Paul Fusco, Patriotism, and the 4th of July


It’s no coincidence that a series of events over the course of this week has prompted me to consider what it means to be an American today, within the country, as well as in the world at large. As these events unfolded, Paul Fusco’s photographs from Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral train, illustrated my thoughts. The photographs, RFK FUNERAL TRAIN – REDISCOVERED are on view at Danziger Projects until the end of the month. If you’re not in NYC and want to see more, go to The New York TImesarticle and slide show narrated by Fusco.


Fusco’s last words in the slide show are striking: “The emotion… that appears… for me, emphasized the breaking up of the world… emotionally… America came out to mourn, to weep, to show their respect and love for a leader… someone who promised a better future. And they saw hope pass by, in a train.”

The reason these images resonated with me is that they represent instead the endlessness of optimism in this country. Grief (like the moving train) is fleeting and hope eternal.


Reinforcing the endurance of optimism in spite of numerous reasons to feel unpatriotic right now:

  • Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s Woody Guthrie’s American Song – the threat of natural disasters, upheavals in unpredictable economies, the plight of migrant workers, the unjust loss of lives among those fighting in our military and the desire to support those individuals but not the war they’re fighting abroad, are all contemporary American issues visited in the musical.
  • Tom Friedman‘s introduction of his new book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution and How It Can Renew America at the Aspen Ideas Festival, heard via a local radio broadcast. The Huffington Post also has a summary of the presentation that includes some video excerpts. Friedman explains, as the title insinuates, that America must lead the green revolution to save our environment and our economy in addition to our standing as moral and ethical leaders in the world.

For me, Guthrie’s songs emphasize the responsibility we have to each other, to fellow Americans. Friedman’s stance reiterates our responsibilities to the world abroad. Listening to the words of both left me with the indelible sense that all is not lost. Past and current reasons to feel unpatriotic are not permanent and change is possible which I guess, is the best that I could hope for on the 4th.



4 Responses to “Paul Fusco, Patriotism, and the 4th of July”

  1. 1 beth

    Though I can’t place myself exactly where I was when I learned of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination I vividly recall the emotions that accompanied the news. Unlike the 9/11 terrorist attacks the threat was from within. We had to hold ourselves as a nation responsible for the horrendous loss of three great leaders within a year’s time. There was so much anger, fear, and need for change in the inequities of our society. Yet, there was an accompanying idealism that we could do it. Not until Obama have I felt this same energy and hopefulness mobilized in the young. So, Sara, you’re right, surpassing the grief with hopefulness is the triumph of July 4th.

    Interesting though that what caught my attention immediately in Fusco’s stills was the vibrant color. I wonder had they been in black and white if the viewer would have felt the positive energy overtaking the somberness of the funeral train.

  2. 2 saradistin

    Thanks so much for sharing your memory from that day. It is (of course) something that I didn’t live through and have no personal recollection of but was still incredibly moved by the photos; I think, in part, because of the sense of optimism renewed by Obama. Although I didn’t mention it, I was thinking about his campaign and the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Denver as well.

    I agree with you about the color. Fusco was shooting with Kodachrome which gives a very distinct, modern palette, inextricably linked with that period in time.

  3. I like your blog. I too am a photographer — deeply committed to silver gelatin printing — from Colorado (at various times, I’ve lived in Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs). I love the Fusco’s book on Kennedy. I suppose we’ll have to disagree on the Whitney Biennial; I thought it sucked. I did like Javier Tellez’s piece, however. I wrote a bit on the Biennial on my blog.

    Best of luck with life after grad school (it can be a rough row to hoe).

  4. 4 saradistin

    Thanks for the good wishes. I’ll check out your blog and specifically your post on the Biennial.

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