Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: "Presidential Picture Stories: Behind the Cameras at the White House" by Dennis Brack

Ya'll I was sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

The title of this book basically sums it all up. The book is really broken down into these parts:
A) How there came to be photographers in the White House (from here on abbreviated WH)
B) How different presidents interacted with said photographers
C) Short bios of some of the most prolific photographers
D) Short little profiles of some equipment photographers have used over the years

The first president that had to deal with photographers was Woodrow Wilson. Photographers weren't generally allowed on WH property, making presidential pictures a rare get. This was the case even more after Wilson had a stroke and no one was really quite sure who was running the country, since no one had seen him for so long. (This is a whole different interesting presidential story that is worth a google). 2 phtographers tried to get pictures of Wilson by hiding in the wagon load of hay that was brought onto the South Law of the WH for the sheep that grazed there.No luck!

Harding was the president to give photographers some access to the WH. He appreciated a good human interest story, and used the camera men to help bring some good light on a  somewhat scandalous presidency.Coolidge understood the value of the newsreel and of the photo. He was a good subject to photograph and cooperated with the photographers request. He also loved movies, and thought they were a good way to get current news events in front of the common man.My favorite story about Hoover is that Mrs Hoover didn't like close up pictures of her husband. He wore these collars that stuck up really high and gave him a double chin. What a gal!

*When I tell these stories and I say that someone was liked or disliked I mean as a photography subject and as a person you have to interact with, as a human being. It doesn't mean they were liked/disliked due to policy, party affiliation, etc etc.*

One of my favorite stories is about FDR. He made an agreement with the press (starting when he was campaigning for governor of New York) that there was to be no photos of him looking crippled or helpless, because of his paralysis due to polio. This means no pictures of him: getting in and out of cars, being lifted in or out of anything, none showing crutches or leg braces. As long as the photogs followed these rules he was a pretty willing subject.(Can you imagine trying to make this deal today? Thank goodness there was no TMZ back then).

The stories go on. Truman was friendly and appreciative,Ike got a clock dropped on his head by a photographer and the photographer was sure he'd just "brained" the president (he didn't it was ok). The negative for the famous "taken from the back, Kennedy leaning on his desk reading something" picture was safely stocked in the photographers "lost sock" drawer at home.LBJ was a crazy person/sonofabitch. (The more I learn about him the more I can't believe that he was president).

One of my favorite stories about a group of WH photographers came from Nixon's trip to India. he photographers were banished to the bed of a farmer's truck which made for a long hot uncomfortable ride.They were so hot and thirsty that when they got to their destination they were desperate for some water. They found a servant carrying a tray of glasses and a bowl of water. The water looked kind of gross but they were desperate and, hey it's India what can you do? They found out later that the water had just been used to rinse out cups for ice cream. Those crazy Americans!

The stories about the presidents was probably my favorite part of the book, but the photographer biographies were interesting too.The story about Shelley Fielman being sent to cover the Kennedy assassination is pretty entertaining (the assassination wasn't entertaining, his difficulties getting there/with his equipment were). Then the book ends with some camera history and what they do and what makes them important.

I thought this book was really interesting, and I'm really glad that I got a chance to review it. If Harding or Wilson could see the kind of access that photographers were given at the WH they would probably lose their minds. The pictures throughout the book are very enjoyable too. A great book if you like: American history, politics, photography, Washington DC, presidential history, and getting the inside scoop on a place people rarely get to see. I give it 3.5 stars out of 5!

Author info from
Dennis Brack has photographed the presidents of the United States from JFK to Obama, and he hopes to continue this coverage for years to come. His clients have changed through the decades: Life and Newsweek were major clients over these years and Brack averaged a picture a week in Time for twenty-three years. A major story for Dennis Brack was the coverage of the first Gulf War, and in one week, Brack’s photographs were on the covers of Time, Newsweek, US News, Paris Match, and many other magazines throughout the world. For twenty-five years, Dennis Brack was the secretary/ treasurer of the United States Senate Standing Committee of Press Photographers. This six-member committee determines the photographic coverage of the House and Senate, the conventions, and the inauguration. He was president of the White House News Photographers Association for many years, and last year he was the Lifetime Achievement Award Winner and honored at White House News Photographers Association Eyes of History Gala.

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