A Photographer's View of History

Written by: Rick McCleary, DAR Wall Calendar Photographer
November 4, 2016

One morning recently I stopped by the Development Office and was discussing with Tom Adams the beautiful wall calendar that was ready for distribution, which I hope you have received.  Tom began to wonder about the photographer's point of view.  Rick McCleary, American Documentary Photography, has created our calendars for the past four years (2013-2017). Tom contacted Rick and asked him to jot down some ideas about what it is like to photograph our collections and buildings for the calendar.  Rick’s observations and thoughts are below.

The 2017 Wall Calendar, Our Enduring Legacy, is stunning in its portrayal of Constitution Hall.  The stage restoration, along with the adjacent pillars and the original hand-painted canvas mural located above the stage, along with the installation of life safety equipment above the ceiling will be addressed in Phase II of the Constitution Hall restoration.  Your generous support of the President General’s Project will fund this vital preservation of our history.  If you did not receive a copy of Our Enduring Legacy and would like a copy please visit www.dar.org/2017calendar or call the Office of Development at (800) 449‒1776 during office hours (M-F, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) to make your donation over the phone and they will send you one.  It is a great gift for family and friends, as well as prospective and new members. 

I hope you enjoy this post from Rick McCleary.

- President General Ann Dillon

  • A 13 star flag carried by our troops in 1776.
  • Uniforms from the Continental Army.
  • Letters written by Washington's soldiers to their mothers.
  • Silver pieces made by Paul Revere - yes, THAT Paul Revere.
  • The stage where Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra once stood.
  • The seat where past President's General have sat.
  • The desk where history was made as the world's first treaty to limit arms was singed after the end of the "War to End All Wars."
  • The life mask of George Washington. Try to comprehend that: this object was created directly from a cast of Washington's face while he was living. Just thinking about it makes you sit down for a moment to gather your bearings.

All of these things together form one of the most definitive collections of original source history of the birth and growth of our nation.

Over the past four years (2013-2017), I've had the privilege of making photographs of this collection for the DAR calendars. Working with Sandy Pollack, Director of the Office of Development, I've gained unique access to DAR's vast collection of artifacts and documents, all housed in the most grand artifacts of all: the three buildings that comprise the DAR Headquarters. Sandy's stated mission for the calendars is to bring to life the objects and spaces that embody the history of our country of which the Daughters are stewards.

My approach in photographing these priceless artifacts and spaces is to first take note of my own sense of wonder that there are, right in front of me, direct physical and tangible connections to the people who wrote these letters, stitched these flags and built these spaces. That's first and foremost, how to best capture in a photograph the spirit of what these things are and what they represent. I come with fresh eyes; most of these objects I've never seen before, many of the spaces I've never been in before. It's with reverence, respect, and a bit of small-child amazement that I let the reality of what I'm seeing sink in before I start photographing.

In our contemporary world of instant communication, Google, and the entire world of knowledge on our smartphones, we can gather the facts of history, but it's all too easy to become disconnected from the spirit and breadth of that history. There's something about standing before an object that was handled by a Patriot, or being in the same space where Presidents stood that inspires reverence and respect for our nation's story that can be gained in no other way. It is with that awareness that I pick up the camera in an attempt to capture that breadth and that spirit.

History is amazing, but it's the connection to real flesh and blood stories that makes it so vital. Preservation of our history, one of DAR's core values, is critical to our future. It provides the solid ground on which our democracy stands. Gathering and preserving objects as old as 250 years is a big effort, but it's one of the most important efforts an organization can engage in. If I have, in some small way, been part of that effort, I feel fortunate.

Keep up the good work, Daughters. It's the most important work you can do.


You can find more of Rick’s perspective in words and photos at blog.rickmccleary.com and  www.rickmccleary.com.

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