White House photographer tells us what it’s like to shoot 7 presidents
What would your dream photography gig be? Photographing wildlife for National Geographic magazine? Photographing the rich and famous? Being paid to travel to far-flung places? For some, photographing the president of the United States may well be up there on that list, particularly if you get to see them behind closed doors, away from the public eye.
White House photographer and Pulitzer prize winner Doug Mills shared his experiences of photographing not just one, but seven of the US presidents in a fascinating interview aired on Today.
Doug has been a photojournalist for roughly forty years and certainly has some stories to tell. “I’m looking for any moment of expression with the president, or light around the president, or who else is in the room, who he might be looking at,” he says.
He continues to say that photographing presidents is not exactly straightforward, however. There is physically very little space around them to manoeuvre around without a Secret Service staff getting in the way of the shot. He says that he’s always asking the agents for a couple of feet. Luckily with longer lenses, he’s able to evoke the mood of being a lot closer than he actually is, so creating a greater feeling of intimacy.
Mills admits that perhaps the most photogenic president had to have been Barack Obama. “He was like a chameleon,” he says. “He could fit into any situation whether he was in a suit or jeans or playing basketball or going into a bar to have beers with people.”
And the most iconic? Mills says that it has to be Donald Trump. Whatever you make of his politics you have to admit that Trump would have made a really interesting subject for a photo. “You can take any picture of him in any situation, and show his hands, or his hair, or his jacket, or a silhouette and people would recognize him right away,” Doug says of number 45.
Many of Doug’s memories and images are etched into the public’s mind, without most of us being aware of it. Doug was actually with George W Bush at the moment that the President was informed of 9/11. That moment in the Primary school. Doug was able to capture that expression, that look of abject horror and disbelief when the President of the USA was just another terrified human for a moment.
Perhaps even more incredibly, and it is surely a testament to how trusted Mills must have been, he was allowed to continue photographing the President on Air Force One as more details of the events unfolded and Bush set about forming his response to the situation.
“Taking chances and just looking at things differently and trying to do that every day is what motivates me,” says Doug, “I love going to work every day”. That to me sounds like a dream photography gig.
You can follow more of Doug’s work on Instagram.
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe