Behind The Scenes At 1600 Penn: Documenting The President

By NPR Staff

January 7, 2013

Each time the president steps to a microphone or podium, dozens of camera shutters snap like tap dancers in a show. Most of those cameras belong to reporters, but not all of them.

Some are in the hands of White House photographers. Almost no one has as much access to the president every day, in public and behind the scenes.

Eric Draper worked as the White House photographer for President George W. Bush. "You're part of the staff," he tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "You serve the president. And what that means is I had an all-access pass.

"I was able to see the schedule ahead of time. I was able to be present for all the meetings and basically to shadow the president throughout his day."

Robert McNeely was the White House photographer for President Bill Clinton. He explains that while members of the media have to wait for the president in the press room, White House photographers have total access.

"You drive through the gate," he says, "you walk in with that pass."

McNeely, who worked in the White House before he switched to digital photography, preferred to shoot in black and white.

"I love the effect of film. It's pretty much gone in the media, just because of the speed factor," he says. "You cannot justify, 'Well, I just have to go home and develop this film. And then I have to proof it, and then I have to print it.' You know, that's not going to happen."

Draper was Bush's chief photographer for all eight years of his presidency and took nearly 1 million photos documenting his activities.

"I have to admit, I mean, there were some days that were slow," he says. "I never really got bored, because there was always something unexpected."

For Draper, the most memorable images from his time with Bush were from after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"You try to prepare for everything," says Draper. "In my case, I mean, nothing could prepare me for a day like 9/11 in September of 2001. And that ... entire week of history still stands out in my mind."

McNeely says there is no single image that stands out for him, but he hopes to be remembered for the total body of work. "It's one of those things that if you do your job right, the total mass of what you've done is the historical view of that person," he says.

"What you've accomplished over a period of time gives people an insight into who that person is, because you are seeing them behind the scenes."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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