It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Growing up, one of my favorite books was The Best of LIFE, a collection of LIFE Magazine’s best photographs over the decades. Originally published in 1976, my parents gave it to me as a gift when I was in high school in the late 80s. It covered the seminal moments in our history roughly from the 40s through the 70s, from politics and wars, everyday life and famous personalities, fashion and athletes, to science and deeply human moments. I was entranced.

I’ve spent so many hours poring over the photographs in this book and thinking about the lives that these people lived. You’ve likely seen many of them — awarding winning photos such as the Hindenburg exploding, grainy pictures taken from the beach in Normandy on D-Day, the first footprint man made on the moon, the moment Martin Luther King Jr lay dying on the balcony as his colleagues point frantically in the direction that the lethal shot came from, JFK playing with his children, etc.

I have often wished that LIFE, or someone else, would put together a similar book to cover the important photographs of the past 50 years.

And just last week, I saw two photographs that I knew would automatically qualify for the new volume. They have the makings of images that will last.

The first is this photo of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy taking in the horrors that Russians soldiers had forced on the citizens of Bucha.

None of us need to know the details of what happened there because they are all etched in his face. We can see exactly how bad it is by looking at him. Less than 6 weeks ago, President Zelenskyy was presiding over a country at peace, but no longer. Today this photograph is all about Ukraine — decades from now this will be a portrait of a leader plunged into war and the effects that the aftermath of witnessing brutality can take.

On the polar opposite of Zelenskyy’s photo is this one of now Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson watching the Senate proceedings the very moment as she is confirmed as the 116th Justice and the first Black woman on the Supreme Court.

As with Zelenskyy’s portrait, this one of Justice Jackson captures both the deeply personal moment she is experiencing — the zenith of a remarkable career — but also I find that it captures the joyous feelings of a nation (or at least part of the nation) hungry to see progress and equality in our highest institutions.

Last week really did feel like the best of times, and the worst of times to me. How did it feel for you?


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4 replies

  1. Very well put. I hadn’t seen that photo of Zelensky; your description is apt. And surely Judge Jackson’s confirmation vote offered precisely the confirmation we need that progress is being made; she’s such a remarkable woman. I’ve written that it is we who are being honored by her willingness to accept a seat on THIS SC at THIS time in our nation’s history. That’s a beautiful photo.

  2. I miss Life magazine. I was 14 when they stopped publishing. It was a great loss for me. That magazine plus National Geographic and a very old set of encyclopedias was my gateway to knowledge and the world. With the chaos we now have with so much technology, I’m not sure a magazine like that would even be noticed, but I agree with you that the two photos you chose are of the quality of images that endure forever telling a story by themselves almost without explanation. Thank you for the work you do.

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