Since John F. Kennedy’s term as president in the early 1960s, the role of the dedicated presidential photographer has been a mainstay in the White House. While the role might seem relatively minor, especially compared to other White House staff, the presidential photographer is not only tasked with producing promotional content on behalf of the party in power, but also, more importantly, capturing important historical moments. As a result, presidential photographers are often in the room, ready to shoot, when significant historical moments occur. As such, they are very much apart of the White House inner circle. Here are 5 pictures that demonstrate the importance of White House photography:
Cecil Stoughton’s photograph of Lyndon Johnson’s swearing in after the assasination of John F. Kennedy is a potent example of how photography can help shape the national consciousness. The iconic photo shows LBJ taking the oath of office mere hours after Kennedy’s death. By his side is the shocked Jackie Kennedy — still in the same clothes that were soaked in her husband’s blood. Stoughton’s photo not only captured the implications of the tragedy, but it also was an important political moment. Stoughton’s son said of the picture: “If his camera had failed, who knows what would have happened. It was the only proof that Johnson had been sworn in.”
Yoichi Okamoto’s photograph of LBJ in deep discussion with Martin Luther King helped define one of the most tense moments in American history. The two leaders are shown here discussing the implementation of a Civil Rights to help protect black Americans. David Hume Kennerly, Chief White House Photographer for Gerald Ford, said in an interview, “I’d always known “Oke” was a good photographer, but when I went through the contact sheets at the L.B.J. library, what I saw was greatness. I saw a photographer who not only took really good individual photos, but he thought and he photographed as a storyteller.”
Michael Evan’s photograph of the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan shows the sense of calm under pressure required by all White House photographers. It is a testament to Evan’s sense of duty to capture photographs for the historical record that, even with bullets flying, he was able to capture this incredible picture.
While the job of the White House photographer is certainly, in part, to capture tense and even dangerous situations, it is also their job to capture the humanity of the President. David Valdez’s photo of George Bush Sr. with his family is a perfect example of this. While the Presidency might be an exceedingly difficult, important, and stressful job, Valdez’s photo reminded the American public that, at the end of the day, Presidents are still just people like the rest of us.
As the photographer for Barack Obama, Peter Souza was aware of the importance of the President’s role as the first black man in the office. This photo captures the power of Obama’s ability to inspire the historically oppressed African American community.