Iconic Images Emerge from Mideast Summits At Middle East peace talks such as the one in Annapolis, there is always a moment when leaders pose for the camera. Ron Edmonds, senior White House photographer for the Associated Press, talks to Melissa Block about the stories behind some of these photos.
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Iconic Images Emerge from Mideast Summits

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Iconic Images Emerge from Mideast Summits

Iconic Images Emerge from Mideast Summits

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

On news Web sites today, and likely on front pages tomorrow, a photo from the Middle East conference in Annapolis that shows a smiling trio. Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert clasps hands with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and behind them is President Bush, his arms outstretched, seeming to bring the two together. It looks an awful lot like an iconic photo taken on the White House lawn in 1993. The players then? President Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, there to sign the Oslo Accords.

We wondered about the planning that goes into moments like these, so we turn to Ron Edmonds, who was at the event in '93 as a White House photographer for the Associated Press. I asked if he knew, going into that signing on the White House lawn, that there would be a handshake.

Mr. RON EDMONDS (White House Photographer, Associated Press): We didn't know there was going to be a handshake, but we knew that was going to be a big moment if the handshake did happen. So for the AP, we had a number of photographers there from different angles to make sure that we got it if it happened. And fortunately, for me, that day, I was the center-stand photographer and straight on at me, the image came together. And it got quite a bit of play.

BLOCK: What do you see when you look at that photo that you shot in 1993?

Mr. EDMONDS: Well, I see a well-orchestrated picture to try and show people what the White House wanted to get out that's gone on that day in the meetings. The question, of course, that day was whether or not Rabin would shake hands or whether Arafat would not shake hands. In fact, it probably would have been a bigger story if they had kind of stood there and looked at each other. I think the president would have had heart failure because for a moment there, he kind of looked like there was a little, slight hesitation, if I remember right, the two kind of looked at one another. And I could see in his eyes that he was thinking, oh, my gosh, if they don't reach and shake hands, I'm done.

BLOCK: I think Arafat's hand went out first.

Mr. EDMONDS: It did. I think if I remember right.

BLOCK: Your picture of the three of them is striking because you see the trio, but you also see Bill Clinton's hands…

Mr. EDMONDS: Right.

BLOCK: …on either side of them, sort of framing the whole image.

Mr. EDMONDS: And sometimes an image - if a person was standing 15 or 20 feet to the right, you may not have seen all of the hand - one of Clinton's hands. And my angle just turned out to where you were able to see both hands. And it kind of told the whole story.

BLOCK: When you're covering an event like this at the White House as a photographer and it's very much staged and orchestrated, what are you waiting for? How do you turn it into something that has some drama or some narrative to it?

Mr. EDMONDS: Well, actually, you know, my job with the AP is not to turn something into a not-a-staged event. I'm there to capture what goes on. But part of my job is to look at all sides of the event. Look behind this, you know, watch people before they come on. Many times, people think the image that you're going to make is during the event is as it's actually happened. But many times, the best pictures come moments after the event is over. Presidents and people tend to relax. They slap people on the back and you see some moments that they didn't plan to do.

Sometimes you see a handshake picture and after they - as the person turns to walk away, you - sometimes you can see it on his face that I shook his hand, but I really didn't want to. I mean, I'm not talking about that specific event. But those are the things that you look for.

BLOCK: In 1993 on the White House lawn, they were signing an actual agreement, and today, it was really just a start of talks.

Mr. EDMONDS: Right.

BLOCK: You were watching today. What happened in Annapolis when this photo came about? Can you describe what you saw?

Mr. EDMONDS: Well, it was very much - I actually didn't see the whole thing. I did see parts of it. It seemed to me today that Bush was much like Clinton, really going out of his way to try and create an image. The first handshake was behind the podium and you couldn't really see the handshake. And I know if you had been back on the photo stand there, probably everybody groaned back there and just died because the handshake happened behind.

BLOCK: We've got nothing, right?

Mr. EDMONDS: But it looked like - I just glanced at that portion of it, but it looked like Bush realized that nobody could see the handshake and kind of moved them to the side, if I remember right, so that…

BLOCK: So they had a clear shot?

Mr. EDMONDS: So they had a clear shot. So either he remembered it or last minute, someone told him before he went around, make sure you do this where people can photograph it. So…

BLOCK: And the message is, I am a peacemaker?

Mr. EDMONDS: Right. All presidents try to be peacemakers.

BLOCK: Ron Edmonds, thanks very much.

Mr. EDMONDS: Sure.

BLOCK: Ron Edmonds is senior White House photographer for the Associated Press. You can see his 1993 photo we talked about and a shot from today's meeting in Annapolis at npr.org.

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