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Inaugurating a Moment

Smithsonian Preserves Historic Day

President Barack Obama’s inauguration may be over, but that historic day can easily be revisited at the National Museum of American History. In honor of the president’s 100th day in office, the museum this week unveiled a photography exhibit titled “I Do Solemnly Swear: Photographs of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration.—

The exhibit, which runs through July 12, features more than 30 photographs taken by 15 amateur and professional photographers. The images are laid out chronologically and begin with the whistle-stop tour on Jan. 17 and end with Obama’s first day in the Oval Office. Photos of Obama dancing with his wife Michelle at an inaugural ball, walking out of the Capitol to take the presidential oath of office, and admiring a painting of John F. Kennedy that hangs in the White House are all part of the collection.

“It was a terrific opportunity to reflect on recent history and the way photojournalists are working in a contemporary environment and the way we see the world,— curator Shannon Perich said of creating the exhibit. She and her staff went through some 3,000 photos of the inauguration and the surrounding events to find the images that comprise “I Do Solemnly Swear.— Most of the images were taken by photojournalists, the Smithsonian staff and the Official Inaugural Photography Project, which was sponsored by the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

In addition to the framed photos, there is also a video side show of images taken by everyday people who attended the inauguration. These images, which show people crying and cheering with their family and friends were gathered from various Web sites such as, where those in attendance on Jan. 20 posted their snapshots.

“Part of the story here is that we all have access to photography and use photography in different ways,— Perich said. “Many of those amateur photographs are about creating memories.— In contrast, the professionally taken photos tend to show a bigger picture and are often tied to a story, she said.

The exhibition draws from photographs taken for the Official Inaugural Photography Project, many of which are featured in the new book “Barack Obama: The Official Inaugural Book.— Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Kennerly and Clinton White House photographer Robert McNeely headed up the project. Both men were on hand at the exhibit’s opening to discuss the photos they shot at the inaugural festivities.

McNeely said he enjoyed photographing the event because it was different from the usual run-of-the-mill photo assignments.

“It was just more fun because you’re not looking to do the same picture that’s going to be seen in the Washington Post,— he said. “It’s more of an illustration, a photograph that people want to go back to.—

Kennerly said the excitement of the nation that day helped his photographs turn out as well as they did. “The fact is that it was the Obamas and there was such an outpouring of positive energy that day and it really translated into the photographs.—

In the end, the photographer was just as excited as everyone else on the Mall.

“I just love being there where history is made — that’s been the story of my career,— he said. “It’s what keeps me going.—

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