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Photographing History Being Made

lbj by okamotoStorytellers with cameras. That would be one way to describe photojournalists, the people who report the news using photographs rather than words.

In the U.S., no photojournalist has a better view of world events than the official White House photographer. He has unlimited access (the right see someone) to the president – and often to the president’s family – and goes wherever the president goes. His job, according to Pete Souza, President Obama’s official photographer, is to create “a good photographic archive (collection of historical documents)… that will live on” after the president leaves office.

If you ask other White House photographers, they all agree: Yoichi Okamoto, the first official White House photographer, was the best.

Okamoto, who came to be known as “Oke”, was born just outside of New York City in 1915 and served (worked) as an army photographer during World War II. After the war, he worked for the United States Information Agency. Okamoto met Vice President Lyndon Johnson on a trip to Berlin in 1961. According to Okamoto, the vice president liked his work and from then on, Okamoto accompanied (went with) Johnson on all of his foreign trips.

When Johnson became president, he asked Okamoto to take some portraits (paintings or photographs of a person) of him. According to one writer, Okamoto told Johnson, “Rather than just take portraits, I’d like to hang around (wait somewhere) and photograph history being made.” And that’s what he did. Okamoto became President Johnson’s official photographer. He often spent 16 hours a day photographing the president with world leaders, members of congress, friends, and family members.

In a recent interview, David Kennerly, the White House photographer while Gerald Ford was president, says Okamoto had a great subject (the person being photographed) – President Johnson – who had to deal with (make decisions and take action) difficult problems, like the war in Vietnam and civil rights. And “when you look at the pictures [Okamoto took], you just feel like you’re there” because “he thought and he photographed as a storyteller.”

Okamota had a special ability to show the personality of his subjects. In his photographs of President Johnson, you can see the changes in the president’s moods (how he felt) and the ways he interacted with (talked with; worked with) the people around him.

There are more than 250,000 photos of President Johnson – the “greatest album (collection of photographs, usually in a book) of candid (informal) pictures ever made of an American president.” Most of them were made by Yoichi Okamoto.

You can find examples of Okamota’s work online here and here. And there’s also an interesting one-hour-long Public Broadcasting System (PBS) documentary on White House photographers.

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of Successful English, where you will find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

 Photo used under Creative Commons license.

16 Responses to “Photographing History Being Made”

  1. Dan Says:

    Hey Warren, thank you as always.

    Just finished watching the documentary while having dinner. This evening pasta with lentils one of my favorites.

    Pictures I liked the most: Johnson’s dog, Obama’s dog and the one with Nixon and Elvis.

    That shows my soft side towards animals, except of course for Nixon and Elvis.

    As the same Obama revealed in the documentary, it is hard getting used to having this guy around 24/7 shooting at you.

    I was thinking at myself having my personal photographer. That would be odd.

    As an average Joe, looking at this documentary, I could not help but thinking what a gigantic monsters our governments became.
    I mean, even the same photographers, we as a tax payers have on our shoulders all these people, and there are soooo many of them.
    I sometimes wonder if that is really necessary.

    I am not complaining, I just asking to myself.

    Thanks

  2. Parviz Says:

    Dear warren,
    Thank you very much for taking time and teaching us a bit of American history.
    I am sure Mr. Yoichi Okamoto was as great at photography as you depicted him.
    I really love photography, though personally love to be the subject, rather than the photographer.
    No photography for me. I more like posing.
    That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate good works of others.
    To tell the truth, I have archived variety of some beautiful pictures (wallpaper pictures), from centurions, from veterans to flowers and animals, which I collected over many years from different sources.
    Every day in the morning I would review the pictures, and choose one of them as the picture of the day.
    Each picture has it’s own story, which means more than just color and figure for me.
    And changing the wallpaper I connect to the situation where the picture was taken from.
    Thank,
    Parviz

  3. DAVID Says:

    Hi….
    As I see it, This form of reporting news, of writting the history , of reflecting what is really happening,is fairly curious and exciting.
    I confess I’d like to have a photographer all day after me , shooting me,catching my highligths and my sorrows This will allow my grandsons to hark back and find out the differents facets of my life.
    Obviously , At the beginning , It’d be pretty complicated and hard to get accustomed to having a man all time around you, but as time goes by, You will get it.

  4. emiliano Says:

    So good Warren, as always you get the highest point of interest
    and now it is even more clear to me.

