World Leaders & Global Citizens: Photographs by Patrick Leahy, U.S. Senator

November 1, 2014 - March 7, 2015

Organized by BMAC to mark the 40th anniversary of Patrick Leahy’s first election to the U.S. Senate, this exhibit appeared at Georgetown University Law Center — from which Senator Leahy graduated 50 years ago — from August 23 to October 19, 2014. It opens at BMAC on November 1, 2014, and remains on view through March 7, 2015. In Brattleboro, the exhibit is generously sponsored by People’s United Bank, Berkley & Veller Greenwood Country Realtors, and Marlboro College.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE
Mara Williams, Chief Curator
Brattleboro Museum & Art Center

“And so, hundreds of millions of photographs, fragile images, often carried next to the heart or placed by the side of the bed, are used to refer to that which historical time has no right to destroy.”

— John Berger, Ways of Seeing

Patrick Leahy’s photo of a Tibetan father and son holding a forbidden picture of the Dalai Lama attests to the power of photography to forge in the viewer immediate, emotional connections to the world. The image of the Dalai Lama, revealed for a moment, is recaptured alongside the faces of two generations of believers denied their faith and culture. Leahy’s photograph is more remarkable considering that the man showed his picture to a United States Senator who was on an official tour. It was an act of defiance — an act of faith. It brings the viewer a bit closer to understanding the spirit, tenacity, dignity, vulnerability, and hope of a family half a world away.

The son of a printer, Leahy possesses a deep understanding of “the power of the printed word and the printed image.” He began taking pictures at the age of six or seven, after his parents gave him a Hopalong Cassidy box camera. Born blind in one eye, he came to the early conclusion that “photography is something I can do. You only need one eye. It’s like target shooting.”

A seven-term US Senator with a camera almost always slung over his shoulder, Leahy has a unique vantage point on world events. At more than six feet tall, he also has an opportunity to shoot at dramatic angles over the heads and shoulders of the cast of characters on the political stage. Many of his photographs capture world leaders at significant moments. The difference between his photos and those of a photo journalist is a matter of perspective. No commercial photographer will ever stand behind the President to preserve for all time the act of signing, the document being signed, and the signature.

Leahy’s bird’s-eye view of history has produced many accomplished and interesting images, a few of which have made their way to the Associated Press and other media outlets. But the photographs that astonish me are those like the Tibetan father and son. These photographs document the richness and complexity, as well as the joy or the terror, of lives lived out of the spotlight.

Perhaps the darkest aspect of history that Leahy has focused attention on is the terrible toll that land mines take on civilians around the world. From the moment he and his wife, Marcelle, first encountered victims of this low-tech scourge in the late 1980s, they have been tireless  advocates around the globe in the movement to ban land mines. In 1989 Leahy’s fellow senators renamed an innovative program he launched to help victims of war “The Leahy War Victims Fund,” in recognition of his work to assist those scarred by land mines.

For more than 25 years, Leahy has led the fight for the United States of America to join the Ottawa Treaty, the international treaty banning antipersonnel land mines, that opened for signing in December 1997 and currently is signed by 161 nations. Leahy brings his images of land mine victims to the Senate floor each time he delivers a speech urging the President and Congress to join the treaty.

Although Senator Patrick Leahy’s impassioned arguments and powerful images have yet to convince every naysayer on the land mines issue, they will live in the historical record as a testament to a world leader who is also a global citizen.

“CURA PERSONALIS”
William M. Treanor, Dean
Georgetown University Law Center

It may surprise people to learn that the man who is third in the line of presidential succession — after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House—is also an artist. Whether he’s creating with images, words, or indeed, actions, Patrick Leahy cares about people. As a legislator, he has championed civil liberties and privacy by, for example, successfully fighting to add checks and balances to the Patriot Act, and he has created the “Leahy Law,” prohibiting US aid to foreign forces that violate human rights. A skilled orator, he has delivered impassioned speeches urging presidents to change US policy on land mines. Since 1989 a Leahy War Victims Fund has helped persons severely disabled by conflict. And since 1974, when he was the youngest senator ever elected from Vermont, Leahy has worked tirelessly to improve life for those in his beloved home state, from dairy farmers to schoolchildren. I often say that no one better exemplifies the Jesuit tradition of service to others than Senator Patrick Leahy. Whether as an undergraduate at Saint Michael’s College in beautiful Colchester, Vermont, or as a law student at Georgetown Law in busy Washington, DC, Leahy clearly learned the value of cura personalis, or care of the whole person.

What Leahy’s crafting, of course, is a better world. As a state’s attorney in the Green Mountain State and as chairman of the US Senate Committee on the Judiciary, he has fought to protect the rule of law. He is one of the great citizens of our nation. And along the way, he’s created a photographic record of significant historical events of our time, a record that transcends Kodak film reels and digital technologies. Whether he’s looking over President Obama’s shoulder as the president signs the 2014 Farm Bill, snapping images of the Dalai Lama at Middlebury College, or leaning out from the rubble to watch children fly kites in the skies of Turkey, the perspective is Leahy’s own. With these photos, law students in Washington, DC, and citizens in Vermont will benefit from his unique perspective, witnessing historical events not only through the lens of a camera but filtered through his thoughtful, perceptive, and compassionate mind.

This fall, as we honor Senator Leahy — on the fiftieth anniversary of his law school graduation and the fortieth anniversary of his Senate service — with our Robert F. Drinan, SJ, Alumni Public Service Award, it is fitting that some of his work to enhance human dignity will be seen as well as cited. Politico once reported that Leahy’s office is not filled with images of celebrities but with his own photos, so that he will remember the human face of national and world affairs. These photos will help us to reflect, as well.