The tradition of the White House photographers, now officially known as the Chief Official White House Photographer, was started by John F. Kennedy in January of 1961. A free press is responsible for accurate reportage and is essential to a democracy, though access can provide certain limitations. Having unprecedented access, where the press are typically held at a greater distance, the President’s photographer adds a level of transparency for the American public to engage and see the President working for the country within the context of current events.
These photographs serve as a message to the world as to what our leadership values, without compromising security. Perhaps most notably, it has become a role necessary to intimately chronicle the history of the office, while concurrently humanizing the Chief Executive as a person. Digital and film images are preserved by the National Archives, with negatives maintained in cold storage.
The President's New Photographer
It was announced only hours ago that Shealah Craighead will be the official White House photographer under President Donald Trump. She previously worked as a White House staff photographer under President George W. Bush and was on hand to document the inaugural balls on Friday after President Trump’s inauguration. She becomes the tenth official White House photographer. It was initially unclear as to whether President Trump would select an official White House photographer.
A Brief Overview of the Office's Updated History
- President John F. Kennedy - Cecil W. Stoughton
- Stoughton took the inaugural role of the President's Photographer in January of 1961, remaining with President Kennedy until Kennedy's assassination in 1963.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson - Yoichi Okamoto
- Okamoto got his start as an Army photographer chronicling World War II in Italy before photographing Vice President Johnson ahead of hs presidency.
- President Richard Nixon - Ollie Atkins
- Atkins worked as a White House staff photographer in various capacities for nearly a quarter of a century.
- President Gerald Ford - David Hume Kennerly
- Before photographing for President Ford, Kennerly won the Pulitzer Prize and was a photographer for Time.
- President Jimmy Carter - None
- No official photographer was appointed during the Carter administration, though there was a White House photography staff which included Bob McNeely.
- President Ronald Regan - Michael Evans & Pete Souza
- Evans covered Regan's presidential run in 1975 then President Regan's first term. Souza took over to cover Regan's second term in office.
- President George H. W. Bush - David Valdez
- Valdez started photographing for Vice President Bush and followed him into the presidency.
- President Bill Clinton - Bob McNeely
- After serving in Vietnam, McNeely worked in the White House Photo Office during the Carter administration before later serving under President Clinton.
- President George W. Bush - Eric Draper
- Formerly an accomplished AP photographer, Draper served under President Bush where he transitioned the White House Photo Office from film to digital capture.
- President Barack Obama - Pete Souza
- Souza built on his experiences photographing for President Regan, covering Senator Obama as a Chicago Tribune photographer, later to serve the office of President once again.
- President Donald Trump - Shealah Craighead
- Craighead is the first female to occupy the office. She was a White House staff photographer under President George W. Bush and covered Governor Sarah Palin's campaign during the 2008 presidential bid.
The Peaceful Transition of Photographic Power
As of this writing, The White House’s Flickr account is devoid of any photographs, but with Shealah Craighead now appointed to the role, we can hope that will change soon. You can follow Craighead on Twitter.