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Press Release

UC Berkeley Press Release

Journalism school hosts "American President" photo exhibit

– While political conventioneers work themselves into a frenzy over who will occupy the White House for the next four years, a new photo exhibit at the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism is taking a different tack by looking at the presidencies of the past.

"The American President" shows off more than two dozen 16-by-20-inch images taken by Associated Press photographers of the men in the Oval Office, primarily since World War II. The exhibit at North Gate Hall on campus is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Inauguration Day (Jan. 20, 2009).

The exhibit photos capture images of the United States' commanders in chief from the Civil War to today's "War on Terror" while they travel the campaign trail, in their attempts to shape international relations, as they navigate tumultuous governmental crises and personal scandals, and occasionally in repose.

National tragedies, a mainstay of American history, also are featured in a series of photos surrounding John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas in 1963, and through images recorded immediately after John Hinckley Jr.'s attempt to kill Ronald Reagan in 1981. Ron Edmonds won a Pulitzer Prize for the Reagan photos, joining three other AP photographers who also have won that honor for White House photo coverage.

Also on view is a solemn black-and-white photo of Abraham Lincoln in his top hat, meeting with Union Army Gen. George B. McClellan and his staff on the battleground of Antietam, Md., site of the deadliest single-day contest of the entire Civil War.

Other photos on display include a somber 1961 photo of Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower at Camp David after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba; a 1974 shot of a vanquished Richard Nixon waving from the steps of a helicopter about to depart the White House lawn; a 1989 glimpse of George H.W. Bush shoulder to shoulder with then prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007; and a photo of George W. Bush in front of Mount Rushmore's granite mugs of presidential greats.

The exhibit also shows that contemporary politicians aren't the only ones to be entranced by Hollywood stars.

A 1970 photo shows Nixon in the Oval Office shaking hands with a paunchy Elvis. The original caption accompanies the image and explains that the meeting developed after Elvis wrote to the White House and asked to become a federal agent in the nation's war against drugs. (Elvis died seven years later, due in part to a drug overdose.) Another shot shows actress Lauren Bacall perched atop a piano being played by a grinning Vice President Harry Truman at the National Press Club Canteen in February, 1945. The photo was taken less than three months before Franklin Roosevelt died and Truman became president.

In conjunction with the exhibit, there will be a 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 10 panel discussion of "The American President." It will feature former AP White House correspondents Rita Beamish and Scott Lindaw, and senior AP White House photographer Ron Edmonds. It will take place in Sibley Hall Auditorium on campus and is open to the public.

Ken Light, an adjunct professor and director of the Center for Photography at the journalism school, selected the exhibit images from a special AP archive of presidential photos. He noted that, ironically, the exhibit is being staged in an era of major staffing cutbacks for traditional media and increased reliance on AP for campaign trail and presidential photos.

Light chose the photos on display from a collection of more than 80 iconic images taken by AP photographers covering the U.S. president and made available to universities, news outlets and other groups during the presidential campaign. They are part of the AP Images photo archive of more than 10 million film and digital images.

The exhibit and discussion are among several election-related programs at UC Berkeley this fall.