Written by Megan May Walsh
Edited by Jana Massoud
Encountering historic moments in the present often resembles standing still amongst a whirlwind of fervor and sometimes even fear. In the past couple of years alone, we as a society have collectively experienced enough history in the making to last several lifetimes, such as a global pandemic and a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter protests. Amidst the chaos of these moments, images emerged across news cycles, social media, and magazines, capturing stills of the state of the world long enough for us to attempt to make sense or, in the least, conceptualize everything happening around us.
Keith de Lellis Gallery, in its exhibition That’s LIFE, takes us back to 1936 to witness the images that capture both the big and the small moments in history until 1972 chronicled by Life Magazine. As one of the most renowned photographic magazines in the world, Life Magazine wove a photographic tapestry of history into existence. In one grand visual narrative, Life Magazine revolutionized how individuals witness history, but also how they memorialize it in their memory as well as the collective memory of future generations. That’s LIFE takes us on a visual journey through the years 1936 to 1972 of time’s remembered events in politics, war, culture, race, and sporting events.
Throughout the exhibition, photographs of Cassius Clay celebrating his victory over Sonny Liston for the heavyweight boxing world title in 1964 confront images of young black students taunted by white supremacists in protest of Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case. Images of the nation’s first televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 stand alongside images of Kennedy spending summers in Hyannis Port with his wife and daughter and images of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963.
NASA images of astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11 hang on view in contrast to images of the mushroom cloud that appeared from nuclear explosion tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean in 1946. Portraits of time’s most important figures such as Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Russel, Dorothy Dandridge, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall are also on view. That’s LIFE is the history of 1936 to 1972 materialized as a visual archive, further memorializing the moments, voices, faces, and events deemed worthy of attention and remembrance.
Peering into the stories that swarm behind the images of That’s LIFE allows us to grasp how individuals living through the times of 1936 to 1972 experienced their own history in the making. We can see the images of the times that pushed Americans to understand the events unfolding around them, and we can conceptualize a version of history from these images that we are to remember. Perhaps years from now there will be a visual archive chronicling the images of our times from masked crowds to BLM protestors to war-thwarted Afghanistan and Ukraine to January 6th riot on the capitol for future generations to witness how we experienced our own historical moments.
Keith de Lellis Gallery’s exhibition That’s LIFE will be on view from March 31st to May 26th, 2022.