Photographer Chronicled Ford's Life in White House

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Photographer David Kennerly chronicled President Gerald Ford and his administration. He talks with Noah Adams about Ford's presidency and personality behind the scenes.


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Noah Adams.

The death of Former President Gerald Ford brought another name to mind, David Hume Kennerly and his cameras. He was the chief White House photographer in the Ford administration, and joins us now.

Welcome to the program, Sir.

Mr. DAVID HUME KENNERLY (Presidential Photographer, Ford Administration): Thank you for asking.

ADAMS: What led to that job? Did you know Gerald Ford?

Mr. KENNERLY: Actually, I met him the day Richard Nixon picked him to be vice president, replacing Spiro Agnew, who had resigned. None of us knew who that person was going to be so I went up to his office on the Hill early that day.

And he said I was wasting my time but I told him he'd have a nice picture for his wall. It turned out that he was the guy, obviously, selected later that evening by Nixon. And that photograph became my first Time cover and his first Time cover.

ADAMS: You were photographing for Time at that time?

Mr. KENNERLY: Yes. That's correct.

ADAMS. Yes. Did Gerald Ford put any restrictions on your access? I assume he did. He wouldn't let you in all around the clock.

Mr. KENNERLY: That's not true. I had a full complete access. I was - the night that he became president, I was at his house in Alexandria as an invited guest, and was taking some photos. And he asked me to stay after everybody had left, a few other friends that were over. And we sat on the couch in his living room, and he said now, Dave, if you were going to come work for me, how would that -how would you conceive the job?

And I say well, Mr. President, and I called the guy Mr. President - he's only been president for like a few hours. I was pretty awestruck. I was 27 years old. Mr. President, I said, there are only two things I would like total access and the use of Air Force One on the weekends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And he looked at me, like, well, the access is no problem, but I don't know about the airplane. I said, okay, the access that will do it and he called the next day, I was over in the mail room at Time magazine and the operator got on the phone and said that, David, he said, the President Ford is trying to get a hold of you. And I said, oh, tell him to call back, I'm busy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

And he said no, he's on the phone. And so I picked up the phone and he said - He offered me the job, he said would you like to come work here? And, you know, I got in on everything. I had a top-secret clearance. I was in every NSC meeting.

The only time he asked me not to come into a meeting was when he was going to fire somebody, and that happened a couple of times, which is intensely personal. And it would be embarrassing to have another person in the room.

But he was good for it. He's a man of his word and he let me into the chicken coop, basically.

ADAMS: I wonder if you were listening. I'm looking online now, the, and there's one of your shots, President Ford meeting with Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney and Chief of Staff Don Rumsfeld.

Mr. KENNERLY: They work for me. That was part of my deal.

ADAMS: I see.

(Soundbite of laughter)

But they're in the Oval Office with Gerald Ford. Are you listening or are you taking pictures? You can't do same thing?

Mr. KENNERLY: Oh, no, you know, of course, I heard a lot of discussion, but I was there to take pictures. I've been called the worst source in Washington, because I've never really felt obliged nor any reason to tell people what I know or what I've heard.

And the relationship with a photographer and his subject basically is what this was, is really important. And we just hit it off. He enjoyed having me around. If you recall, I mean, that whole Nixon period was really pretty off limits, behind the scenes to photographers, even his own.

Ollie Atkins was on the six and out program, meaning, he'd go in, take six frames, and then he'd have to leave. I was able to - if I wanted to - I could stay in every meeting for as long as I wanted. And I went to the whole presidency with him. And resigned the day he left, January 20th, 1977. When Carter became president, I was history.

ADAMS: David Hume Kennerly. He will be the official photographer for the Ford funeral. Thank you for talking with us, Sir.

Mr. KENNERLY: Well, my pleasure. Thank you.

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