    I love this kind of photos, I can´t take president´s life but I have
    taken Cuca´s life and the girls for several years, some ot them
    are really very good too.

    Now without girls and Cuca not healthy my interest have decreased
    a lot.
    So I take Madrid´s photos when I go fo a walk, but I like people
    faces and groups more, just like these taken by Oke.

    Incredible history test of several years, great.

    Thanks Warren, emiliano

  5. Aécio Flávio Perim Says:

    No interest.
    Aecio.

  6. emiliano Says:

    Warren, here in Madrid there is a great museum where there several photographing history expositions and always it is
    very good received for everybody who like history and photography.

    By my side I am always really interested in both subjects and I do try to go and see these kind of events.

    The museum name is Reina Sofia and it is close near the Prado Musuem and the Thyssen Bornemisza, jthe site it is
    called the art gold kilometer as all these museums are in a circle of a kilometer just in the middle of Madrid.

    Everything that could be interesting it is close near so Madrid it is an art resort in European´s cities together with
    London, Paris and of course several cities of Italy.

    May be in Spain there is a great art tradition either people love photography in general, me too of course.

    My best dear Warren and thank you so much, the photos are really good that´s my opinión.

    emiliano

  7. Dan Says:

    Hi there everyone

    I have seen several photos of Emiliano’s wife Cuca, and I can say he has taken some good shots of Cuca, whom by the way was a really attractive young woman, and the girls.
    And Gatufo of course. Emiliano, the official photographer of Mr Gatufo:-)

    About Cuca I still have in mind this photo of her in a dress of that time 60/70s with a nice piece of furniture on the background. I liked that.

    Congratulations Emiliano, you could have been competing with this Okamoto.

    Hey Emiliano do not you think pictures in black and white have something special? I cannot say what though.
    ***************************************************************************************

    About the documentary,

    Morgan Freeman as a narrator is really good, and he has a warm calming voice.
    I remember watching a series of science docs. with him a couple of years ago, when I still had a SKY subscription.
    He’s good.

    Thanks

  8. emiliano Says:

    Thank you Dan, you are right in everything she was absolutely wonderful and nice
    in fact Cuca was my muse always.

    Well, I think some black and white pictures are really incredible good and yes they
    have something special if they are good.

    Now it is nearly impossible to get that quality of black and white texture as there
    is not any negatives to do such a good work, so the pictures taken that way of course
    have something different, special, that now it is not posible by the electronic digital
    photo cameras.

    Years ago Cuca and me attend a course of photografy in black and White, it was
    fascinating to reveal the reel and get the negatives with the appropriate liquid and then
    make the copies in paper.

    I could remember that we were going together for three or four months and had
    to do practices in the street, and with living models. Once Laura went with us to
    the class and she was possing like a model, she was nearly a children and she was very
    formal staying quiet with all the students there, it was funny for her and for us.

    Good time to remember. Thanks Dan.

    emiliano

  9. Betty Says:

    Thanks Dear Warren for this article which gives me more information about what’s happening in the White House.

    I kept thinking I had read something similar before. So I started searching the blog archive.

    I found Lucy’s article “A Photo Worth a Thousand Words” posted on THursday, July 19TH, 2012.

    It has been nearly one and a half year already. It was like yesterday that I read Lucy’s and everyone’s posts.

    One thing I want to mention here is, black and white photos have their special charm which colour photos can’t compete.

    Emiliano you are right about black and white photos. I heard it from one expect photographer as well.

    You know Emiliano, because of you, I chose to watch “Fahrenheit 451″ and “Blancanieves” when I flew back from London to Hong Kong on a Lufthansa flight.

    Both movies gave me sense of richness in taste. I would like to thank you for your good influence.

    I told me daughter that I watched a very old film on plane, it was about bull fighting in Spain. My daughter asked was it in black and white. I said yes, it was a very old film and it was in black and white. I said it was even before sound movies, it was a silent film.

    After the conversation, before I went to bed last night, I was still thinking of the film, so I searched the web about it. I was astonished to find that it was released only last year. And it has received a lot of awards. No wonder I liked the film so much.

    Have you watched this Spanish film Emiliano? Please could you tell us your comment about this film if you have watched it before?

    I am still suffering from headache from a bad cold and over-worked in England. The pain is so severe that I must write something here to distract my attention on the pain.

    I hope I haven’t given you a headache now making you read my post.

