Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train - The People's View: a wall installation, a film and a book.

Nederlands Fotomuseum 2019. The train route along the wall, with snapshots and slides positioned on the spot where the picture was taken.

The Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train—The People’s View presents a reflection on the Robert F. Kennedy Funeral Train, that rode from NYC to Washington, D.C. on June 8, 1968. This film is entirely based on memories, snapshots, home movies, and sound, recorded by bystanders standing along the tracks that day.

On board the train was photographer Paul Fusco, who during the journey photographed the many bewildered mourners paying their final respects. A cross-section of American society—Black and White, city-dwellers and country folk—all stared at the slowly passing train, which itself stayed mostly outside Fusco’s lens.

This project takes as its starting point the reversal of Fusco’s photographic perspective. Here, the mourners do not merely play a role in someone else’s pictures, but are the photographers and filmmakers themselves. With their cameras, they gazed back at the train and recorded it in their own fashion. I spent the three years from 2014 to 2017 searching for the people who lined the tracks to bid farewell to RFK, and the photographs and home movies they made. I began my inquiries at historical societies, archives, and libraries local and national, but no American institution had ever collected these images.

Therefore, the greater part of my endeavor consisted of fieldwork. I made appeals on social media and in local newspapers, followed the train’s route, knocked on doors, hung around train stations, and talked to as many people as I could. Especially in the lead-up to the 2016 elections, I saw the ways in which the cross-section of the American people in Fusco’s photographs had played out over the interceding 50 years, as I met everyone from blue-collar workers to white-collar business owners, from a homeless person to a self-made billionaire. Often, I was their guest, and they would share their images and memories of June 8, 1968.

Many of the conversations brought up topics such as the social and political unrest of that year—not only was it an important year for the Civil Rights Movement, with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the subsequent riots, but it also saw student protests and an increasingly hopeless Vietnam War. And just like today, the world watched America with a mixture of fascination and disbelief. I sensed how strongly 1968 in general—and RFK’s positive message in particular—is still present in the minds of many Americans.

The choice of a funeral train, a conscious nod to the tradition that began with Lincoln’s in 1865, seems to have been intended to impress an epic image on the collective memory. But during my research, I was surprised to discover that it was not easy to find images of the RFK funeral train. Most of these images are still in the private domain, in slide cases and family albums. Many people, including myself, had only the vaguest idea about what the train must have looked like—an idea above all informed by the facial expressions of the citizens immortalized in that exceptional photo series by Fusco. This type of inversion fascinates me: onlookers bearing witness to an event intended to enter into the collective memory, who were themselves turned into an icon of this very event.

Photography always inherently involves an element of the “lost and found.” A photograph is a peculiar blend of discovery and construction to begin with. And, by virtue of my project, the people who responded to my request not only retrieved their photographs, but often their memories of the event depicted as well. Could these unassuming photographs, these residues at once historical and personal, have the potential to form a collective memory when brought together? Could they constitute an image of loss, an image of the unfulfilled promise of a new hopeful era?

All the images of the RFK funeral train were shot within an eight-hour time frame along a single railroad line, but today lie scattered across the United States. I collected a few hundred photographs and a dozen home movies that I was able to retrieve, and assembled them along a timeline, an echo of the people who lined the railroad tracks looking at these same scenes.

The exhibition and the accompanying book contain a section with 10 so far unpublished photos taken by Paul Fusco from aboard the funeral train. These images set the right context for The People’s View, are a source of inspiration and present the reversed perspective.

This project was on show at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, in Les Rencontres D'Arles (France 2018), the International Center of Photography (New York City 2018) and the Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam (2019).
The project isn’t finished yet. Sensing that there still must be so many images, memories and insights keeps me from saying goodbye to this undertaking. I will continue the search for new material, although not as intensely as I did before. Additional material will be forwarded to the SFMOMA so to keep this project alive.
And hopefully the other components of this exhibition, complemented with new footage, will travel throughout Europe in the years to come.

More information about the wall installation
A winding line along the wall, representing the train route from New York City to Washington, D.C., with snapshots and slides positioned on the spot where the picture was taken.

More information about the film installation
5-screen film installation 5-screen film installation (consisting of snapshots, fragments of 8 mm home movies spoke memories, soundrecordings of that day) and witness accounts projected on the wall.
The five screens (each 140 x 105 cm) reference the train compartments, carriages and windows. The screens hang in a line from the ceiling, so that visitors can walk around them.

More information about the book
This book has been granted a gold medal for The Most Beautiful Book in the World by the international jury of the Stifting Buchkunst (Leipzig). The book was also selected for De Best Verzorgde Boeken 2018 for which it will be displayed at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (September 2019).
Furthermore, the book is one of the Volkskrant's top 10 of best 2018 Dutch Photo Books ((by Mark Moorman) and has been chosen as the Best Work of Art in 2018 by NRC Handelsblad (by Sandra Smallenburg). The book also has been nominated for: the Deutsche Börse Photography Foundation Prize 2019 Best Photography Book Award, the Kraszna-Krausz Book Award and the 2019 Prix Livre d'Artiste, Association Bob Calle.

The American art critic and poet David Levi Strauss and the Dutch writer Taco Hidde Bakker had written a comprehensive essay for the book on the relationships between photography, history, and contemporary politics in light of the people's views of the RFK funeral train as collected for this project. I wrote the preface.
This photobook (limited edition) is a joint publication between two non-profit publishers of photography and art books: Fw:Books (Amsterdam) and the Magnum Foundation (New York City).

More info:
Concept: Rein Jelle Terpstra
Photographs and film stills: By Americans who stood along the railway on June 8, 1968
Graphic design: Jeremy Jansen
Editing: Rein Jelle Terpstra and Jeremy Jansen
Lithography: Marc Gijzen
Production: Jos Moree Fine Books
Translation and text editing: Felix van de Vorst, Hannah Vernier, and Taco Hidde Bakker.
Size: 8 x 10.5 inches (203 mm × 267 mm)
Publication date: June 2018

All image rights belong to the owners of the images and are published with their full consent.
The book also features the names of all the participants who had confidence in this project and helped me by sharing their personal images, films, and stories.

Be welcome to purchase a copy via my PayPal-account. Please use my emailaddress:
Retail price: approx € 47,50/$ 55

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