New York Times photographer George Tames captured this image of John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office on Feb. 10, 1961, only weeks after he was sworn in as president. Captioned ‘The Loneliest Job,’ Kennedy looks as though he is carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders in utter solitude. In one image you can see everything you need to know about the isolation and responsibility of the presidency.
In reality, it’s an object lesson, a reminder that the 1,000 words a picture speaks can be our projection. Kennedy broke his back in World War II and despite the glorious football photos that showed an agile, athletic young president, he was in constant pain. He stood at the table behind his Oval Office desk to read the papers — leaning down with his weight supported by his hands to get a closer look.
Knowing that doesn’t change the power of the image, which presages some of the days Kennedy would have in that office during the Cuban Missile Crisis and other moments of personal or public crisis. When I think of JFK, this is the last picture in my personal slideshow.
It’s also a reminder that what we see isn’t always what it is.