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New photo exhibit at Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site

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These photos by Stanley Tretick are in the "Bobby, Martin and John" exhibit. AJC photos by Jamie Gumbrecht

A new exhibition at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site follows the lives of King, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy with their families, at protests , at campaign stops — all in photos.

Each of the 150-some images in “Bobby, Martin and John: Once Upon an American Dream,” was shot by photographer Stanley Tretick. He’s the man behind the iconic photos of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s son peeking out from beneath his father’s desk in the Oval Office, which is included in the exhibition. There are contact sheets featuring King, and images from the hotel suite where Robert F. Kennedy waited for election returns the night he was assassinated.

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"Bobby Martin and John" at the King Historic Site.

The exhibition is both art and history, revealing telling moments in the lives of three leaders of the 1960s and the changes, too, in photojournalism and how politicians are covered. Some of Tretick’s portraits are truly intimate; some, like John Kennedy and his son, exist because the president knew what the images could do for him, and was wise enough to wait till his wife was out of town; some are in color, most are black and white.

They’re fantastic and free to see, along with the rest of the exhibits at the Historic Site. I only wish there were more, and more background about Tretick and what he went through to make these pictures. You could easily spend an hour taking in each of the photographs, the case of objects from that period and the ideas of how they connect to each other. But with more space, and more research, these images could be a book you’d spend days reading or a college class you’d spend months studying.

As it is, it’s an hour well-spent to see and consider the lives of men who lived with great meaning.

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Photos from the King section of the exhibition.

Want to go? “Bobby, Martin and John: Once Upon an American Dream” continues through Feb. 28, 2010.  9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Ave., Atlanta. 404-331-5190, www.nps.gov/malu.

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