sent to him when Life magazine folded in 1972. Among them were 500 photos from his Kennedy assignment.

Many images cover one and third pages and Bill was able to capture so many wonderful moments of Kennedy interacting with people from his convertibles that he insisted on using. Along with isolated photos of faces in the crowds during his speeches.

Especially interesting is the contact sheet that recorded the scene in the ballroom, just before the shooting and right after with the infamous photo of busboy Juan Romero holding Kennedy's head. Bill shares these last moments as he explains frame by frame what he saw and captured on film.

Those of us who were not old enough to understand the politics of the Sixties will get a good visual history lesson. I also came away with a sense what it must have been like to be a photojournalist with access during a simpler time. Where everything is not so polished and perfected down to every minute detail. Where the world was in a crazy time like today, but hope was just an election away.

Terry Divyak is a photographer based in the Pacific Northwest. His credits include various magazine covers as well as being recognized as a top 10 photographer in international competition. His work has also been featured as a winner in the travel category in Photo District News Magazine. His photography can be seen on his personal website at and he also runs the photography related e-zine,

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