Director of White House Photography, 1993-1998
January 18, 2001
|In 1993, Bob McNeely was personally asked by Bill and Hillary Clinton to become the Director of White House Photography. During the next six years, he captured over 25,000 rolls of history and chronicled the Clinton Years in amazing detail. In this chat, Bob reveals what it was like to be on the inside of the White House, why he favors black and white film, and why his pictures of George W. Bush always seem comical.
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Good evening. Tonight it is our great
fortune to be able to bring the Director
of White House photography during the Clinton era,
Bob McNeely, to you via this state of the art
chat application, which will incorporate some
of Bob's work--real-time.
Currently, Bob is director of
"Photo 2000, Democracy at the Millennium."
Founded to chronicle the 2000 election process,
one we all know turned out to be quite historical,
Photo 2000 is a combination of photography,
technology, and journalism.
Now is your chance to ask questions and
participate in this event--jump right in!
Hello Bob. How were you chosen or selected to be the Director of White House Photography for President Clinton?
I've been a Washington photographer since 1972, and one of the ways Washington works is through networking and people that you know, and people know my work here. I was asked to join the Clinton campaign in July of 1992. After photographing the campaign, I was asked to photograph the transition, and after the transition, I was asked by the Clintons personally to become their photographer.
Were there any leaders who asked you not to photograph their meetings with the president?
Actually that's a great question. There was only one, and it came at the end of a large meeting, when President Clinton and President Mitterand decided to talk one on one, and I was very excited. I thought there would be good pictures, but just as they started to talk, President Mitterand looked up--I should add this was in the Oval Office in the White House--and waved his hand at me dismissively. I looked at President Clinton, sort of wondering what to do with a puzzled face, and he just shrugged his shoulders, like "What can I do?" so I took one picture very slowly and left the room.
Why didn't you photograph the White House years in color?
I did shoot some color, but my primary concern was creating an archival, historical record, and I felt that the archival ness of black and white was the best. I like color, but also I really feel able to work visually and creatively in black and white.
Have you ever photographed Clinton on Martha's Vineyard?
Yes. I went to Martha's Vineyard one summer, and stayed for two weeks. I have my own family, so when Clinton went on vacation, I usually tried to take mine at the same time.
What are some essential items we will always find in your camera bag?
Kodak film. Some extra batteries. At least two Leicas and one Canon EOS 1N, and four or five lenses.
What is your favorite film indoors without flash, and why?
Kodak T-Max 3200 exposed at 1600 and developed in T-Max Developer. I find at that speed, I can shoot in any light down to candlelight, and I still get shadow details. And the highlights, as you can see in the picture of Clinton and Gore in the limousine, are not blown out.
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