David Hume Kennerly

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David Hume Kennerly
David Hume Kennerly
Kennerly in 2016
Chief Official White House Photographer
In office
PresidentGerald Ford
Preceded byOliver F. Atkins
Succeeded byMichael Evans (1981)
Personal details
Born (1947-03-09) March 9, 1947 (age 72)
Roseburg, Oregon, U.S.
Susan Allwardt
(m. 1967; div. 1969)

Mel Harris
(m. 1983; div. 1988)

Carol Huston
(m. 1989; div. 1992)

Rebecca Soladay (m. 1994)
ResidenceLos Angeles, California, U.S.
EducationWest Linn High School
OccupationJournalist, photographer, producer

David Hume Kennerly (born March 9, 1947)[1] is an American photographer and photojournalist. He won the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his portfolio of photographs taken of the Vietnam War, Cambodia, East Pakistani refugees near Calcutta, and the Ali-Frazier fight in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971. He has also photographed every American president since Richard Nixon.


Kennerly is the son of O.A. "Tunney" Kennerly, a traveling salesman, and the son of the sheriff of Klamath County, and Joanne Hume Kennerly, the daughter of a railroad engineer. His parents are deceased. He also has three younger sisters, Jane and Chris, the youngest, Anne, is also deceased. His interest in photography started when he was only 12, and his career began in Roseburg, where his first published picture was in the high school newspaper The Orange 'R in 1962. Kennerly graduated from West Linn High School outside of Portland, Oregon, in 1965. While there he worked on the school newspaper The Amplifier and the yearbook, Green and Gold. At 18, right out of high school, he became a staff photographer for The Oregon Journal, and later, after returning from basic and advanced training as a member of the Oregon National Guard, The Oregonian. During his early career in Portland he photographed some major personalities, including Miles Davis, Igor Stravinsky, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes. That encounter with Sen. Kennedy gave him the determination to become a national political photographer.

Kennerly moved to Los Angeles in the fall of 1967 as a staff photographer for UPI. It was there in 1968 that he took some of the last photos of Sen. Robert Kennedy as he declared victory in the California presidential primary at the Ambassador Hotel. Moments later the senator was gunned down by the assassin Sirhan Sirhan. The following year Kennerly moved to New York for UPI, where among many other assignments he photographed the New York Mets win the 1969 World Series.

In early 1970 Kennerly was transferred to the Washington, D.C. bureau of UPI. At age 23 he took his first ride on Air Force One with President Nixon as a member of the traveling press pool. But Washington was not for him, and he felt like he was missing out on the biggest story of his generation, the Vietnam War. Kennerly said, "I felt like that scene in Mr. Roberts where Henry Fonda, an officer on a supply ship, watched the destroyers sail into battle while he was stuck in some South Pacific backwater port."[citation needed]

Kennerly got his wish, and was sent to Saigon in early 1971 as a combat photographer for UPI. During that year, starting with the last assignment before he left the states, the Ali-Frazier fight, he took the pictures that won him the Pulitzer Prize. Kennerly became the photo bureau chief for UPI in Southeast Asia a few months later, but still spent most of his time in the field. In September 1972 he was one of three Americans to travel to the People's Republic of China to cover the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. During that visit he photographed Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, and one was one of the last Westerners to see him.

While still in Vietnam he joined Life in November 1972 as a contract photographer. After the great picture publication went out of business a few weeks later Kennerly stayed on as a contract photographer for Time. Among the many stories he covered for them while still in Asia was the last American prisoner of war release in Hanoi, March 30, 1973.

Kennerly returned to the United States in the summer of 1973 for Time, during the midst of the Watergate crisis. He photographed the resignation of Vice President Spiro Agnew, and the selection of Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford as Agnew's replacement. Kennerly's first Time cover was of Congressman Ford after Nixon's announcement choosing him, and it was also Ford's first appearance on the front of the magazine. That session with Ford led to a close personal relationship with him and his family, and led to Kennerly's appointment as photographer to the President, the day that Ford took office after Nixon's resignation as the chief executive on August 9, 1974. Kennerly was only the third civilian to ever have that position (the first was President Lyndon B. Johnson photographer Yoichi Okamoto, and Nixon's photographer Oliver F. Atkins).

