Photographs store memories, and we can’t get enough of those. There’s something so sweet about pouring over family albums, rediscovering the past and sharing stories of “remember when?”
That was my feeling wandering the current exhibition, Celebrities: We Remember Them Well, at ArtsWestchester. Seeing Lyndon Baines Johnson on horseback… he appears somewhat regal and audacious. This is not the Johnson who lost the Democratic nomination to John Kennedy, but the strong, sure Johnson who led us past an assassination and presided over the Great Society. I will always ache remembering that time, and regret how sobering life was after Kennedy’s death.
But here in ArtsWestchester’s galleries, Kennedy is at his best, in his defining debate with Richard Nixon. That was a time when debates meant something. Then for a short time, the Kennedy’s reigned over Camelot and we followed their family photos, like the one in the exhibit of Jackie, John and Caroline, like we followed our own.
Some of us are old enough to remember the lives, particularly those in the film world, destroyed during the fifties as a result of the McCarthy hearings. There’s a photo of Senator McCarthy with Roy Cohn, just to remind us that witch hunting CAN happen in America.
Then, of course there are the movies, which for many of us became the great escape… Gene Kelly dancing on air… Marilyn, Hepburn, Sinatra, Angelica, Ava. The world inside those movie theaters made everything better, brighter, comforting. As an artist, I loved seeing images of great artists who for me had reached mythic proportions. Here in our gallery, a lifetime later, Pollack, De Kooning, Duchamp are both real people and great artists.
Life can sometimes be described in moments as are the beautiful moments in the lives of John Lennon and Yoko Ono captured by photographer Allan Tannenbaum. In a series of photos taken nine days before his death, we can remember John Lennon, not as a songster, but playful and abandoned in a whirl of love.
I remember Gloria Steinem, just as she is in photographs, beautiful, feminine, sassy and smart. She remains a finer role model for women of my generation than Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan, though I am grateful to all of them who helped improve the professional lives of women. Speaking of which, there’s Helen Gurley Brown, who is pictured in this exhibition as she always was, comfortable with herself. She made everything possible for all of us.
You too can stroll through this album. Your journey will be different than mine. But, remembering is a powerful thing.
“Celebrities: We Remember Them Well” is on view now through November 10, 2012, at ArtsWestchester, 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains.