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He Started with a Hopalong Cassidy Box Camera
Sen. Patrick Leahy Photo Exhibit Opened in Montpelier Last Week

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Marcelle Leahy and retired U.S. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy in front of some of the senator’s photos at the opening Thursday, Feb. 1, of his exhibit at the Vermont Supreme Court gallery space. The photo behind them shows USAID worker Alan Gross and his wife, Judy, after Gross’s release from a Cuban prison in 2014. Leahy was able to take the photo aboard Air Force One in Cuba because he was there as one of those who worked to obtain Gross’s release. Photo by John Lazenby.
When he was a boy growing up in Montpelier, long before he had any titles in front of his name, Patrick Leahy became a photographer. At first, he had to borrow his mother’s camera, but later he got his own “Hopalong Cassidy” box camera, which is now a classic and a collectors’ item. So began what became a very serious sideline that followed the boy from the family home and printing business on State Street to the United States Senate and around the world.

The Eye of Sen. Patrick Leahy: Photographs of a Witness to History, which opened last week at the Vermont Supreme Court Gallery, presents about 40 photographs that the former senator, who retired last year, took during his 48 years in the U.S. Senate.

Camera in hand, from Cuba to Russia, from Afghanistan to Iraq and Jordan, and from China to Tibet, as well as in Washington, Leahy captured cultural tidbits and small and large moments in history. His subjects include Supreme Court justices, presidents, and other world leaders, as well as refugees, victims of landmine explosions, and people in their everyday lives.

David Schutz, the Vermont state curator, said Leahy’s photograph of Ronald Reagan taking the oath of office in 1985, during his second inauguration, was used worldwide; winter weather had forced the inauguration to be moved indoors to the Capitol Rotunda, and Leahy had a better seat than the press photographers did.

A man views Sen. Patrick Leahy’s photos. Photo by John Lazenby.
A simple photo of a jacket on the back of a chair on Air Force One, with the presidential seal and Bill Clinton’s name, highlights that Leahy regularly had access to people, places, and events that most people don’t, sometimes not even the media.

“I try to bring a camera everywhere,” Leahy told the large crowd that attended the exhibit opening on Feb. 1. Every photograph in itself tells a story, but there is also a deeper backstory.

Pointing toward a photograph of a man in a refugee camp in El Salvador, Leahy said he had the photo on a wall in his Washington, D.C., office. “I call him my conscience photo,” a placard below the photo explains, “as he looks at me every day as though to say: ‘What have you done for poor and powerless people today?’”

“That’s what I try to do with my photographs,” he said, “tell a story.”

After both Leahy and Gov. Phil Scott spoke, Schutz announced that he is working with Vermont Folklife to capture the backstories in Leahy’s own words and voice. He said Leahy has volunteered to tell the stories that go with the photographs, so they can be recorded for posterity. Schutz said visitors will be able to use their cell phone to access the backstory for each photograph, and he expects that will be available before the end of this exhibit.

The gallery is on the first floor of the Vermont Supreme Court Building, 111 State Street in Montpelier, open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed for lunch hour. Admission is free. The exhibit will be up through March 29.

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