​Photographer recalls moments that encapsulated Nixon resignation

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President Nixon waves to a crowd outside the White House in this iconic photo
David Hume Kennerly
Friday marks 40 years since an American turning point: President Richard Nixon told the world he would resign the next day, stepping down after his role in the Watergate cover-up was exposed, CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports.

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President Nixon looks out onto the White House crowd in this less-publicized photo
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images
Pulitzer prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly covered Nixon's departure for Time Magazine. He says people associate Nixon's resignation with the iconic photo he took of the former president boarding his plane on the south lawn.

Kennerly thinks a less-publicized image (below) captures how Nixon really felt. In the photo, Nixon is standing on the steps up to the plane, looking back at the White House pensively, with his arms at his sides.

"That's the shot, but it took me 30 years to figure that out," Kennerly said. "The first frame as he got up on the step and looked back at the White House, and he knows that's the last time he's gonna see it as President of the United States. It was a very bitter moment and that picture nailed it. A few minutes later Gerald R Ford becomes President of the United States."

Kennerly became Ford's official White House photographer.

"I think the most telling image really is him [Ford] in the Oval Office, his foot up on the desk, but in the background are all the empty shelves," Kennerly said. "All the Nixon stuff had been taken out but none of the Ford things had been put in there."

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President Ford gets down to business in the Oval Office, recently emptied of President Nixon's personal effects
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

Kennerly went on to capture candid moments of Ford's first week as president, including the first lady in curlers at the breakfast table, and seeing her husband off to work before they moved into the White House.

"Mrs. Ford might as well be saying 'honey have a great day and pick up the dry cleaning on the way back!'"

Even 40 years later, Kennerly is proud to have been able to Nixon's final salute; what lingers is the image of a forced smile and a former president who had lost everything.

"Maybe in that moment he felt it was a campaign stop," Kennerly said. "But it was the last moment in his presidency."

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