RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Diana Walker was White House photographer for Time magazine for two decades. She clicked her camera through five administrations, capturing moments of history for readers to peruse.

NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg says Diana Walker's new book "The Bigger Picture" is filled with portraits that go far beyond the usual photo ops.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Covering John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, Diana Walker was invited to come to the front of the candidate's plane. She caught the Democratic senator and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry in a private moment. Mrs. Kerry was reading a newspaper and wanted to show something to her husband.

Ms. DIANA WALKER (White House Photographer for Time Magazine): And he went across and sat down next to her, and he looked at the pictures and whatever it was she wanted to show him. And then slowly, he kind of fell asleep right there leaning against her back.

STAMBERG: The black-and-white photo - you can see it at npr.org - shows just what a campaign takes out of a candidate. It's also a picture of a marriage. And it's Diana Walker's definition of shooting behind the scenes.

Ms. WALKER: A whole group of photographers couldn't possibly take a picture like this. It had to be one camera, not more than that.

STAMBERG: Away from the lights and the mikes and the hoopla, just two people and exhaustion and Diana Walker's camera. That same July week in 2004, I interviewed Teresa Heinz Kerry for NPR about what it was like on the road. Great, she said, also enabling and seductive. Your ego gets too big.

Ms. TERESA HEINZ KERRY (John Kerry's Wife): So you have to be very careful that, yes, it's wonderful, but you owe them one. And what you owe them is your honesty and your vulnerability and your thoughts. Otherwise, you're nothing.

STAMBERG: Do you, as a photographer, also have to keep in mind what you owe to the people whose pictures you're taking, to those who will see those pictures on the pages of the magazine?

Ms. WALKER: In doing behind-the-scenes pictures, I always would think, I get to be here and the public doesn't. I'm here and it is a privilege and I've got to do absolutely the best I possibly can to show you what was going on.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Mr. WALTER MONDALE (Presidential Candidate, 1984): If you help me get on the White House, I'm going…

(Soundbite of applause)

STAMBERG: Another presidential campaign, a different Democrat - no behind-the-scenes here. Diana Walker shows Walter Mondale facing a barrage of reporters at a nighttime airport in 1984. Her camera catches the candidate framed by a thicket of microphone poles aimed like rifles; and Mondale is a smart, thoughtful deer in headlights.

Ms. WALKER: This is a picture on the tarmac somewhere, you know, I don't even know where it was because it's always the same. I found myself down on my knees right in the middle of this melee.

STAMBERG: But how did you decide to or was it your decision because the composition is so interesting and how his face is framed.

Ms. WALKER: I have to say, you know, I don't remember, but I can imagine my coming a little late to this event. I stayed on the plane for something, went around the group, couldn't get in because they were all so close to the candidate that I went between their legs down on the ground and got below and shot up. That used to happen to me quite a lot.

STAMBERG: You wouldn't think the White House Press Corps sometimes called her Lady Diana, not for the crawling and kneeling, but for her tall and regal bearing, Patrician even.

In 1990, Diana Walker photographed the ultimate celebrity Patrician, Katherine Hepburn. Receiving a Kennedy Center Honor, the great actress sits with the other honorees in a box at the opera house, wiping away a tear.

Ms. WALKER: This picture was taken with a very long lens from my perch in the opera house. The tribute was over and they were honoring her with applause and she just began to cry. So this picture - she was unprepared for this picture. This picture was taken from miles away.

STAMBERG: It raises a number of issues that I'd love you to talk about and one is privacy. And did you do justice to her by shooting this picture from so far away without her knowing it, in such an unguarded and very personal, emotional moment?

Ms. WALKER: Well, that's a very good question. But let me tell you something about the way it works at the Kennedy Center. The only way I'm able to take that picture is when the lights are on her. Otherwise, she'd be in the dark. So she, the actress, is prepared to acknowledge the crowd. And whether she knew I was taking the picture or didn't know I was taking the picture, I'm so glad I was taking the picture because to me, this is the Katharine Hepburn of my mind.

STAMBERG: Diana Walker gave her Time magazine long lens a real workout when she had to, taking hundreds and hundreds of pictures without having direct contact with her subject. But her book includes lots of close portraits, too. For those, and to get a more informal image, the photographer chats up her subject, pretends to be listening as she fusses with her equipment.

Ms. WALKER: I find what is the most effective thing to do is to start them talking and move around. And I also found often that when I said I was finished, I got the best picture.

STAMBERG: Because people relaxed.

Ms. WALKER: Because they relaxed. And so I used to kind of say I was finished before I was. And it was good. There's a picture in the book of Bill Blass, the dress designer, and it was one of the first shoots I had taken professionally. It was way back in the early '70s, and I walked all around and I tried my best and I really - I thought, well, I've done all I can do. I don't know what else to do. And so I said, well, thank you so much, it's been terrific. And he said, oh, thank God.

And he leaned back and he threw his leg up on the couch and there was the picture. All of a sudden, there it was. And luckily, I had film still in my camera. So I always kept film in my camera when I was ready to leave.

STAMBERG: Diana Walker. Her new book is called "The Bigger Picture," a collection of 30 years of portraits. It's fun to see her early photos of so many familiar faces captured on film in the days before they got bags under their eyes or had the bags removed.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.