Robert Kennedy funeral train photos by Paul Fusco

The Last Journey of Robert Kennedy.

In 1968 Magnum Photographer Paul Fusco was on the train that transported Robert Kennedy’s body from New York to Arlington cemetery. For over seven hours, he made thousands of photographs of the Americans that flocked to pay their respects as the train went slowly by.

From his moving and somewhat limited vantage point, Fusco created a body of work that day that appears even conceptual when compared to his normal practice of the documentary traditions involving assembling “stories.” His frames, perhaps guided by instinct more than ever before due to the nature of his fleeting subjects, pose interesting quires into photographic description. Example being, the question of how small a detail can be in a photograph and still carry the full weight of the frame. Many of Fusco’s “funeral train” photographs are repetitive in essence but each is filled with the subtle gesture and body language that, even when perceived from afar, conveys so much meaning.

Fusco’s remarkable feat was to make so many images that can sit alongside one another even when they appear similar. The arrangements of bodies alongside the train tracks for the formally minded never ceases to excite. By not shooting with super fast shutter speeds as might be expected to freeze movement, Fusco’s combination of speed and panning the camera — locking onto subjects as they pass by — dictates an fine mix of sharpness and blur. By the end of the day, the crowds dissolve into a swirl of purple blue as the train arrives at its final destination.

The first time this work was published in book form was 30 years after their making. To accompany an exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery in London an edition of print-on-demand books was created using a Xerox DocuColor 100 Digital Color Press. The entire intended edition of 350 copies with nine different covers was never full realized (two hundred were actually printed) but RFK Funeral Train would finally existed for a wider audience.

In 2000, the second edition of RFK Funeral Train was published through more traditional print technologies by Umbrage Editions and Magnum Photos. This edition followed the original only in the most basic ways. The photos face pages of black and the typography was the same but the trim size was enlarged by an inch in height and an inch and a half in length. In the original, the photos appeared bleed on the page and this new edition they were surrounded by a bit of black margin. The edit and sequencing is different and most notably, the printing improved greatly.

The most notable difference besides the name change is the size and density of this new edition. With an expanded trim size to 9.5 x 12 and at a solid inch thick, this project has blown up into a full size coffee-table book. There is even an additional text by Vicky Goldberg aside the essays by Norman Mailer, Evan Thomas and Senator Edward Kennedy that appeared in the Umbrage edition.

The justification for doing this new edition after the discovery of the wealth of material in the LOOK magazine collection is understandable but in my opinion, the inclusion of the non-train photographs from the viewing in St. Patrick’s and the interment in Arlington dilute the work as it stood in the first versions. The tightness of the book is now broken into three sections — the viewing and interment photographs are not substantial enough to act as any more than bookends to the real outpouring of emotion found along the train tracks. The photos in those two sections aren’t bad (the night-time burial images are wonderfully made) but they do not seem necessary and they aren’t — the first books proved that. (via)

Fusco Talks of this photos at NY Times.

Paul Fusco Interwieved by Art Space

RFK Last Journey Documentary:


One Thousand Pictures: R.F.K’s Last Journey (HBO)

On the 43rd anniversary of the event, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Stoddart brings Fusco’s images to life. Personal stories are told by Fusco, and RFK’s then-press secretary, as well as by the people who appeared in Fusco’s images, recalling the emotional impact of Kennedy’s assassination on the country. The film also includes video and audio clips of Bobby Kennedy speaking so eloquently and passionately about his hopes and dreams for the country.

Watching the documentary was a moving experience for an American like me, who lived through those sad and rocky moments in America’s history. And once again, I am reminded of the power of photography to capture a mood and feeling, and how a multimedia presentation like this documentary can serve to intensify the meaning of almost each and every image.

Here you can found The Book.