Since President Lyndon B. Johnson, the White House photographer in many cases has been the other person in the room when the big decisions are made. Not speaking, not taking notes, but rather using his or her camera to record some of the most momentous decisions and events that have ever happened. Their job is to record history, not to make it or influence it.
There have been some legitimate complaints about lack of access for press photographers lately, and I’ve tried to address these. It’s worth noting that Pete Souza, the current Photographer-in-Chief, has taken some hits from the White House press corp because of their unhappiness over White House photo releases and what they feel is his unresponsiveness to their complaints. Because I haven’t covered this Administration I don’t know all the details, but I do know from my own experience as a former chief White House photographer that getting complaints from your colleagues goes with the turf. I have encouraged this White House to try and open the door a little wider for my colleagues, and strongly believe that the White House photographer shouldn’t be competing with the photographers in the press. I also think Pete’s job as a historian with a camera is exemplary, that he’s a real pro, and that his record will be regarded as one of the best.
In the words of my friend, boss, and mentor President Gerald R. Ford, “You can disagree without being disagreeable.” The White House press corps, (and politicians also), might want to take that to heart.
The New York Times Lens blog posted two stories, yesterday and today about my views on the first official White House civilian photographer, Yoichi Okamoto, and the present one Pete Souza.
I include the links here:
The bottom line for me is that the White House photographer’s job is essential for recording history. Every one of us who held that position took flak from the press for one reason or another–anyone in public life does. But the important things is an honest and complete visual record left for the ages. Those photographs better inform understanding of the decisions that were made by the president and others, and what was going in in the room at the time.