Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 21, 2014

The Debate Over White House Photo Access: The BagNews Salon (with Video Highlights)


On November 21st of last year, 30 major news and media organizations issued a formal letter of protest with the White House claiming they have been denied the right to photograph or videotape the President while performing his official duties. The complaint cited the Administration’s over-dependence on handout imagery and distribution of images via social media, equating the material to “visual press releases.” A subset of these organizations also pledged not to publish this content any longer.

The aim of this discussion was to better understand this disagreement. Some of the issues are historical. Others are new, involving the ability (and skill) of the Obama White House to distribute imagery to the public and the press via social media. Basing our conversation around a key set of photos, our primary question is — what is the goal of access today and how can we best understand the visual strategies when both institutions, the media and the White House, are operating with the dual agenda to sell and inform?

We were pleased to present a very esteemed panel, with three photo professionals with White House credentials, two renowned press photographers, and a visual academic with deep knowledge of White House imagery. Beside having two women White House photographers participate (for the first time in any discussion forum, as far as we know), we were thrilled that photographer Dennis Brack also participated from inside the White House itself.

If you’re new to our site, the BagNewsSalon brings together the eyes and voices of the world’s leading photojournalists, editors, visual academics and other informed observers to analyze select edits of news photographs in a 90 minute on-line discussion format. Below you’ll find video highlights from the “hangout” as well the full broadcast, the accompanying slideshow and the list of panelists.

Video segments include: Control & Access: The White House AirForce 1 Johannesburg photos. Anonymity vs. Intimacy: Does it Matter Who the Photographer Is? Irony & Lack of Access: The Creativity of NY Times Photographer, Stephen Crowley. Emotional Style: Why One Photographer is not Enough. The State Dinner Crashers: The Photo and the Backstory. Propaganda: How Much does the White House Release Photos for Political or “Propaganda” Reasons? Social Media, Production and the White House Press Office.

Video Highlights and Full Broadcast

Control & Access: The White House AirForce 1 Johannesburg photos

This White House photo was released to the public and distributed via social media two-and-a-half-weeks after the media protest letter. It captures George Bush showing his paintings to Hillary Clinton and the staff of the administration. The Bushes were accompanying the Obamas on a 16 hour flight to Johannesburg for a memorial event for Nelson Mandela. Why was this AirForce 1 photo released by the White House? Why was access to this moment restricted? Why can’t outside photographers have this kind of selective access? The clip features Barbara Kinney, Stephen Crowley, Dennis Brack and Mike Davis.

Anonymity vs. Intimacy: Does it Matter Who the Photographer Is?

Does it really matter who is photographing the President or the First Lady? How much is the President’s relationship with that photographer a factor? Also, does it matter if the photographer is a man or a woman? The clip features Barbara Kinney and Samantha Appleton. (Kinney also discusses this photo, having followed Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton into a washroom, at 53:40 in the full broadcast below.)

Irony & Lack of Access: The Creativity of NY Times Photographer, Stephen Crowley

This clip looks at the photo media’s visual response to less White House access. It features Stephen Crowley on creative ways of working “the other side of the table” and Dennis Brack on offering “the other side” of events with history in mind.

Emotional Style: Why One Photographer is not Enough

One primary reason it’s important to have different photographers covering the president. This clip features Mike Davis and Samantha Appleton.

The State Dinner Crashers: The Photo and the Backstory

Samantha Appleton on the couple that crashed the White House State Dinner for the Indian Prime Minister and the White House handling of the photograph.

How Much does the White House Release Photos for Political or “Propaganda” Reasons?

What are the reasons for releasing a White House photograph? How scripted are White House photos? Mike Davis on releasing White House photos on 9/11. Samantha Appleton on creating impressions versus the authenticity of the Obamas.

Social Media, Production and the White House Press Office

Shooting for The White House is a lot different today than it was during the Clinton Administration. Some insight into what it’s like in the self-publishing social media age. This clip features Barbara Kinney, Dennis Brack and Samantha Appleton.

Full Broadcast: The Debate Over White House Photo Access


photo:Dennis Brack caption: President Carter slipping as he walks from the Oval Office to his limousine on his first day in office, 1/21/77.

photo:Pete Souza/White House caption: Aboard Air Force One, former President Bush shows photos of his paintings to, from left, First Lady Michelle Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Valerie Jarrett, National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice, Attorney General Eric Holder and former First Lady Laura Bush, Dec. 9, 2013.

photo:Dennis Brack caption:LBJ showing his scar at Bethesda Naval Hospital, 1965.

photo:Chuck Kennedy/White House, April 11 2013 via Michelle Obama/Instagram.

photo:Barbara Kinney/White House. caption: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright briefs First Lady Hillary Clinton in a ladies room during a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic in 1997.

photo:Samantha Appleton/White House caption:President Barack Obama greets Michaele and Tareq Salahi during a receiving line in the Blue Room of the White House before the State Dinner with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Nov. 24, 2009.

photo:Stephen Crowley/Twitter Oct 4, 2013. caption:Obama & Biden strolling to a diner that offers 10% discount to furloughed gov employees.

(photo: Eric Draper/Courtesy George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum caption: President George W. Bush participates in a reading demonstration the morning of September 11, 2001 at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida.)

  • Panelists
  • Samantha Appleton White House photographer, Obama Administration (2008 - 2010). Having worked on major stories from Iraq and Africa to Maine, Samantha has received numerous awards including first place, Picture of the Year in 2002, and her work has appeared frequently in publications such as TIME and the New Yorker.
  • Dennis Brack Past president of the White House News Photographers Association; author: Presidential Picture Stories: Behind the Cameras at the White House (2013). Brack has photographed U.S. presidents from JFK to Obama.
  • Stephen Crowley Staff Photographer, New York Times. White House News Photographers' Association "Photographer of the Year" in 2002, Crowley has been covering the White House since 1992.
  • Mike Davis Lead Picture Editor for the White House Photo Office 2001-2004. Alexia Tsairis Chair For Documentary Photography at Newhouse School, Syracuse University.
  • Barbara Kinney Former White House photographer, Clinton Administration (January 1993-April 1999); campaign photographer, Hillary Clinton, 2008; photographer, Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation (ongoing). World Press Photo first place, 1996 - "People in the News."
  • Loret Steinberg Professor of Photojournalism and Documentary Photography/R.I.T.
  • Michael Shaw Publisher - BagNewsNotes
  • Moderator - Cara Finnegan Professor of Communication – U. of Illinois, Co-editor: Visual Rhetoric: a reader in communication and American culture.

Comments Powered by Disqus

Salon Archive Archives