    Thanks again and please take care

    Betty :)

  10. Dan Says:

    Hi Betty,

    I have read Fahrenheit 451, but never heard of that other movie.
    I am not even looking for it because I hate bull fight which even a eight year old kis understand it’s wrong.
    Hope they made the movie in order to ban that horrific thing.

    Thank you

  11. emiliano Says:

    1961 – One, two, three (Uno, dos, tres)
    1960 – The Apartment (El apartamento)
    1959 – Some Like it Hot (Con faldas y a lo loco)
    1957 – Witness for the Prosecution (Testigo de cargo

    Yes dear Betty, black and White photos have special charming but even movies filmed in black and White despite the color was there
    have incredible look.

    Above I have mentioned four greal movies of Billy Wilder that were made in black and White for him despite color was the rule in
    those years.
    Billy Wilder made a lot of movies in color and b/w but these four are among the best of him in his last period.
    The mojority of the movies of him, the great one, were made in b/w, for instance Sabrina, Sunset Boulevard, The lost weekend,
    The Front Page, and so forth.

    ++++++

    I can´t know which spanish film did you see Betty, I need the tittle, sorry my dear and thanks to
    have in mind my advice.

    NINOTCHKA is a good movie in b/w too, really good, I have seen it six or seven.

    Another good movie too, one among thousands, in b/w is MARTY
    Delbert Mann the director and the actor is Ernest Borgnine and Betsy Blair the ctress.
    The movie was rewarded with four oscars in 1955 even lot of rewards of several contest
    of this year.
    See it if you can, sure you love MARTY after watching the movie.

    Another one, and sorry not more, Twelve Angry Men with Henry Fonda, it is really a good
    film of these years too, in b/w as it is natural.

    We would need a hundred pages to mention all b/w good movies made by several of the
    best directors all over the world, it is a long long list.

    Cuca also loves these old kind of movies, and please have in mind dear friends of the blog that even

    Psycho

    of

    Alfred Hitchcock

    was in Black and White, why? if Hitchcock loved the colour?
    Just a good question to think about…….

    My best dear Betty.

    emiliano

  12. emiliano Says:

    Sorry my pc. Windows 8 doen´t like to write colour, instead it writes color always…..why?
    but even black and White ……..write the second Word White in capital letters…..why?
    these two last words have been written in capital letters……crazy Windows 8

    Where are you B.Gates?

    So many mistakes I can´t know why this computer has its own life.

    emiliano

  13. Betty Says:

    Sorry my mistake.

    “expect photographer” should read as “expert photographer”

    Betty

  14. Betty Says:

    Dear Emiliano and Dan

    Thanks for responding to my comment.

    The name of the film is “Blancanieves”.

    “Blancanieves” means “Snow White” in Spanish.

    Lufthansa’s Inflight Entertainment page describes it as “The Snow White tale gets doused in flamenco rhythms and shoved into the bullfighting arena in this affectionate 1920s-set tribute to European silent cinema”.

    Quoting from the wikipedia,

    “Blancanieves is a 2012 Spanish black-and-white silent fantasy drama film written and directed by Pablo Berger. Based on the fairy tale “Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm, the story is set in a romantic vision of 1920s Andalusia. Berger calls it a “love letter to European silent cinema.”

    “Blancanieves was Spain’s 85th Academy Awards official submission to Best Foreign Language category, but it did not make the shortlist. The film won the Special Jury Prize and an ex-aequo Best Actress “Silver Shell” Award for Macarena García at the 2012 San Sebastián International Film Festival. It also won ten Goya Awards, including the Goya Award for Best Film at the 27th Goya Awards”.

    The film is not about cruelness to bulls.

    Have you watched this film, Emiliano? The actors and actresses in the film are so beautiful.

    Thanks Emiliano for telling me so many good films’ name. I will watch them if I have a chance next time.

    Best Regards

    Betty ;)

  15. emiliano Says:

    Thank you Betty, now I get the point even I know which movie are you talking about.
    I have this movie in mind to watch it, now knowing you did it sure I´ll have it more
    present and I´ll try to have it.

    All my best dear.

    emiliano

  16. Dan Says:

    Hey Betty.

    I was only able to find the trailer on Youtube.

    Looks beautiful, even though I have seen a couple of scenes with the bull, and I do not like that.

    Think that I hate that so much that when I saw videos of the man getting trashed by the bull I am happy.

    Thank you Betty.