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

slipcase, cover and pull out section of 10 photographs of Paul Fusco

Information about the book:

On June 8, 1968, the casket carrying the body of Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated three days earlier, was transported on a funeral train from New York City to Washington, D.C. along the Pennsylvania Railroad. 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. 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 book 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.

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. For this book and the accompanying film installation, I collected the few hundred photographs and the dozen home movies that I was able to retrieve, and assembled them along a near-exact timeline, an echo of the people who lined the railroad tracks looking at these same scenes.

This book is not only a typology of photographic records of an historic train journey; in these photographs I also sense the human need to preserve and to share. Photography is a generous medium in that regard. Often the viewer can detect something that perhaps went unnoticed at the instant when the picture was taken, but is indeed present in the image: the attempt to hold onto a moment in time as it passes by and out of the viewfinder.

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to the many Americans I met, for their invaluable help and hospitality, as well as their readiness to believe in this project. Without them, this book would not have been possible.

This book also contains a section with 10 so far unpublished photos taken by Paul Fusco from aboard the funeral train.
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.

The 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).
The book will be published in June 2018. If you are interested in purchasing this book, just send me an email: mail@reinjelleterpstra.nl

Photographs and film stills: By Americans who stood along the railway on June 8, 1968

Editing: Rein Jelle Terpstra

Graphic design: 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)

Retail price: approx € 47,50/$ 55

Publication date: June 2018

All image rights belong to the owners of the images and are published with their full consent.

The book will also feature the names of all the participants who had confidence in this project and helped me by sharing their personal images, films, and stories.

Information about the film and wall installation: in progress

About myself:

I was born on July 4, 1960 (Independence Day), so I was nearly eight years old when RFK was assassinated. My father was very fond of the United States and all things American, in addition to being a true Kennedy admirer. He told us many stories about the Kennedys, which have left an imprint on me ever since. Later, as an artist, especially after a residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten (Amsterdam), I began working with photography in relation to the theme of memory. My photo projects - slideshow installations and books - investigate the relationships between perception, memory, and the absence of images. My work is held in various collections, including the collection of artists' books at the MoMA Library (New York), The Royal Museum of Arts (Brussels), Yale University Library (New Haven), and the Getty Research Institute (Los Angeles). Furthermore, I was nominated for the Dutch Doc Award in 2014, and I teach fine arts and photography at Minerva Art Academy, Groningen (NL).
During the spring of 2017, I undertook a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington, D.C. to work on the project RFK Funeral Train - The People's View (2014-2018).

Project Facebook page: www.facebook.com/RFKfuneraltrain/

This project was on show now 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 will be exhibited inthe Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam (2019).

book pre sale: mail@reinjelleterpstra.nl

Bank account:
Bic code: ASNBNL21
ASN BANK account: NL42 ASNB 0707447402
Name: R.J.Terpstra

address of the bank:
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The Netherlands