The President, In Pictures


Photo by Pete Souza

So there’s a few people in England who have their knickers in a twist because Prime Minister David Cameron put a “vanity photographer” on the payroll. They say in these austere times it doesn’t make sense to pay someone to “take flattering pictures of him and other ministers.” While instituting this  job in the US’s current economic climate would no doubt be met with similarly strong objections, we’ve had an official White House photographer going back to 1960, when President Kennedy appointed Cecil W. Stoughton.

I think our country looks upon the job not as a “vanity” perk and more like an incredible opportunity to document history. Sure, there are plenty of feel-good photo ops, but then this photographer also has unrivaled access to some of the most important events in history. Who can forget the photo of a shell-shocked Jacqueline Kennedy looking on as Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office  in Air Force One after President Kennedy was killed? (By Cecil W. Stoughton of course.)

And, for better or worse, photos of the president can have a huge impact. Former President George Bush said last week he regretted allowing that infamous picture to be taken of him staring out of Air Force onto a devastated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He called it a “huge mistake” because it reinforced the perception that he was  totally removed from the disaster. (The photo wasn’t taken by his official photographer but by Susan Walsh, Christopher Morris or Mannie Garcia, depending on who you talk to.)

National Geographic takes on the fascinating  topic in this month’s “The President’s Photographer,” which features the recollections of all nine who’ve held the job (only five of which are still living). Along with the show premiering November 24 on PBS, there is a companion book of both well- and little-known images of recent US presidencies.

CBS’s “Sunday Morning” also did this piece on Souza and the role that’s worth a view, if you can stomach the horrible reporter. (Other than that, it’s good.)

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