US President Gerald Ford and his golden retriever Liberty in the Oval Office on November 7, 1974, photographed by David Hume Kennerly

Kennerly enjoyed unprecedented entrée during the Ford Presidency, and photographed practically every major meeting, event, and trip during Ford's tenure in the Oval Office. He also arranged unique access for photographic colleagues from the magazines, newspapers, and colleagues to have during that period, and more than 50 had exclusives with President Ford. There had never been that kind of access to a president before, and not since. It was one of his proudest achievements. His staff consisted of four other photographers who divided assignments with the First Lady and Vice President, as well as presidential duties. He also directed the White House photo lab which was run by the military as part of the White House Communications Agency. Kennerly's photographs are in the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

During his White House days, Kennerly, a bachelor, lived in a Georgetown townhouse just a few minutes from the White House, and drove a black Mercedes-Benz 280 SL before he replaced it with a Volkswagen convertible. He dated several high-profile women, including the actress Candice Bergen and the Olympic skier Suzy Chaffee. The rumors about a romance with him and First Daughter Susan Ford were not true, however, but he and Susan did give the President Liberty, a golden retriever, that became a signature of the Ford presidency.

In late March 1975, Kennerly accompanied U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Frederick Weyand who had been dispatched on a presidential mission to South Vietnam to assess what was becoming a rapidly deteriorating military situation. The president privately told Kennerly he wanted his particular view of what was happening. Kennerly flew around the country, escaped from Nha Trang before it fell to the advancing communists, was shot at by retreating South Vietnamese soldiers at Cam Ranh Bay, and landed under fire in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a quick visit there. When he returned from the trip, both Weyand's and Kennerly's assessments were bleak. The President ordered that Kennerly's stark black-and-white photos of the tragedy be put up in the halls of the West Wing of the White House to remind the staff just how bad things were. Saigon fell a month later. Just days before that happened, Ford had ordered the evacuation of the last Americans and thousands of Vietnamese who had been working for the United States.

The day before the Fords were turning over the keys to the White House to incoming President Jimmy Carter, Kennerly accompanied Betty Ford around the West Wing as she said personal goodbyes to the staff. They walked by the empty Cabinet Room and a mischievous look came across her face. "I've always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table," she said. The former Martha Graham dancer kicked off her shoes, jumped up on the middle of the table, and struck a pose. The photo was only published for the first time more than 15 years later in Kennerly's book Photo Op.

After the White House, Kennerly went back on contract for Time Magazine, where he covered some of the biggest stories of the 1970s and 1980s for them; Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's trip to Israel, the horror of Jonestown, exclusive photos of President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's first meeting in Geneva in 1985, the Fireside Summit, and many other stories around the world. When Life Magazine made a brief comeback for Desert Storm in 1991 he produced an inside story on Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell for them called "Men of War."

In 1996 Kennerly became a contributing editor for Newsweek where he produced inside stories on President Bill Clinton, Senator Bob Dole, the Impeachment Hearings, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, the 2000 elections, and other top stories. Kennerly also had a contract with John F. Kennedy, Jr.'s George.

Kennerly has photographed more than 35 covers for Time and Newsweek, and covered assignments in over 130 countries.

He was married to Susan Allwardt in 1967-69, actress Mel Harris from 1983-1988 (they had a son, Byron), actress Carol Huston in 1989-92, and Rebecca Soladay from 1994 to the present (they have two sons, Nick and James).

On March 16, 2006, Kennerly was named NBC News Contributing Editor. As of 2006 he is providing special still-photo essays for NBC and its affiliates.[citation needed]

Kennerly was named "One of the Most 100 Most Important People in Photography" by American Photo magazine in 2005, and was selected as the 2007, "Photography Person of the Year," by Photo Media magazine. He received a 1989 Prime Time Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama as Executive Producer of NBC's The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story.

Kennerly was a Fellow in the American Film Institute directing program in 1984-86.

He has won the Overseas Press Club's Olivier Rebbot Award for "Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad," for his coverage of Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev's historic summit meeting in Geneva. He also won first prizes in the World Press contest for his dramatic and powerful photos of the war Cambodia just before it fell to the Khmer Rouge. He has received numerous other awards from the National Press Photographer's Association and White House Press Photographer's Association.

He also worked on several "Day in the Life" book projects on The Soviet Union, America, The People's Republic of China, and the United States Armed Forces.

Kennerly is a trustee of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, and is on the board of the Savannah College of Art & Design Atlanta Board of Visitors, which is chaired by Chrysler Chairman Bob Nardelli, and he is on the board of the Eddie Adams Workshop.

Kennerly is a Canon Explorer of Light, and exclusively uses their digital cameras for his work. The August 2008 issue of pdn features a full page Canon ad about one of his photos that runs on the inside back cover of the magazine.

