*Repost: Original Posted May 2011.
I have now photographed two American Presidents. George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I’ve been photographing people for over thirty years. I notice things about people. I pay attention to body language and to nearly imperceptible facial expression changes. It’s my job. We all intuitively want to ‘strike a pose’ for the camera, and often do, but we cannot hold it for long. In that split second when one lets “this is who I want you to see” slip into “okay me” — that is the picture we both want. They just don’t know it. However, some are better than others at looking natural. Frequently, I simply hold the camera to my eye waiting for “the moment”. I see confusion form in my subject’s face, “What the is this photographer doing?” Then suddenly the self talk cranks up. Pose gone. Click. It’s all about being patient and paying attention. However, politicians are the people who never met a camera they didn’t like. Yet for the most part, they respond no differently to a professional photographer with a big camera than the average person. Nearly everyone has this visual image in their head that they want the camera to capture for the world to see, so they ‘strike a pose’. This is usually NOT a good idea. It’s difficult to make a living photographing people if their picture doesn’t make them think when they look at their photograph, “Oh. Now, that is me!” So it’s my job to recognize and capture the moment when they relax into themselves. Nevertheless, shooting Potus is different. Security, sycophants and secret agents all present interesting photographic problems when one is Potus proximite. However, one issue I don’t have is that Potus knows how to meet a camera. Both President Obama and Mr. Bush ‘strike a pose’. But they’ve learned or intuitively know to appear relaxed. Bottom line: Potus people are very good at looking natural and happy to see you. That’s their job. I believe that the better a politician is about making a pose look natural and relaxed, the further they will travel in their political career.
I photographed Mr. Bush during the four years while he was governor of Texas and while he was running for president. (Although, as the late Lt. Governor Bob Bullock once quipped, there was never a time when he wasn’t.) During these four years, (1996-2000) I saw Mr. Bush on a regular basis, often several times a week when the Texas Legislature was in session. Bush nearly always seemed tense rarely relaxed. Coiled spring. As for President Obama I spent about an hour and a half photographing him with some of his supporters in a small dressing room behind the Austin City Limits theater on May 10, 2011. At the end of the session President Obama walked over to me, stuck out his hand, and said. “Great job! How about you and me making our picture?” How could I refuse POTUS? With my Canon in my hand I looked around for someone to make the picture. An enormous man with ham hands stepped forward, secret agent man. Extraordinarily large warm smile, tons-o-teeth, he reached for my camera. He was happy to shoot me, and yes, that was a gun in his pocket. I said “It’s a 6,000 dollar point and shoot. Put the red dot on my forehead and push this button.” He laughed out loud and said most assuredly, “Oh, that I can do!” As I stepped next to President Obama he put his arm around me and pulled me closer to him. If you notice I am a bit off-balance. It took me by surprise but I reached out and put my arm around him. He knew we should stand close to one another, better picture. Svelte. Arrow straight sinewy body, poised and relaxed.
The right will have you believe Obama is the Anti-Christ or worse, Hitler. Hard to judge accurately anyone in an hour or so of “face time” but sure seemed a lot more human than the Anti-Christ and from everything I’ve read about Hitler, more benevolent.