All the Presidents’ Men combines photographs made in presidential museums and historic sites across the United States with images from my father and grandfather’s homes. In 1959, after a spontaneous all-night road trip, my 18-year-old father met former president Harry Truman out for a morning walk on the streets of Independence, Missouri. He doesn’t remember what they talked about, only the thrill of meeting a “powerful”, yet “unassuming” man. Nearly 50 years later, I visited Truman’s presidential museum and noticed there was little evidence of the restlessness and uncertainty that have shaped my father’s generation and characterized Truman’s legacy.
I am intrigued by photography’s increasing role within history museums, where historical narratives intersect with the complexities of photographs, replicas and ephemera, and are interpreted through the viewer’s imagination and personal experiences. In particular, I see presidential museums as archives of a particular version of American masculinity, informed by American dreams, fictional narratives and political rhetoric. Presidential power is reified and celebrated within the history museum while aspects of presidential identities that are more revealing of their complexity, individual struggles or humanity are rarely or only subtly articulated. Full of blind spots, these fictional heroic narratives are absorbed into our political and personal lives despite the tenuous grasp they hold on the complexities of history and the multifaceted lives of men.
Rebecca Sittler is a photographer, writer and Professor of Art at CSU Long Beach. She has exhibited her work in over 75 exhibitions in the last 10 years at venues such as: Sam Lee Gallery, PCNW, Torrance Museum of Art, the Griffin Museum, Atlantic Center for the Arts, RayKo Gallery, and the PRC, Boston. She received her MFA from Massachusetts College of Art in 2003. Her recent series, All the Presidents’ Men received a 2015 Collection Award for Innovation in the Documentary Arts from the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
Rebecca Sittler is also a co-founder of the institute for Inverted histories (iIh), established to bring lesser known, mysterious, and sometimes contradictory historical narratives surrounding gender, political and cultural identities to a larger public via publications, public discussions, and museum displays. You can see more of her work here.