Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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David Douglas Duncan


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Follow link for an enlarged imageSelf-Portrait: U.S.A. (1969) / view images from this book

From the book jacket text:
Few events in the United States have commanded more attention, aroused deeper passions, caused wider splits between friends, police and civilians, youth and adults, and even members of the same family, or created havoc on a grander scale among the careers of veteran politicians — Republican and Democrat alike — than did the national conventions for the presidency in Miami Beach and Chicago. Every American has been affected by the results of the two conventions: Miami Beach with its oldtime charades of flag-and-button-encrusted delegates, its rallies, "spontaneous" demonstrations, and high-pressure, arm-twisting backstage powerplays; Chicago with its White House-ordained candidate, its crusading challengers, and anti-war demonstrators, its hippies, soft black voices rarely raised in anger, and shouting white voices — profane, outraged, embattled: riot edging toward revolution.

David Douglas Duncan, the former Life photographer, originally covered the two conventions in his acclaimed television specials for NBC News. He has now assembled his extraordinary work in this book: Self-Portrait: U.S.A. It moves chronologically (and intimately) from Rockefeller’s jubilant arrival in Miami through Nixon's acceptance of the Republican nomination; from the first view of Mayor Daley's Chicago with its welcome signs and police dogs through the turbulence both inside and outside the convention hall which rocked the city and the nation. Although vastly different, the two conventions marked a watershed of American politics, stimulating a great new flow of history. Duncan has now revealed the face of our country — young and old — reacting to some of the major clashes of the world of today.

Duncan describes his book as one that "shows us as we are — closeup: shot during the gathering of our national political clans . . . our best, worst, most mediocre. Nixon, Rockefeller, McCarthy, Humphrey, hippies, paraders, protesters, professors, Negroes, delegates, dreamers, cops and their killer dogs, wounded Viet-Nam veterans, wounded McCarthyites, wounded spirits along the sidelines — pictures of almost all of us Americans of one breed or another . . . and forget the politics . . . I shot my pictures as I found them, rooting for no one, favoring nobody, thrilled with much of what I found, reflective because of new responses discovered within myself and grateful to this new experience that released them. I was angry, surely, at some of the situations that exploded into bloodshed, but having been conditioned by a lifetime of reporting violence in its most extreme form on the battlefields of the last quarter century, I believe that I viewed the conflict in Chicago with fairness and in perspective — just as I did the almost country-carnival atmosphere in Miami Beach. Within both conventions one could detect much of the strength and weakness of the political system under which we live today. And during the conventions one could form a rather comprehensive picture of us all, which I have now tried to recreate in book form . . . Self-Portrait: U.S.A."