Richard Reeves. Portrait of Camelot: A Thousand Days in the Kennedy White House

At first glance, »Portrait of Camelot« by Richard Reeves appears to be just another regular, yet appealing and intriguing, photo book with photographs of the Kennedy family during John F.’s brief, yet eventful time in the White House. At second glance, however, the reader is rewarded with personal insights into the relationship between the 35th President, his closest friends and relatives, and the power arising from important photographs depicting significant as well as regular, every-day moments on both private and public occasions.


Richard Reeves, author, columnist, and lecturer at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, approaches the popular and well-known archive of (first ever official) White House photographer Cecil Stoughton by setting up a chronological outline of the presidency. Reeves follows the footsteps of John F. Kennedy, his wife, children, relatives, and friends from 1961 until 1963. Each chapter focuses on one of these years, with an extensive part on Cecil Stoughton himself at the end of the book. This part focuses on the photographer’s career in the White House as well as his influence on the overall perception of the Kennedy Family; which, even after more than 40 years, has not lost any of its appeal and fascination.


The book mainly draws from the extensive collection of Kennedy photos shot by Stoughton. Each of the photographs is accompanied by a brief text describing both the scene as well as its intention – one of the many interesting details provided is, for example, that JFK was willing to be photographed with certain people only if he would be seen from the back. Motifs range from meetings and conferences to family vacations and private moments both in Washington, D.C., as well as at the Kennedy residences in Hyannis Port as well as Florida. 


Even though the book contains a relatively small amount of text, it seems as if the author has not paid the necessary attention to the written word – apparently for the sake of an exquisite selection of unique and impressive photographs. The very first page carries a rather obvious typo and the text itself continues in a somewhat bumpy way with at times clumsy and strange expressions. The highly subjective and sometimes even sensationalistic style furthermore does not seem to suit the author’s profile as a »political historian«. The facts given, however, are not necessarily untrue and, even though Reeves makes it very clear that the book’s focus is mainly on the appearance, glamour, style, and appeal of the Kennedy family rather than on the president’s politics, the overall impression of the wonderful visual material is slightly impaired by the comparatively low quality of the text.


The book comes with a DVD with rare film material. The viewer will be delighted with wonderfully moving and gorgeous scenes drawn from extensive material such as JFK playing with his children in the pool, Caroline and John, Jr., playing with animals on the family’s yacht »Honey Fitz« or the President in a sporty outfit playing golf. The material, however, does not come with the original audio track: joyous, diverting music has been added »for entertainment« (in the words of the author); which unfortunately is highly inappropriate. It is thus recommendable to enjoy the otherwise great material without the accompanying sound.


»A Portrait of Camelot« stays true to its title – it offers a large part of the stunning collection created by Cecil Stoughton along with wonderful film material – and, to be sure, these photographs are more meaningful and representative than any text could ever be.