In January 1919 President Woodrow Wilson’s traveled to the Paris Peace Conference to determine the borders of Europe after World War One.Harry Van Tine of the National Photo Company accompanied President Wilson on the trip and made the photograph above.On this trip Harry was treated almost as a member of the official presidential party.
Just a matter of months later, President Wilson had a major stroke and no one could get near President Wilson to determine his condition.Of course, photographs were definitely out of the question.
That didn’t deter an aggressive Harry Van Tine.One morning Harry and another photographer with their cameras at the readycrawled in a wagon load of hay that was going to feed the sheep which were grazing on the South Lawn.A Secret Service agent thought the hay was a bit lumpy and start to poke at the load.They found Harry and friend—no Wilson pictures that morning.
Since the Speed Graphic is such an important part of the history of the photographers covering theWhite House, a few more stories are in order.
George Eastman purchased Folmer and Schwing Manufacturing, a bicycle company that also made cameras, in 1905. Such a combination of products was not uncommon at that time. The 4×5 Speed Graphic camera was introduced in 1912.
The camera contained a cloth curtain focal plane shutter and rail-based bellows mounted on a carriage that could be folded into a tight box.
Improvements, such as a front leaf shutter and a sports finder, were added over the years, but the basic camera design never changed. In 1947 the company came out with the Pacemaker Graphic, which was the same camera without the focal plane shutter.
The 4×5 Speed Graphic was the sweetheart of press photographers for sixty years.
At one time sixteen of the twenty Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs were made with this bulky but durable picture-making machine.
The Speed Graphic became the identifying symbol of the news photographer.
The film was put into the back of the Speed Graphic with film holders and a slide would be pulled, much like the film holders in the Wet Plate Process. A photographer started the day with about ten film holders, each containing two sheets of film. Usually a photographer carried the holder in the camera and perhaps one holder in each coat pocket. Every exposure was important.
During World War II the 4×5 Speed Graphic was used by military and news photographers. The army made a combat Graphic but it came too late to cover the war.
The Korean War was the last war to be covered using Speed Graphics.
Video coverage of the presidents all began in France with the Lumiere Brothers.
Auguste and Louis designed a motion picture camera that would be the first of the world of motion picture cameras.What’s more,this camera could be converted into a movie projector by opening the camera, putting a focused light sourcebehind the lens area. and using the shutter mechanism to transport the film.
They wanted to make movies of the world and to gain the cooperation of towns,
they would film in a location, develop the film, turn the camera into a projector and show their movies of the people in the town that evening.
Fifteen years later motion picture cameramen began to take their place next to the stillmen covering the white House. They worked with 35mm film which could be projected in the newsreels in the theaters across the nation. No wonder these men were named “The Reels”
Many changes and the 35mm celluloid has evolved to video tape and today, smart card disks.
In response to many requests from the still photographers President Roosevelt agreed to pose for pictures to be made a three o’clock on Christmas Day.The photographers, still photographers only, were to report to the White House usher.They would be in position for the photograph in the East Room or they would be let in to the East Room after the president and family was seated.It would be the president’s choice at the time.
Several photographers and press associations were represented.A close look at the photograph above shows that the family wasn’t quite settled, posed and ready for the picture.It is my opinion, and only my opinion, that the Harris and Ewing photographer who covered the assignment was making a quick photograph right at the start of the session.The photographers never knew what was coming next so it is smart to make a picture quickly and then “look for art” as Jim Atherton from United Press International used to say.The photographers called it “Making a holder for the bag”While the photographers in 1939 were using 4×5 holders and camera bags, the photographers covering the White House today will do the same thing—make a picture quickly as we enter the event.There are a couple of changes today.We don’t use film and we don’t carry camera bags.
In past administrations, the preview of the White House decorations was a great time for the photographers covering the White House. After we made our pictures of the decorations and the First Lady wishing everyone a Merry Christmas in front of the White House Christmas House, we stayed for a first class buffet and a little egg nog.
Things have changed. The buffet is now a quick cider and cookies out on the North Portico, but the photographs are still fun to make.
This years event was for the children for service members. Cute young men and women and a beautiful First Lady and a photographer can’t miss.
Photographer George Harris captured a Wright Brothers plane taking off from the South Lawn of the White House in July 1911. The pilot was Harry Attwood
and he had flown the plane from Boston to Washington. The Wright Experience based in Warrenton, Virginia is attempting to raise 4 million dollars for the project.
The historic photograph was made by George Harris using a camera that used 5×7 glass plates. George Harris partnered with Bunnie Ewing to form Harris and Ewing, an important photo news organization that documented the presidents and the history of the United States for the first half of the last century.
There is a chapter on George Harris in PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES. The following is the first few paragraphs of the chapter.
“Mr. Harris,”Teddy Roosevelt roared,“I’m amazed.That’s no kind of answer.When anybody asks if you can do anything in photography, tell them ‘certainly I can.’ Then find a way to do it”.George Harris had just told President Roosevelt that he wasn’t sure that he could take a photograph of the Roosevelt cabinet members in a tiny dark room of the White House.George Harris made the photograph and continued to photograph Presidents Taft, Harrison, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, F.D. Roosevelt, Truman, and Eisenhower.
Harris& Ewing, is a photographer’s credit that you have seen since you were in high school looking at your American History text books. George Harris was the photographer andMartha “Bunnie” Ewing was the studio manager. Harris & Ewing was a first class photographic studio, a commercial photographic operation, and news photo syndicate that played a major part in Washington photographic history.
Harris began his career in Pittsburgh as a news photographer, and one of his first assignments was to cover the 1889 Johnstown flood.In 1902, while working for Hearst News Service in San Francisco, his managing editor told him about the need for news photos of senators and congressmen in Washington, DC. In 1905 he moved to Washington and opened Harris & Ewing Photographic News Service.
One of the times that the East Room of the White House is completely full of the nation’s finest is the presentation of the Medal of Honor. This morning the ceremony was for a Captain who spotted a suicide bomber and ran straight for him. He pushed the bomber away from the group that he was protecting and down to the ground. The bomb exploded along with another bomb, but he lived. The top military brass is on the first two rows of the right side of the East Room and the Medal of Honors winners are on the right–a very elite group.
The number of video and still photographers is greatly expanded because of the amount of military journalists who want to cover this story. The entire back and side of the room is covered with ladders and tripods. The White House press advance staff did an excellent job in making sure that the photographers were not blocked.
President George H.W. Bush and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald R. Ford and Richard Nixon.The first-ever gathering of five past and present U.S. chief executives was a chance for a history making photograph.The Reagan advance staffgot together to produce the event and they did in their usual fashion—they did it perfectly.The first thing they did was to ask their old friends, the news photographers who covered President Reagan, what would make the best photograph and wasthe exact location for the best background and lighting.We all chimed in and decided on a court yard towards the entrance of the library.Wally McNamee, David Hume Kennerly, and I along with several other photographers were in position and waited.And waited.Turns out that the presidents were in the replica of the Oval Office and they had started telling presidential war stories about their experiences in their time in the Oval Office.An aide stepped in to tell them that 3,000 guest were waiting for them and they told him to let them wait, and restarted their stories.Finally, they came out and we made the historic photograph above.
The day went perfectly, but it was warm and bright.First Lady Pat Nixon felt ill and was not able to make the photo of the First Ladies.We looked over to a small bench in the court yard and there was the First Lady.President Nixon was seated beside her trying to comfort her.