by J.T. Buzanga (Former Graduate Student Intern, Northeastern University)
Sven Walnum was born in Oslo, Norway and immigrated to the United States in September 1947. Walnum’s life in Norway was difficult; having survived debilitating childhood illness, a chaotic family life, and World War II, Walnum went on to study cinematography at the University of Southern California. In 1960 he and fellow filmmaker Wayne Mitchell documented and photographed a short though important segment of Senator John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Walnum’s interest in politics and in the Kennedys did not end with John F. Kennedy. He also photographed JFK’s two brothers, Robert F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, during their political campaigns. Although Walnum may be best known as the camera operator for films such as “The Sugarland Express” and “Deliverance,” his beautiful and distinctive photographs of the Kennedy brothers on the campaign trail deserve special attention.
Walnum followed John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign from September 15 to October 17, 1960. During that time he photographed JFK’s public speeches and the crowds that came to hear them. He successfully captured JFK’s charismatic nature, and perhaps more notably, the energy and mood of his audiences. During the fall of 1960 JFK campaigned in many swing states and Walnum ably depicted the mixed attitudes toward JFK. For example, in Indiana—a state that went to Richard Nixon in the 1960 election—support for Nixon was captured thoughtfully and effectively. In other places, the show of support for JFK was unmistakable.
The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum holds a limited number of audiovisual materials on Robert F. Kennedy, making the Walnum additions quite valuable. As Robert F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidential nomination in Los Angeles, Walnum followed with his camera in tow. His photographs—which include RFK on the campaign trail, Ethel Kennedy and some of their children, and photos from the Ambassador Hotel shortly before RFK’s assassination—add rich and poignant variety to the existing holdings. Through his photos Walnum captured RFK’s fiery personality and the free-spirited, passionate crowds that attended his rallies.
Fourteen years later, Sven Walnum worked on the campaign of yet another Kennedy. This time, he followed Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy on his 1982 senatorial campaign. As with the other Kennedy brothers, Walnum successfully captured Ted Kennedy’s personality. As importantly, Walnum documented the strong relationship between Ted Kennedy and the people of Massachusetts, a bond further reflected in his long tenure in the U.S. Senate (November 7, 1962 – August 25, 2009).
These images represent a small fraction of the photographs available in the Sven Walnum Photograph Collection, which comprises approximately 1400 original negatives. This new collection offers researchers access to historically rich images that have rarely been seen by the public.