There are assignments…and then there are assignments. Last Friday afternoon I had just finished a location scout and was heading up to my place in Connecticut when I got a phone call from BusinessWeek…..Director of Photography Ronnie Weil, Art Director Andrew Horton and Photo Editor Sarah Morse were on the speaker phone and they obviously had something big to tell me. All at once, they practically screamed, “We’ve got ten minutes with the President on Monday…do you wanna do the shoot?!!”. I think I paused for a fraction of a second and thought I was getting punked…then I said “OF COURSE!!!”.
The next few hours took us all on a bit of a roller coaster ride…..first we went from half the editorial staff of the magazine wanting to come along, while I would bring two assistants and a few tons of gear for the intense, overly complex formal cover situation. Then, as we learned more details of what kind of access the White House would allow, it appeared that I might have to go in paparazzi style…just me and a single camera bag going into the Oval Office to document the Q & A, with no time to do an extra set up. But in the end I was able to get Bo to assist me and Ronnie was coming to produce, run defense and feed me Klonopin to calm my nerves. Steve Adler, the Editor in Chief and Washington Bureau Chief Jane Sasseen would be asking the questions and it was up to me to come up with not only a killer cover image, but additional portraits of the President to illustrate the story. We had hopes to still get that second cover shot, but the main focus had to be to photograph the interview in such a way that we could walk away with exceptional cover art.
Bo and Ronnie waiting it out in the White House Pressroom
Even though this would be my fourth time in the White House, you can never foresee how things will come together on the day of a shoot like this. In fact, the same day we were shooting, one of my old assistants, Charlie Samuels, was supposed to get his own session with the President a few hours before us…but his shoot was cancelled at the last minute. As if I didn’t have enough on my mind, when he texted me that his shoot was nuked all I could think was, “Please God, let things work out for us!”.
So with a couple of hours to go before our ten minutes, we got to horse around in the Pressroom…..
Your New White House Press Director!
And we even got to sit in on a press briefing (click on image for full-size)…..
Ronnie looking extremely professional…..
But eventually we were ushered into the West Wing through the rabbit warren-like maze that surrounds the Oval Office. After a brief introduction, Steve and Jane immediately began the interview and I got started by shoving Bo right in the middle of things for a white-balance test shot…..
And then a funny thing happened…our ‘ten minutes’ somehow got stretched to more than half an hour! I still didn’t get a chance to do a set-up portrait, but the extra time really allowed me to focus on getting some truly amazing and expressive shots while the interview went on.
…and here are a few pages from today’s BusinessWeek…..
But of course, the fun had to end. The press handlers gave the President the high sign and our big adventure came to an end…but not before we got our grip & grin photos with the Most Powerful Man in the Free World!!!
First, he grabbed Ronnie and pulled her close…
…while I got the more traditional smile and a handshake…..
Don’t let anyone tell ya photographing the President ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!