New York Jackie: Pictures from Her Life in the City
“. . . for a little book about an oversized icon of a woman, New York Jackie is a lovely thing, a tribute to the woman that Talese sums up by writing: ‘She was gracious, elegant in the simplest way, and had a style that I will always think of as New York.’”
One of the most culturally iconic photographs of the 1970s appears on the cover of the new book New York Jackie: Pictures from Her Life in the City.
It shows the whippet-thin First Lady frozen in motion, the wind caught whipping her shoulder-length hair into a helmet protecting her face. She strides along a Manhattan street, vintage parked cars behind her, brownstones in the background, large round sunglasses in her right hand. She’s dressed simply in jeans and a knit top.
As her body continues its march, her head turns, perhaps is in response to the sound of the picture being taken.
What fascinates is her face. The photo traps the moment in which what was perhaps a smile morphs into cold anger as she realizes in that moment that her identity has been unveiled and her privacy violated.
The photograph, like many other photos in the book, is credited to Ron Galella, which allows the reader a moment of insight.
Galella was, after all, one of the first of what we now call paparazzi: photographers who hunt celebrities very much in the same way that hunters stalk their prey. And Kennedy and Galella were famous in their day for the way in which they wrangled.
After all, The New York Post called theirs "the most co-dependent celeb-pap[arazzi] relationship ever." And history was made in the 1972 trial Galella v. Kennedy, in which free speech was trumped by the right to privacy, and Galella was ordered to keep 50 feet away from Jackie Kennedy and 75 feet away from her children.
And yet Galella obsessed over Jackie Kennedy, plagued her, stalked her.
And the result is that we now have a treasure trove of candid photographs of his most uncooperative muse all gathered together in book form and edited lovingly by Bridget Watson Payne with an introduction by Nan A. Talese.
“In many ways, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a quintessential New Yorker,” writes Talese in her all-too-brief introduction. “In a city that prides itself on style and anonymity for those who seek it, Jackie had both.”
While Talese stints with her written account of Mrs. Kennedy in New York City in the years after the assignation of her husband John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a narrative emerges nonetheless. It is a visual one, an account of a woman—her fashion, her family, her evolution from First Lady to fashion icon to working woman when she takes a job at Doubleday—from the 1960s through the 1980s as she walks through the streets of the city she calls home.
Her life is played out in black and white. Moments, bits of motion and emotion—all frozen by the cameras lens. Many posed (the “look at me—I’m an editor!” publicity photos at Doubleday are a hoot), many more candids give a surprisingly satisfying timeline of an individual life.
Some photos tantalize.
Like this: Jackie walked along Fifth Avenue, looking completely captivated by her companion, Rudolph Nureyev.
Or this: in which her face is a wide open, almost child-like grin when she is photographed along side her second husband, Aristotle Onassis in the early 1970s.
And then there is the picture from 1967 in which Jackie, wearing a tight leather miniskirt, her head wrapped nearly completely in a silk scarf, sneaks out of the Cinema Rendez-Vous after she takes in a showing of the notorious film, I Am Curious (Yellow). The wit of this picture is only enhanced by the fact that Jackie herself so resembles the life-sized image of a woman that hangs framed on the wall just to her left. The photograph, taken at just the moment in which the two women—sneaky Jackie and the free-spirited image on the wall—seem entirely aware of each other.
All told, New York Jackie is a winning thing.
And yet the reader cannot help but play what might have been. If the publisher had only said, “Please, Nan, can we have another 20 pages?” If the introduction had been more than just the briefest of introductory comments.
Or if the publisher had simply sprung for the cost of a larger, coffee table volume that would have allowed the reader to wade into these photographs more satisfyingly.
Still, for a little book about an oversized icon of a woman, New York Jackie is a lovely thing, a tribute to the woman that Talese sums up by writing:
“She was gracious, elegant in the simplest way, and had a style that I will always think of as New York.”