All too often do we see photographs of our recent and past leaders of the free world, but very rarely do we actually see the people who take those photographs. Enter the president’s photographer. After President Linden B. Johnson hired the first White House photographer during his presidency in the 1950s, it has become a very common occurrence amongst all the United States presidents from then on. This film was created by National Geographic and it covers previous President Obama’s personal photographer.
Pete Susan and President Obama first became acquainted with each other when Pete worked at the Chicago Tribune and the future president was in the senate. After building a relationship with then Senator Obama, he then had the great opportunity of helping document the next president’s legacy through still photographs.
During the film, you see easily over 100 photographs that are included as just a sample of what types of shots Pete and the president’s photographers can capture. At the end of any given week, their staff ends up with thousands of photographs they must edit through. At the end of any given year, they have potentially collected hundreds of thousands of pictures that will be added to their presidential library. Once they make it there, they never leave – forever sealed in history.
During the film, President Obama makes mention of how much easier it is when his photographer kind of “fits into the background” and they become much like a fly on the wall, thus not distracting from their presidential work. President Obama was not the only one to make these remarks. The film also interviewed photographers and past presidents to learn more about their presidential photographer. President Bush had a very interesting story to tell, especially in relation to personal photography.
He spoke more about 9/11 and how on that day everything was happening so quickly. His personal photographer said he would look right through him as he obviously had much larger things in mind. This was a defining moment for the Bush administration, and President Obama was still waiting for his. Throughout the film, they make mention of how his push for healthcare reform would be the defining moment of his presidency and that they are collecting thousands of photographs in anticipation.
But not every president has felt this way about photographers. President Nixon, just before his resignation speech, was recorded sounding annoyed with actually having to pose for such photographs. Maybe this also shaped the confidentiality and trust that these presidents have with their photographers. They refuse to share any information with reporters and they must for a multitude of reasons. One of the largest, I would say, would be the type of information exchanged within the meeting rooms. Only a handful of people are even allowed in and when it is just two people in the room, the photographer must know when it is ok to listen and when to completely ignore everything except the quality of the shot.
After looking at a few of the photos shown, I would definitely say that the actual context of the picture is what sets the tone and overall reaction. For example, one photo of President Bush that stands out to me was him talking on the phone aboard Air Force One with a few members from his team conversing and watching the news. Without the proper context, you may think that this was a completely normal photograph of a president of the United States. Once you know that it is 9/11 and they are making strategic plans, it totally changes the mood and overall acceptance of the photograph.
Another thing that I found very interesting was that the First Lady gets her own photographer as well. Though the meetings may not seem as intense as these lives altering catastrophic events like 9/11, they are still involved with the community and put a lot of smiles on people’s faces. These photos are kept and shared. To me, this almost humanizes the president and their family a little more than without these photo-ops.
I believe that the photos that really spoke volume for me, were the white house staff photoshoots. The reason being is it captures a time in history when these people from all walks of life came together to serve at our nation’s capital under our leader. Their faces are forever grained in history and it also provides a way for the president to say thank you. One thing that they continually said is that the president does not necessarily get to spend a lot of time with their staff, but an image like those can impact their unity to serve.