This is an example of a Hubspot blog I wrote to generate interest in one of our 2019 conference speakers. I like to think it might have had something to do with the fact that that was the most highly attended presentation.
Have you ever wondered about the electric charge that must crackle around the life of the U.S. Presidency? Every person who works in that space (the White House) might be the author or subject of a book. But no eloquently written history or analytical exploration can grab your heart as will a still image. You’d think that the power of still photography would be going away with camera phones in every hand. But the more you have of something doesn’t mean the better you have. Quality rises.
As you know, Peter Souza has accepted our invitation to speak at the 2019 Annual NCSS Conference in Austin. This article might serve as an introduction to what he does.
“This job is about access and trust, and if you have both of those, hopefully, you’re going to make interesting and historic pictures.”
—Pete Souza, Photographer of presidents
This is a portion of a Q&A that followed a panel discussion between three former White House photographers. One of the photographers, Lawrence Jackson, worked under Pete Souza (during the Obama administration).
The bolded text are the questions from the audience. You can see the full video at: https://www.c-span.org/video/?446050-2/photographing-presidents Thank you to the Annenberg Space for Photography for providing this video.
Do the photos (taken while at the White House) belong to you?
Sharon Farmer, Former Director White House Photography Office, Clinton Administration answered this way: “The photos belong to the American people. This is on the taxpayer's dollar. This is your history. This is our history.”
Did you have much of a life while working for the White House?
Sharon Farmer said: “We had no life…none of us. I couldn’t keep a diner date for anything. And if people invited me to do something, I could say ‘maybe?’ and not show up ever. Some of the staff at the White House could never go home again…because they didn’t stay in touch with their friends. They made a new life for themselves in D.C... Well, I’m lucky, my life is in D.C.; my work is in D.C.; my family is in D.C. I have the best of all worlds. And the best part was making new friends at the White house. The next best part was traveling around the country and calling up my college buddies and going: ‘We’re coming to town. Be in the rope line!’”
Eric Draper, Former Chief White House Photographer, George W. Bush Administration
said: “My life was the President’s schedule basically. What you learn is: his patterns become your patterns. You eat when he eats. You sleep when he sleeps. You know? It’s really tough. It’s a grind. It’s more like dog years, to be honest, because a lot happens within one day.”
Lawrence Jackson Former White House Photographer, Obama Administration
Lawrence remembered: “I had a life. Pete [Souza] did a lot of the heavy lifting with POTUS. And on weekends I would work sometimes, but we had a system where every third week, you knew you wouldn’t be working nights or weekends. So I knew I would have time to spend with my family. My kids recognized me.”
Are any of you in touch with the current White house photography staff (The Trump Administration)? Can you say what’s going there now?
Moderator, Jamelle Bouie, Slate Magazine interjected: “We talked a little about this before the event. I asked you about this Lawrence…how the style of photography is so different. It’s obviously what the President wants. I’d really be curious to hear what you all think. Your photography feels traditionally journalistic, and the photos coming from the White house—they’re not as candid, they don’t seem… ”
Lawrence interrupted, “They’re posed.”
Moderator, Bouie agreed: “They are posed. They seem to usually show the President with a figure of authority and they seem to not be, you know, communicating the same—the Presidency at work—at life, as your work does.”
Sharon Farmer said, “This is why a picture is still worth a thousand words. It’s going to take time. Everybody isn’t the same kind of subject when they become President of the United States. It takes time. As people become more comfortable about who they are working with… I mean, I was scared to death of the Clintons for more than a year. I wouldn’t say anything. And then one day Ms. Clinton says, ‘[gasp] She speaks!’”
Lawrence Jackson added: “You must also understand that the pictures they’re showing or releasing—you’re not seeing all the pictures they’re taking. So, as a communications office, this is the message they are pushing for…visually.”
Eric Draper continued, “And that was the point I was going to make. We don’t know what’s happening inside. [There] may have some amazing images that are just sitting in the archive waiting to be shown at some point. We may see those when everything is over. We may see them during the administration. We just don’t know.”
Those were some insightful questions. When you attend the NCSS Annual Conference and Pete Souza, the photographer for three presidents ends his presentation, he will walk to the end of the stage, shade his eyes and opened the floor for questions, what will you ask?
To prepare, You could visit Pete’s Flickr feed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/obamawhitehouse/ find your favorite photo or event, and ask Pete about it in-person. He was there. He witnessed history great and small.
This site was last updated 7/10/2019