The Briscoe Center’s 2013 is shaping up to be extremely busy and productive. In addition to our continual efforts in public services, and our ongoing archival processing and digitization projects, we’ve got a full slate of special programs and exhibits. A few highlights: Our award-winning documentary, When I Rise, is touring Texas early this spring, thanks to the Texas Independent Film Network (locations and dates can be found here). We’re co-sponsoring the Natchez Historical Conference April 17–20. We have two new books ready for a late spring release: The Texas Way, Bill Cunningham’s memoir of his leadership of the University of Texas at Austin and the UT System, and Exxon: Transforming Energy, 1973–2005, the fifth volume of Exxon’s corporate history. And we’re looking forward to July, when we co-sponsor Texas Furniture, an exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum featuring our Winedale collections.
One of our major endeavors is News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency, an exhibit at the LBJ Presidential Library that will open to the public on February 15. We were thrilled when Mark Updegrove, the executive director of the LBJ Library and a stalwart supporter of the Briscoe Center, extended the invitation for the center to have the inaugural exhibit in the Library’s new temporary exhibit gallery. The Library unveiled its completely renovated exhibits last month, and they’ve done a spectacular job translating the legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson into eye-catching, interactive displays. We are grateful to Mark and his team for allowing us to showcase our collections in such an impressive setting.
As we contemplated what collections would be the best fit for the space, we knew that we wanted to showcase our extensive photojournalism collections. The Briscoe Center’s photojournalism collections document the range of American life, and foremost among its strengths is the American presidency from the mid-twentieth century to the present. Today, the Briscoe Center preserves the largest collection of photographs of the U.S. presidency outside of Washington D.C., covering every presidential administration from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama and documenting the entire scope of the job, from campaigns to international diplomacy. Given the exhibit’s setting, it only made sense to use the presidency as a way to focus the exhibit. In addition to iconic images of the presidents themselves, News to History features images of some of the events and personalities that helped define each president’s tenure, capturing the interaction of the president with his times.
This exhibit also gives us an opportunity to thank the photographers who have donated their archives to the Briscoe Center. In 1992, we initiated an ambitious program to collect and preserve the historically valuable imagery produced by photojournalists. The first collection was that of David Hume Kennerly, a close personal friend of mine for more than 40 years. David was on the UT campus in the early 1990s for a major history conference, and he asked if the center would be interested in his collection. At that time, he was having trouble finding an appropriate spot for his collection, as most institutions were not interested in news photography. I was immediately interested, for a number of reasons; the Briscoe Center already had a growing and impressive photography collection, and I had long taught in my history research methods and sources seminars the importance of photographs as historical evidence. I immediately saw that there was an important opportunity for the center: we could expand our collecting focus to include photojournalism. David’s collection, acquired in 1992, became the cornerstone of our photojournalism holdings. And David has played a key role in our developing collections ever since, introducing me to other major figures in the world of photojournalism. For example, David introduced me to Dirck Halstead, who in turn brought Diana Walker’s collections to our attention. David was also instrumental in one of our major acquisitions, the 2009 donation of Eddie Adams’ archive by his widow, Alyssa Adams.
In the years since, the center has gathered the archives of over thirty nationally recognized photographers, including three Pulitzer Prize winners: Adams, Kennerly, and Lucian Perkins. We’ve also created a collection of iconic images of American history, from Joe Rosenthal’s Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima to firefighters raising the flag in the midst of the rubble of the Twin Towers. Our extensive photojournalism collections document key national and international newsmakers and events and include work published in virtually every major print media outlet. We are deeply grateful to the photographers who have entrusted us with their lives’ work. I invite you to visit the News to History exhibit and see that work for yourself.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History