He authored Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford. Former First Lady Betty Ford said, "Extraordinary Circumstances is a wonderful record of the Ford Presidency. David Kennerly's heart and soul are in this book." Award-winning photographer Doug Menuez said, "The range of images and perfect moments add up to a master class of great photojournalism, timeless, classic and relevant. It feels very emotional, intimate, and worlds away from our current super-posed, photo-op political culture. What is truly amazing is how easy Kennerly makes the photography look.… Extraordinary Circumstances fills an important gap in American history from a rare talent given a ringside seat, it is an incredible achievement."[citation needed]

His most recent book is David Hume Kennerly On the iPhone: Secrets and Tips from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer (Goff Books, 2014).


Kennerly at the White House in 1981
  • Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, (1972)
  • Trustee, The Gerald R. Ford Foundation, (2008-)
  • Contributing editor, NBC News (2006 – 2008)
  • Contributing editor, Der Spiegel magazine (2008)
  • Contributing editor, Newsweek Magazine (1996 to 2006)
  • Personal photographer to President Gerald R. Ford, (1974–77)
  • National Program Chair for WAMU's, "Home of the Free Student Photojournalism Project")
  • Contributing correspondent, ABC's Good Morning America Sunday (1996–98)
  • Contributing photographer, George Magazine (1996–99)
  • Executive Producer, Portraits of a Lady, HBO (2011)
  • Co-Executive Producer, Profiles from the Front Line, ABC reality series with Jerry Bruckheimer and Bertram Van Munster (2003)
  • Executive Producer and writer, Shooter, NBC Television Movie of the Week based on his book about Vietnam combat photographers (1988)
  • Executive Producer, The Taking of Flight 847, NBC Movie of the Week (1989)
  • AFI Directing Fellow, 1984–85
  • Contract photographer, Time magazine (1973–74, 1977–90)
  • Contributing photographer, Life magazine (1972, 1993–96)
  • Staff photographer, United Press International (1967–72)
  • Staff photographer, The Oregonian (1967)
  • Staff photographer, The Oregon Journal (1966–67)
  • Producer, Discovery Channel's four-hour documentary The Presidents' Gatekeepers about the White House Chiefs of Staff (2014)
  • Executive Producer of CBS/Showtime documentary The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs (2015)
  • Contributing photographer, Politico Magazine (2015-)

Selected awards[edit]

  • 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography.
  • Five prizes each in the 2001 & 2003 White House Press Photographer's contest
  • Named one of the top 50 top Washington journalists in the March 2001 issue of The Washingtonian, the only photographer on the list
  • Photo Media magazine's 2007 Photographer of the Year
  • 1997 President's Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Greater Los Angeles Press Club.
  • 1989 Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama as Executive Producer of NBC's The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story
  • Overseas Press Club Award for Best Photographic Reporting from Abroad (The Olivier Rebbot Award, 1986
  • 1976 World Press Photo contest (two first place prizes for Cambodian coverages).
  • National Press Photographers' contest (first place).
  • Honorary Doctorate, Lake Erie College, 2015

Selected exhibitions[edit]

  • Extraordinary Circumstances, various locations 2008
  • Savannah College of Art and Design, Lacoste France 2007. Retrospective.
  • University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication 2006-2007.
  • University of Texas at Austin - permanent. Photo du Jour exhibition.
  • Houston Museum of Fine Arts – 2004. Photo du Jour exhibition.
  • Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building 2002. Photo du Jour exhibition
  • New York Historical Society from 2002 - 2003.
  • Visa Pour L'Image, Perpignan France. 2000 Retrospective.
  • U.S. Capitol, Cannon Building Rotunda. 1995 Photo Op exhibition.
  • Portland Art Museum, Portland Oregon. 1995 Photo Op exhibition.
  • The Harry Lunn Gallery, 1979
  • Moderator – World Press Photo. Moderated conversation among 2006 award winners, USC, 2007
  • Guest lecturer - Savannah College of Art and Design, Lacoste France 2007.
  • Keynote speaker - Eddie Adams Workshop 2000 – present;[2]

David Hume Kennerly Photographic Archive[edit]

The David Hume Kennerly Photographic Archive resides at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas at Austin.[3][4][5]


Kennerly has authored six books:

  • Shooter, Newsweek books, 1979
  • Photo Op: A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer Covers Events That Shaped Our Times, University of Texas Press (1995) ISBN 0-292-74323-8
  • Sein Off: The Final Days of Seinfeld, HarperCollins, (1998)
  • Photo du Jour: A Picture-a-Day Journey through the First Year of the New Millennium, University of Texas Press, (2003)
  • Extraordinary Circumstances: The Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, The University of Texas Center for American History, (2007)
  • On the iPhone: Secrets and Tips from a Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer. Goff Books, 2014


External links[edit]