Ever wondered how did photography exist in the olden days? No doubt, it wasn’t like as it’s today. Today, we boast different types of high-end cameras promising us premium photo quality. Alongside, many gadgets and accessories are being invented as time progresses to facilitate the process of photography. Earlier, photos were predominantly black and white and only professional photographers with posh cameras could bring out colored photos with some sorts of appeal. The laymen were reliant on box brownie cameras which could produce identifiable photos but lacked depth and details.
Since its invention, photography has been a mode of umpteen opportunities. Undoubtedly, the emergence of photography has opened up possibilities for us to spot the world exquisitely and uniquely. The leverage of cameras has enabled us to snap many historical sites globally and showcase them to the world. One of the eminent sites having significant value for people around the world, especially, the Americans is The White House.
Given the gravity of The White House, we have rounded up some of the iconic photographers who undertook the White House photography assignments officially as the Chief Presidential Photographers.
So, let’s begin…..
The appointment of an official presidential photographer was beyond imagination until John F. Kennedy took over in 1961. During Kennedy’s inauguration, Cecil W. Stoughton took some snaps that mesmerized the president so much so that he brought him into the White House. Stoughton, the first official White House photographer initiated the trend of presidential photography and since then presidential photographers became a fixture with every administration. Cecil was also the first photographer to snap the moment of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential swearing onboard in Air Force One after the assassination of Kennedy in 1963. The conspicuous facet in his photography was that he could shoot quiet and personal moments helping form public opinion about the office.
|Administration: John F. Kennedy
Alma Mater: N/A
Date and Place of Birth: 18th January 1920, Oskaloosa, Iowa
Date and Place of Death: 3rd November 2008, Merritt Island, Florida
Succeeded by: Yoichi Okamoto
The second official White House photographer Yoichi Okamoto, hired by the then President Lyndon Johnson, was a highly-esteemed photographer. Apart from being the second White House photographer, he was also one of the premier photographers at that time. Yonkers-born Yoichi served as the Army still and motion picture photographer during World War II. Besides, he also offered remarkable service to the now-defunct US Information Agency as the Visual Chief. When it comes to setting the tone for the stiff White House photography, Okamoto was arguably the pioneer of it.
|Administration: Lyndon JohnsonAlma Mater: Colgate University
Date and Place of Birth: 3rd July 1915, New York City
Date and Place of Death: 24th April 1985, Bethesda
Succeeded by: Oliver F. Atkins
Oliver F. Atkins, well-known as the personal photographer of the ex-president Richard Nixon. When Nixon kicked off campaigning for the presidential election, Oliver was following him on his campaign trail. After Nixon got elected, he became the official White House photographer. Oliver was, no doubt, a rational choice as the White House photographer. But unlike his predecessors, he got limited access to the president. He got the opportunity to capture a host of pictures of the president with many heads of state and celebrities. Atkins’ most prominent shot includes the one showcasing a private meeting between Nixon and Elvis attempting to rehabilitate their images.
|Administration: Richard Nixon
Alma Mater: University of Alabama
Date and Place of Birth: 18th February 1917, Hyde Park, Massachusetts
Date and Place of Death: 24th January 1977, Washington, Virginia
Succeeded by: David Hume Kennerly
David Hume Kennerly has been at the front line of the history of photography, with over 45 years of experience under his belt. He has photographed 8 wars in total and as many U.S. presidents till date. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Vietnam War. He then returned to the U.S. after he was allotted to shoot the political drama taking place in Washington for Time Magazine in 1973. Following Nixon’s resignation in 1974, Kennerly became the Chief White House photographer during the Gerald Ford administration. Additionally, he worked for Newsweek magazine as a contributing editor and crafted projects for Life, Good Morning America Sunday, and George magazine. He was named one of 100 most influential people in photography by American Photo.
|Administration: Gerald Ford
Alma Mater: West Linn High School
Date and Place of Birth: 9th March 1947, Roseburg, Oregon
Succeeded by: Michael Evans
Michael Evans picked up the mantle after President Jimmy Carter went without an official photographer and served President Ronald Regan as his official photographer during his first term. Evans shot Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and was then picked by Regan himself to join his White House staff. The well-known image of Regan donning a cowboy hat captured by Evans was deployed by innumerable magazines after his death in 2004. During the President’s second term, the new Chief of Staff Don Regan decided to put all the staff photographers on equal rank which Evans thought to be a degradation. This prompted him to step down leaving others to take up the onus.
|Administration: Ronald Reagan
Alma Mater: Queen’s University
Date and Place of Birth: 21st June 1944, St. Louis, Missouri
Date and Place of Death: 1st December 2005, Atlanta Georgia
Succeeded by: David Valdez
Another fortunate photographer who got unfettered access to serve a U.S. president was David Valdez. Born in Texas and was hired in 1983 to serve George H.W. Bush first as a vice president and then president. David treasured his job and captured many close photographs shared between the president and his family. He accompanied the president in all 50 states and 75 countries, thereby cultivating lifelong amity with him. The prominent shot snapped by David of Bush and his wife along with his grandchildren in bed is a testimony to the amicable rapport he forged with the president. David was reported saying that serving the president was a life-changing job for him.
