Nation & World

Perspective at the Forum

7 min read

One forum, one stage, and one podium — it’s potentially deadly territory for photographers to document night after night. Yet over the years, four Harvard University Photographers — Jon Chase, Rose Lincoln, Stephanie Mitchell, and Kris Snibbe — have made the most of the multitiered space of the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School.

Presidents, prime ministers, Nobel laureates, heads of state, and leaders in business, labor, finance, and media have paraded across the Forum’s stage. And photographers have sought out the most creative ways to capture the most interesting perspectives in a space with a multitude of viewpoints.

Conservative and liberal leaders, environmentalists, economists, military officials, journalists, and political satirists take to the stage to voice their opinions and share expertise in the public gathering space. In the last 10 years, the Forum has hosted guests as varied as Aung San Suu Kyi, Condoleezza Rice, Gordon Brown, Michael Steele, Terry McAuliffe, Tom Brokaw, and Stephen Colbert.

The Institute of Politics manages all the programming of the Forum, regularly working with co-sponsors from across the University. Since its founding in 1978, the Forum has hosted more than 2,000 events. The majority of the events are open to the general public. As a rule, each speaker must take unfettered questions from the audience. This cornerstone of the Forum often produces the liveliest part of any talk.

The Forum encourages debate, from airing different viewpoints on the story (see Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein argue the facts) to tackling the most challenging issues of our times (watch Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz discuss the future of Israel and Palestine).

Photographers visually experiment with the elements at hand. Monitors, still and video cameras, laptops, and lights are playfully observed; reflections and shadows are artfully perceived. And from a perspective atop the balcony seating, a massive crowd celebrates the second-term victory of President Barack Obama in a sea of red, white, and blue.

To discover the wealth of events, visit the Forum at

– Stephanie Mitchell

Nobel Peace Prize winner and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi delivers the annual Godkin Lecture in the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
Michael Steele, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, exits the stage following his public address at the Forum in 2010. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
A 2011 conversation at the Forum called “Tea Party: What’s Brewing for the Budget Battle & the Ballot Box?” featured Jenny Beth Martin, Tea Party Patriots co-founder; Andrew Hemingway, chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Liberty Caucus; Kate Zernike, national correspondent for The New York Times; Shannon Travis of CNN; and moderator Trey Grayson, director of the Institute of Politics. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
In 2009, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu delivered a talk titled “Laying the Foundation for the Next Generation of Clean Energy Jobs.” Chu was introduced by Harvard Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood and Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
Audience members line up along the balcony to hear Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, Liz Walker, Rev. Jim Wallis, and moderator Richard Parker in a 2010 talk titled “From Wall Street to Main Street: The Search for a New Moral Compass for the New Economy.” Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
(image on left) Said T. Jawad, then-ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, gave a 2009 public address at the Forum called “The New Strategy for Afghanistan.” Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer <br />(image on right) Marc Cosentino listens to Lawrence H. Summers, then-president of Harvard, deliver the Godkin Lecture on “Globalization and American Interests” in 2003. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Carl Bernstein (left), contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, conversed in “Anonymous Sources: Lessons Learned,” held at the Forum in 2005. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
The lights and panels of the Forum light up during a talk titled “Oil Shockwave: An Oil Crisis Simulation” in 2008. In the talk, a group of former White House advisers and senior government officials dealt with the fall-out of a mock oil crisis, and devised the U.S. response to the devastating crisis affecting global oil supplies. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
“The Interplay of Policy and Strategy,” a public address by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, took place at the Forum in 2010. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
A sold-out, standing-room-only crowd gathered to hear Stephen Colbert, the host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report.” Chris L. Corcoran ’07, president of the Student Advisory Committee, was the moderator for the 2006 event. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
(image on left) The Malcolm Wiener Lecture in International Political Economy featured Gordon Brown, prime minister of the United Kingdom (2007-10) and Institute of Politics Heffernan Visiting Fellow. Brown (right) took questions from the audience while Harvard Kennedy School’s Mary Jo Bane (left) moderated the 2010 event. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer <br />(image on right) Institute of Politics Visiting Fellow Terry McAuliffe, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and chairman of the Democratic National Committee (2001-05), spoke at the Forum in 2009. Audience members lined up to ask questions. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
“Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Oil Spills, and Meltdowns: Acting In Time Against the Next Disaster” featured a large military presence in the audience. A panel discussion including Juliette Kayyem, Craig McKinley, Robert Papp, Bart Stupak, and James Winnefeld in 2011 focused on the preparedness for national disasters. Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke on “The National Interest, Africa and the African Diaspora: Does U.S. Foreign Policy Connect the Dots?” It was the first lecture in the W.E.B. Du Bois series in 2010 on American foreign policy and the black experience. Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer
The Shorenstein Center sponsored a panel discussion titled “The Press and The Election” with Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Jim Lehrer, Dan Rather, and Judy Woodruff at the Forum in 2004. Brokaw is pictured with C-Span videographer Darren Larade (right) during the event. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
Noam Chomsky (right) of MIT and Alan Dershowitz (left) of Harvard Law School debated the future of Israel and Palestine in “Israel and Palestine After Disengagement: Where Do We Go From Here?” Brian Mandell moderated. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich showcased his book “Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life” before delivering his 2007 Forum address: “Why Has Capitalism Triumphed and Democracy Failed?” Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Audience members listened to former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich during his 2007 visit. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
Conservative commentator and activist Phyllis Schlafly, captured on the monitors that line the room, spoke at the Forum in 2005. The Conservative Women’s Caucus and the Institute of Politics co-sponsored the event. Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer
(image on left) During President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, people gathered at the Forum to watch and photograph the event on the big screen. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer <br />(image on right) Iten Fales, then age 93, of Cambridge was one of many spectators watching the inauguration. Fales, a Holocaust survivor, was overcome by emotion. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer
Students, faculty, and community members gathered at the Forum to watch coverage of the 2012 election. Balloons fell on the crowd when the presidential winner was announced. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer