Weekly Feature

2017-02-15 / Editorials

White House photographer has big shoes to fill

Managing Editor

According to legend, Native Americans were reluctant to have white men take photos of them. They feared that the camera would steal their soul.

Photography goes hand-in-hand with print journalism as the “first draft of history.” And for about four decades, there has been an official White House photographer.

It took a bit of digging this week to find out that Shealah Craighead was appointed to the position by President Donald Trump. Shealah who?

While she has an impressive resume, she can’t compare to Pete Souza, official White House photographer for Barack Obama. His work surfaced almost daily on social media platforms, allowing us to get an inside look at all things presidential, even on slow news days.

Souza held the same position with President Ronald Reagan from 1983 to 1989.

“I have always looked at this job as documenting for history. It was never about politics,” Souza said.

The current White House account on photo-sharing site Instagram had just 15 pictures on it as of Monday morning of this week. Six were taken at the Jan. 20 inauguration. The most recent post was a picture of President Abraham Lincoln, posted late Sunday night with the message “Happy birthday president Abe!”

Souza had eight years to ply his craft, posting 2,113 images to petesouza44, an archive of his Obama administration account now maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Craighead is no D.C. novice. According to her website, “Her discretion, dedication, professionalism and passion led her to the White House as photo editor for the Office of Vice President Cheney, an official White House photographer, and former First Lady Laura Bush’s personal photographer. With a seasoned background in assignments for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and Getty Images, Craighead served as Gov. Sarah Palin’s 2008 presidential campaign photographer.” I would like to see more of her work. While I often disagreed politically with Obama, I respect the office of president and thoroughly enjoyed Souza’s work. He had incredible access to Obama both here in America and abroad. I don’t think Trump has the same appreciation for documentary photography unless he’s signing an executive order.

That should come as no surprise. In fact, the website picturecorrect.com stated “Trump is extremely picky about how he is photographed.” I hope Craighead can tolerate the president’s burdensome scrutiny.

One of the best American photojournalists of all time is David Hume Kennerly. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, his 1972 award for feature photography included images of the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Two years later, Kennerly was appointed President Gerald Ford’s chief White House photographer.

Several news outlets reported on Feb. 11 that reporters and photographers were held back from covering an important event. Trump played golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first foreign leader he has hosted at his winter estate in Palm Beach, Florida. Journalists were sequestered in the basement with black plastic covering the windows. That is frightening.

Like most artists, photojournalists value their freedom and detest being micromanaged. It is important for Trump, like all elected officials, to embrace his role in history and show his more human side. Photos shared with the public should not all be from press conferences and staged events.

Otherwise, his image will remain unchanged.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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