LIANE HANSEN, host:
So, what's it like to see the president in his PJs? That's a question the official White House photographer may be able to answer for you. As a matter of fact, there's more than one presidential pajama photo in a new book from National Geographic. It's called "The President's Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office" by John Bredar. The collection includes everything from a stern looking James Polk sitting with his cabinet in 1846 to President and Mrs. Obama watching a 3-D commercial during the Super Bowl, complete with the goofy glasses.
The book also includes interviews with five presidential photographers. Among them, David Hume Kennerly, who worked under Gerald Ford. And Mr. Kennerly joins us from NPR West. Welcome to the program.
Mr. DAVID HUME KENNERLY (Presidential Photographer): Thank you.
HANSEN: Also interviewed is David Valdez, the man who photographed for the first President Bush in the White House, and he's at member station KUT in Austin, Texas. Thank you for joining us.
Mr. DAVID VALDEZ (Presidential Photographer): Howdy, y'all.
HANSEN: Mr. Valdez, as long as we're talking pajamas, you have this wonderful picture of George Herbert Walker and Mrs. Bush. They're lounging in bed, you've got grandchildren scampering around them. How did you manage to get the president comfortable enough to shoot in his bedroom?
Mr. VALDEZ: In that particular situation, it was Kennebunkport, Maine, where they have a vacation home. And Barbara Bush suggested that I come over to their house about 6:00 in the morning the next morning. And I went over there and I had free access to the house. So, I just walked in and there they were in bed. And so I just took a handful of photos.
HANSEN: And President George H.W. Bush allowed himself to be photographed before he combed his hair, which was an interesting moment.
If I could get you, David Kennerly, for a moment, because you have a very domestic moment. President Ford, he's in a shirt and slacks and he's in the kitchen, he's talking to his wife, Betty. She's eating breakfast in her bathrobe and she's wearing a shower cap. Why did she let you publish this photograph? Didn't she want to slug you?
Mr. KENNERLY: Well, the way I met Gerald R. Ford was when he was a congressman, he was the minority leader. I photographed him the morning of the day that Richard Nixon announced that he would be the replacement for Spiro Agnew. I just got to know the family very well. They were comfortable with me and that's a picture that was in their kitchen over in Alexandria, where he lived as vice president. There was not a vice presidential residence at the time.
And Mrs. Ford just had a great sense of humor, and both of them did not suffer from vanity. And I don't think I ever held off taking a picture because I thought it wouldn't make him look good. And they totally understood. There were no ground rules and affection should never get in the way of a good picture.
HANSEN: The following page has a picture of Betty Ford, and it's the day before the Carter family moved into the White House. And she said that she'd always wanted to dance on the Cabinet Room table. And she jumps up and strikes a pose.
Mr. KENNERLY: Mrs. Ford was a Martha Graham dancer and she struck that pose, and it was an amazing moment. I mean, you don't see that kind of thing. And she thought of it. I didn't ask her to do it.
HANSEN: David, how do you go about shooting then? Are you always firing away?
Mr. KENNERLY: I would work 14, 16 hours a day. I was in every meeting in the Oval Office whenever I wanted to be. So many things happened that weren't on the schedule. But I'm not just firing away like a madman. I mean, somebody asked me, how many pictures do you take to get a good one? It's one, you know, whether you take one or 100 to get to it.
HANSEN: David Valdez, were you ever asked not to shoot a certain scene or a certain photograph?
Mr. VALDEZ: No, but we did, when he was vice president, when the Shuttle Challenger went down and President Reagan asked him to go down to meet with the families that day. And we're walking down the hallway to meet the families, literally their family members had just died and they watched it. And so, just kind of without really a spoken word, I could tell that he was saying let's back off this time. And so I did.
HANSEN: Let me ask you about what the author of this book, Jon Bredar, writes. He's writing: this isn't photojournalism as much as it is photo history. When you were taking pictures as White House photographers, did you worry you were going to miss something, because this is the historical record?
Mr. KENNERLY: Well, I mean, missing pictures is all part of the business. The pictures I think of the most are the ones I never took because I missed them. And those haunt me. And because I'm an old newspaper photographer, wire service photographer at heart, I live in a constant state of anxiety about missing photographs. That's why I worked so many hours and that gnaws at you constantly and it causes you to lose sleep and probably die early.
But anyway, it's all about the moment, about the true picture of what's going on. And you could call it propaganda or whatever you want to call it, but I think David and I and the rest of us have all been in it for the history and the record. A hundred years from now will really show what it was like and who the people and the players were.
HANSEN: Former White House photographers David Kennerly and David Valdez. Their work appears in the book "The President's Photographer" by John Bredar. An accompanying television special will be broadcast on PBS November 24th. Thank you both, gentlemen.
Mr. VALDEZ: Thank you.
Mr. KENNERLY: Thank you very much.
HANSEN: And to see a gallery of presidential pics, go to our website, NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.