|Administration: George H.W. Bush
Alma Mater: University of Maryland
Date and Place of Birth: 1st June 1949, Alice, Texas
Succeeded by: Bob McNeely
Bob McNeely boasted an illustrious career capturing George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama. Following Bill Clinton in his presidential campaign, he worked under Bill Clinton for five years as the Chief White House photographer. His work encompassed scores of photos with intern Monica Lewinsky. But Ken Starr, an American lawyer subpoenaed these photos during the impeachment proceedings. McNeely stated in an interview with The Telegraph in 2001 concerning these shots that he felt betrayed when the president was pressurized to admit his sex scandal with Monica. On top of that, he covered the 2000 presidential election along with photographing Hillary Clinton’s campaign for U.S. Senate.
|Administration: Bill Clinton
Alma Mater: N/A
Date and Place of Birth: 18th December 1947, Bath, New York
Succeeded by: Sharon Farmer
She was hired as the first African-American woman White House photographer documenting the inception of Clinton-Gore administration. She also served as the Director of White House Photography. She has extensive experience of 40 years in photojournalism and exhibition photography capturing political campaigns, news stories, cultural events, and conventions. She was a student of music but an abrupt visit to watch photos being developed in the darkroom piqued her interest in photography. Her most notable work embodies Clinton and Mrs. Clinton observing the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery with astronaut John Glenn on board.
|Administration: Bill Clinton
Alma Mater: Ohio State University
Date and Place of Birth: 10th June 1951, Washington, D.C.
Succeeded by: Eric Draper
When it comes to taking the White House to Digital Photography, the job was carried out by Eric Draper under the administration of George W. Bush. He served as the chief official White House Photographer for long 8 years shooting his everyday activities of the office, abroad, and personal life. Eric was named as the first White House Photographer to be the commissioned officer to a U.S. president. He also instructed the conversion of earlier archived White House photography from film to digital. Eric, however, worked for the Associated Press as a news photographer before joining the White House. His salient assignments encompassed the 1996 and 2000 presidential campaigns, the 1999 Kosovo conflict, the France World Cup in 1998, and the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000.
|Administration: George W. Bush
Alma Mater: California State University
Date and Place of Birth: N/A
Succeeded by: Pete Souza
An iconic photographer who has witnessed many historic moments of the U.S and captured them masterfully. Souza was the Chief White House Photographer under the administration of President Barack Obama. Interestingly, he also worked for Ronald Reagan as an official photographer earlier. Souza, as a shutterbug for Chicago Tribune, kicked in covering Senator Barack Obama in 2004. At that time, he cultivated a strong rapport with Obama that led to his joining as the Chief White House Photographer later. In 2009, the White House endeavored for social media presence launching an official Flickr feed. This opened up an opportunity for the masses to have direct access to nearly 50 images per week picked up from thousands of photography masterpieces of Souza and his staff.
|Administration: Barack Obama
Alma Mater: Boston University, Kansas State University
Date and Place of Birth: 31st December 1954, New Bedford, Massachusetts
Succeeded by: Shealah Craighead
The second female Chief White House photographer, Shealah Craighead has been President Donald Trump’s premier photographer for the past 3 years. She is not a stranger to the presidential photography being the official photographer for the first lady Laura Bush during the George W. Bush term. Till date, very few of her photos have been published. The majority of her photography exists in one 50-image gallery on the president’s official Facebook page or are dispersed around Instagram. Shealah has a second to none background and resume, placing her in one of the most sought-after jobs in Washington. Unlike her predecessor Pete Souza, she has kept an unbelievably low profile. She fancies to let her influential photographs speak for themselves.
|Administration: Donald Trump
Alma Mater: Belmont University, The Art Institute of Boston, Lesley University
Date and Place of Birth: 4th May 1976, Connecticut
In the field of visual arts, what’s more, coveted than being a Chief official White House photographer? Serving a U.S. president as a Chief White House photographer isn’t just peanuts, rather it’s a matter of pride and honor. The above-mentioned shutterbugs just can’t be termed as fortunate as they achieved their positions with their unparalleled talent, skill, and experience.
In regular presidential photography, the official photographers mainly go for “grip and grin” photo ops. But the White House Photographers just didn’t restrict them to capture this type of conventional presidential photography. Unlike the regular presidential photographers, they attempted to cover almost all the official activities of their presidents. Many of them also got unfettered access to their personal lives as we have already touched on that earlier.
We strived to present to you the life history of the Chief White House photographers concisely, yet interestingly. Hopefully, you were glued to the write-up while knowing about these electrifying facts about the White House photography. Until next time, just dig and chill!