Daily Picture Show

Presidential Access: Unguarded Moments, Captured On Film

  • During the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy catches a bunch of bananas thrown to him by an admirer.
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    During the 1960 campaign, John F. Kennedy catches a bunch of bananas thrown to him by an admirer.
    Stanley Tretick/United Press International Newspictures/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower and first lady Mamie Eisenhower eat hot dogs while watching the Army-Colgate football game in West Point, N.Y., in 1957.
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    President Dwight D. Eisenhower and first lady Mamie Eisenhower eat hot dogs while watching the Army-Colgate football game in West Point, N.Y., in 1957.
    James B. Mahan/International News Photos/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Warren G. Harding speaks with Marie Curie at the White House. Before posing for photos outside, there was a ceremony in the East Room, but there wasn't enough light for the photographers.
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    President Warren G. Harding speaks with Marie Curie at the White House. Before posing for photos outside, there was a ceremony in the East Room, but there wasn't enough light for the photographers.
    Underwood & Underwood/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Eisenhower and former President Herbert Hoover cook steaks on a grill in Fraser, Colo., 1954.
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    President Eisenhower and former President Herbert Hoover cook steaks on a grill in Fraser, Colo., 1954.
    Maurice Johnson/International News Photos/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • Television cowboy and roping legend Montie Montana lassoes President Eisenhower in the presidential reviewing box at the inaugural parade, 1953.
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    Television cowboy and roping legend Montie Montana lassoes President Eisenhower in the presidential reviewing box at the inaugural parade, 1953.
    Arthur E. Scott/Reni News Photos/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Harry S. Truman tries out a speed graphic camera given to him by members of the WHNPA during a meeting at the White House Rose Garden, 1948.
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    President Harry S. Truman tries out a speed graphic camera given to him by members of the WHNPA during a meeting at the White House Rose Garden, 1948.
    Bruce Hoertel/The New York Times/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Truman, wearing a shirt that reads "Coach Truman, Athletic Department," leads exercises on the deck of the USS Missouri on his return trip to Washington from Brazil, 1947.
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    President Truman, wearing a shirt that reads "Coach Truman, Athletic Department," leads exercises on the deck of the USS Missouri on his return trip to Washington from Brazil, 1947.
    Byron H. Rollins/AP/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • A young Bill Clinton meets President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden on July 26, 1963. Clinton, who was 16 years old at the time, was part of the Arkansas delegation to the American Legion Boys Nation.
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    A young Bill Clinton meets President John F. Kennedy in the Rose Garden on July 26, 1963. Clinton, who was 16 years old at the time, was part of the Arkansas delegation to the American Legion Boys Nation.
    Arnie Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Kennedy has a breakfast conference with his daughter, Caroline, in the residence area of the White House in 1961.
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    President Kennedy has a breakfast conference with his daughter, Caroline, in the residence area of the White House in 1961.
    Charles Del Vecchio/Washington Post & Times Herald/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Nixon stands on a car as he campaigns in 1960.
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    President Nixon stands on a car as he campaigns in 1960.
    Roddey E. Mims/United Press International/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Gerald Ford leaves his Alexandria, Va., home to go to work at the White House the day after he was sworn in. The Nixons' personal belongings had not yet been moved out of the White House living quarters.
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    President Gerald Ford leaves his Alexandria, Va., home to go to work at the White House the day after he was sworn in. The Nixons' personal belongings had not yet been moved out of the White House living quarters.
    Chick Harrity/AP/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Carter leans across the roof of his car to shake hands along the parade route on his way to a town meeting in Bardstown, Ky., 1979.
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    President Carter leans across the roof of his car to shake hands along the parade route on his way to a town meeting in Bardstown, Ky., 1979.
    Bob Daugherty/AP/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Reagan stands behind a headless Terra Cotta Warrior as first lady Nancy Reagan looks on during a visit to the ancient historic underground army archaeological find near Xian, China, 1984.
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    President Reagan stands behind a headless Terra Cotta Warrior as first lady Nancy Reagan looks on during a visit to the ancient historic underground army archaeological find near Xian, China, 1984.
    Bob Daugherty/AP/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela peer out of the window of Mandela's former cell on Robben Island outside Cape Town, 1998. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner in this cell.
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    President Clinton and South African President Nelson Mandela peer out of the window of Mandela's former cell on Robben Island outside Cape Town, 1998. Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner in this cell.
    Stephen Jaffe, AFP Newspictures/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President George W. Bush kisses a soldier as he greets U.S. military personnel at As-Sayliyah base near Doha, Qatar, 2003.
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    President George W. Bush kisses a soldier as he greets U.S. military personnel at As-Sayliyah base near Doha, Qatar, 2003.
    Luke Frazza/Agence France Press/Courtesy of WHNPA
  • President Barack Obama takes the oath at his 2009 inauguration, with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, by his side.
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    President Barack Obama takes the oath at his 2009 inauguration, with first lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha, by his side.
    Chuck Kennedy/McClatchy Tribune/Courtesy of WHNPA

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Every four years, we elect a president. And every term, the president is joined in the White House by his Cabinet and staff — and followed by a press pool intent on documenting the presidency. For those photographers, portraying the true personality and actions of a leader so protected can be difficult.

In 1921, a group was formed to help make access easier. The White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA) was started by 17 camera and motion-picture photographers who covered the daily activities of the White House.

Initially, WHNPA members were able to negotiate access to many intimate moments — although their heavy equipment made the job difficult. The first photos were made with clunky view cameras that worked poorly indoors in low light. And since shooting a candid shot wasn't easy, restaging scenes was not uncommon.

These days, of course, cameras are lighter and more versatile, but access isn't what it used to be. Candid shots are still hard to get — but now it's because of heightened security.

Photographers gather at the White House in 1918. i i

hide captionPhotographers gather at the White House in 1918.

Courtesy of WHNPA
Photographers gather at the White House in 1918.

Photographers gather at the White House in 1918.

Courtesy of WHNPA

After combing through 95,000 images in its archives, the WHNPA has put together an exhibit of 78 historic photographs of some of those candid moments; some are well-known, while others have been locked away for decades.

"My favorite image is the one of John F. Kennedy during the presidential campaign sitting in an open-air convertible catching a bunch of bananas," writes WHNPA Treasurer Jon Elswick, who co-curated the exhibit with his wife, Heidi Elswick.

"I think it demonstrates the kind of access that photographers had in years past," he says. "Today, any political situation that photographers see is managed, and it's almost impossible to get a 'real' moment."

Dennis Brack, who received his White House press pass in 1965, tells an anecdote about President Truman — the only president who was also a member of the WHNPA: "We created a section [in the annual WHNPA photo contest] ... it was called the President's Class, and only the presidents could enter. ... He won every year."

Compare that with President Hoover and his wife, who had a "15-foot rule" to keep photographers at bay.

"We have the best jobs in the world," says Brack. "Sure, the hours are long, and you might have to work in the rain ... but the trade-off is pretty good."

The full exhibit of historic WHNPA photographs is now on display at the Edison gallery in Washington, D.C., until February.

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