Making an icon: JFK and the power of media

Go backstage at the 1960 Democratic National Convention

Gary Winogrand, Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles, 1960 (printed c. 1980), gelatin silver print, 45.88 x 30.8 cm (Minneapolis Institute of Art, © The Estate of Gary Winogrand). A Seeing America video. A conversation with Dr. Robert Cozzolino, Patrick and Aimee Butler Curator of Paintings, Minneapolis Institute of Art, and Dr. Steven Zucker

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Winogrand, Democratic National Convention

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Key points

    • Television played a key role in the 1960 presidential campaign. After his nomination at the Democratic National Convention, John F. Kennedy appeared next to his Republican opponent Richard Nixon in the first presidential debate ever broadcast to a national audience. Many historians believe that the appearance and demeanor of the candidates as seen on TV had a direct impact on the election.
    • Kennedy’s nomination represented a new direction for the Democratic party. While the establishment worried that his youth and his Irish-Catholic background would be liabilities in the general election, the 1960 Democratic Convention marked a shift toward a new generation of leaders and a more open nomination process.
    • As a street photographer, Garry Winogrand used split-second timing to capture images that are both spontaneous and simultaneously dense with meaning. Here, Kennedy’s gesture recalls famous leaders of the past, while his appearance on the TV screen alludes to his status as a modern celebrity. Other details of the photograph took on symbolic significance following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, reminding us that works of art are open to continued interpretation and renewed meaning.

Go deeper

See this photograph in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Watch and read the transcript of John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic National Convention

Use primary source documents to learn about the 1960 presidential election

Learn more about John F. Kennedy’s presidency

Learn about the impact of television on the news media in the 1960s

Read more about Garry Winogrand


More to think about

Kennedy’s presidency coincided with the rise of television and its role in mediating our interactions with and connection to politicians. How do you think the emergence of social media has affected that relationship and the public’s direct access to our political leaders?

 

Explore the diverse history of the United States through its art. Seeing America is funded by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Alice L. Walton Foundation.