The history of photographing presidents with Cara A. Finnegan

ciLiving.TV

Champaign, Ill. (WCIA)

Cara A. Finnegan, professor of communication with University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shares her new book, “Photographic Presidents, Making History From Daguerreotype to Digital.”

How did you come to this topic?

The idea emerged out of my teaching. I was studying the photographs that Obama was putting on social media beginning in 2009. I wanted to share some history of presidents and photography with my students as we did that, but it turns out no one had written a substantive history of the relationship between presidents and photography. So I decided to write this book.

You say in your book that presidents and photography have been linked together since the invention of photography in 1839. Can you give an example of how some of the earliest presidents engaged with photography?

There are early photographic images of art featuring George Washington and John Quincy Adams, who didn’t like pictures of himself and didn’t think photography was the best way for leaders to be visually represented.

A lot has changed in photography in the last 180 years. What things have been consistent regarding the relationship of presidents to photography?

There were challenges of public versus private, where from figures like FDR all the way up to today, presidents seek control over their public image but also have needed media/social media to get their images out there. And that lack of control makes them vulnerable.

https://go.illinois.edu/s21finnegan

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