Politics, the greatest of American sports, was to remain one of the dominant preoccupations of my work well into the 1960s.
Cornell quickly progressed from the darkroom of Life Magazine’s New York offices, where he began working in 1937, to become a staff photographer for the publication in 1946.
Although he had done a small amount of political coverage for Life during his initial years there, it wasn’t until early 1952, while living in London, that Cornell really became interested in American politics after hearing the then-presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson speaking on the radio. Captivated by his political oratory and energy, Cornell secured an assignment with Life to return to the US to document Stevenson’s campaign. He would continue to photograph Stevenson for the next eight years, documenting two unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
It was only at the beginning of his third in 1960 that Cornell first encountered JFK. Initially resentful of this new presidential candidate and the competition he presented for Stevenson, Cornell went on to write: “I feel the surge of response that Kennedy evoked from young people, the kind of excitement that Adlai rarely elicited from them”.