Inside the Career of Celebrated Photojournalist Ted Polumbaum

Juxtapositions: Images from the Newseum Ted Polumbaum Photo Collection

Using the motif of paired pictures, this volume of selections from the vast Ted Polumbaum collection in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. draws attention to human connections across time, culture, and geography that all generations can appreciate.
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On Sept. 10, the Newseum hosted an Inside Media event with Judy Polumbaum, daughter of photojournalist Ted Polumbaum, to discuss her new book “Juxtapositions: Images from the Newseum Ted Polumbaum Photo Collection.”

Polumbaum’s 200,000-image collection is the largest individual photo collection held by the Newseum. Many of his images accompanied the biggest headlines of the latter half of the 20th century, freezing some of the most powerful people of the time between the frames — John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali. But his real passion, said Ms. Polumbaum, “was capturing the dynamism and resilience of ordinary people.” Her book “Juxtapositions” reveals many of those lower-profile photographs, stunning in their intimacy and emotional depth.

Asked why, in a time when anyone with a smartphone can be a photographer, she decided to publish a book of photography, Ms. Polumbaum said, “The world is so awash in images — especially moving imagery — that we’re no longer used to stopping and focusing on the still image. One reason I love coming to the Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery is because with Pulitzer photos, you stop and look, and absorb, and you see things that you don’t see when things are in motion. I wanted to recover some of that stillness.”

Ms. Polumbaum also talked about her father’s unlikely start as a photographer. In 1953, Polumbaum was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify before members of Congress on communist subversion in education. His refusal to cooperate with the committee led to him being fired from his job as a reporter for United Press International. “He did not name names,” said Ms. Polumbaum. “Instead he went and…excoriated the inquisitorial committee for trampling on the Bill of Rights and violating due process.” After being fired from UPI, Polumbaum took up photography and began developing a professional portfolio. Eventually he broke into national publications like LIFE and TIME, and his career as a photojournalist took off.

The complete audio version of this Inside Media event is available below. Listen as Ms. Polumbaum recounts the back stories of Polumbaum’s most captivating images, including one of Jackie Kennedy watching at home as her husband won the 1960 Democratic party nomination (“He said Jackie Kennedy smoked and swore like a sailor”) and shots from Freedom Summer (“Spending 1964 in Mississippi photographing civil rights workers was the scariest assignment of his life”).

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