Originally published June 6, 2012.
When Jen and I met with Paul last year, he told us something along the lines of, “when you open your eyes, you look and you feel.” The visual experience, for him, is an emotional one. And so, the day he was told by his editor at LOOK Magazine to get on the train carrying Robert F. Kennedy from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to his final resting place in Washington, D.C. was an exhausting one. From the moment he first saw the crowds gathered along the tracks, Paul had his head, his camera, his eyes outside of the train to photograph the thousands of people waiting to pay their respects.
The result of his efforts is the sweeping series of photographs, RFK Funeral Train, of which we are honored to present two new editions, in addition to the two released on last year’s anniversary, offered in pairs for 20x200, FUP1968010K078 + FUP1968010K082 and FUP1968010K003 + FUP1968010K052. This series has been tirelessly supported by the Magnum Foundation, which directly benefits from the sale of these prints. Danziger Projects has exhibited the series, The New York Times has featured the work and the images are also the subject of a book published by the Aperture Foundation.
Paul’s work has benefited from the Magnum Foundation’s Legacy Program and its dedication to preserving, interpreting, managing and making accessible materials related to the history of Magnum Photos, and to the larger history of photography to which Magnum has uniquely contributed. While he is probably best known for theRFK Funeral Trainseries, his compassion as a photographer is equally palpable in his series Chernobyl Legacy. Devastating to look at, taken 20 years after the Chernobyl reactor released radioactive material over much of the Ukraine, Fusco’s photographs document the physical, mental and emotional effects of the fallout.
In this work and in his other photos, the frailty of humans and our experience is persistent. Paul reminds us, “everything we make wears out and breaks.” This is true, too, of the country we might have built with RFK at the helm. But still reeling from the loss of Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that year, and the assassination of JFK just five years prior, RFK’s death seemed something Americans/America might never recover from. And while I wasn’t alive then to know firsthand what was felt, I imagine that what Jack Newfield wrote rang true:
Now I realized what makes our generation unique, what defines us apart from those who came before the hopeful winter of 1961, and those who came after the murderous spring of 1968. We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome.
It’s a sentiment similarly felt among those of us who were disillusioned when George Bush was re-elected, when the War on Terrorism raged on. Obama was our savior temporarily, but he, too, is human. Amidst a series of natural disasters, the Fukushima nuclear crisis shadowed Chernobyl. The economy in shambles, uncertainty remained the only constant. Even the death of Bin Laden couldn’t right all of the earlier wrongs. How do we find optimism in spite of our obvious, unrelenting fallibility? We may, I think, find it in these pictures. Even if you were to agree with Paul, that RFK’s assassination and these photographs represented the end of hope, there is also this: If we felt that hope once—its evidence here in righted spines and hardened chests, brimming eyes, reaching fingers and falling shoulders—it surely exists, and so it’s possible that we might, sometime, feel it again.