White House Photography, Official and Not So Much
By Garance Franke-Ruta
Taking a page from celebrities who routinely stage family photos with hand-picked photographers and then feed the images to the press, President-elect Barack Obama this morning released three shots of his family at their new temporary residence, Washington's Hay-Adams Hotel, as his girls, Malia and Sasha, got ready for their first day of school.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way for Barack Obama to keep any of his life private in this era of cell phone-snaps, Facebook goofs and long-lensed paparazzi is to do exactly this: reliably and regularly release pictures of newsworthy intimate family moments in a manner that he can control.
That's because online, the only way to control your own image is to drown outsiders' takes in media stream of your own creation -- and there is no news agency or paparazzo in the world with better access to inner workings of Obamaland and the Obama family than Obama himself.
Obama aides released the photos, snapped with permission by long-time Obama documentarian Callie Shell of Time magazine, via e-mail to the media and to the public through the Web site change.gov and Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site where since Dec. 1 the presidential transition team has been posting photo sets of moments great and small.
The transition team's photo sets on Flickr got a soft launch with nearly a dozen photos of "The National Security Team," which have garnered 42,349 views since Dec. 1. Many of the photo sets will be of limited interest, such as one from Dec. 30 titled "HHS Secretary-designate Tom Daschle visits a Health Care Community Discussion." It's dry stuff, visually -- unless you're one of the participants being depicted.
More arresting images of the president-elect can be found on the Web site of photographer Peter Souza, who was officially appointed today as chief White House photographer, from which post he will soon to be helping the soon-to-be president compete with news agencies and grassroots shutterbugs in producing the most iconic images of Obama's years in the White House.
A freelance photographer and assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, Souza has considerable experience in this arena. He was a White House photographer for President Reagan, producing and publishing two books, "Unguarded Moments: Behind-the-Scenes Photographs of President Reagan," and "Images of Greatness: An Intimate Look at the Presidency of Ronald Reagan."
Souza was also a Washington-based photographer for the Chicago Tribune. From that perch, he documented Obama's first year in the Senate and accompanied him on seven foreign trips, including to Kenya, South Africa and Russia. That work led to the publication of Souza's latest volume, "The Rise of Barack Obama," in July 2008.
Despite the changed contemporary media landscape, Souza says he sees his role as the same that White House photographers have had since the post became standard in the 1960s.
"The role I see for myself and the role of the White House photo office is to visually document the presidency for history," Souza told The Post. "How the pictures are used may change, but the content of the pictures and the mission of the office, that's not going to change."
Web Politics Editor
January 5, 2009; 6:04 PM ET
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