Photographing the White House Christmas Decorations, a pleasant assignment for White House Photographers

The media photographs the White House Christmas tree as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House  in December 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
The media photographs the White House Christmas tree as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House in December 2016
Photo by Dennis Brack

Volunteers come from throughout the United States to help in the decorations at the White House.  The heavy lifting is done by the United States Park service.  After all the White House in a national park.

One more Christmas tree is brought into the White House as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House  in December 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
One more Christmas tree is brought into the White House as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House in December 2016
Photo by Dennis Brack

Each year the First Lady’s press office puts out a sign up list for journalists to look at and photograph the White House  decorated for  Christmas.  Each administration does this with their individual style.  During the Reagan years, the press was treated to a substantial assortment of Christmas cheer complete with champaign of mimosas in the East Room. 

The Library as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House  in December 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
The Library as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House in December 2016
Photo by Dennis Brack
Bo and Sunny are part of the Christmas decorations at the White House  in December 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
Bo and Sunny are part of the Christmas decorations at the White House in December 2016
Photo by Dennis Brack

This year it was hot cider and large cookies shaped in the form of First dogs, Bo and Sunny.  These treats were served outside on the North Portico as the press was leaving. 

The focal point of the State Dining room is always the Ginger Bread House.  Every White House pastry chef tries to out do his or her predecessor .

The White House Ginger Bread house as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House  in December 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
The White House Ginger Bread house as part of the Christmas decorations at the White House in December 2016
Photo by Dennis Brack

  • Photographers Covering Presidential Transitions

    President Barack Obama and President Elect Donald Trump meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama and President Elect Donald Trump meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    Each transition is unique.  It depends on the personalities of the presidents and the circumstances of the transition.  Photographs of the Obama Trump transition was one that the White House photographers were looking forward to.  It was an important picture and it could have gone many ways.  It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t.  The press room was crowded with the regulars as well as photographers who had press credentials and managed to get through the security clearance and into the White House pressroom.  There was the usual crunch at the door. 

    President Barack Obama and President Elect Donald Trump meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016 Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama and President Elect Donald Trump meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016
    Photo by Dennis Brack

    The pool was first and the regulars were right behind them,and then the “strap hangers” .  The White House staff kinda looked the other way after the pool went through the doors, the photographers who cover the White House everyday passed through, and that was it.  The Oval Office was crowded, but the stills and the video crews knew exactly where to go.  Everyone worked together and everyone got photos and video.

    President Lyndon Johnson makes his first statement to the USA as president as Air Force One carrying the casket of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on November 22nd 1963. Photograph by Dennis Brack
    President Lyndon Johnson makes his first statement to the USA as president as Air Force One carrying the casket of President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on November 22nd 1963. Photograph by Dennis Brack

    Other transitions were not as well planned.  On the night of November 22nd 1963 Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force base.  The casket carrying the body of President John F. Kennedy came off the plane and former First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy climbed into the gray Navy Ambulance and slowly rolled away.  As a bit of an after thought  a light stand with microphones attached was set out and

    Each transition is unique.  It depends on the personalities of the presidents and the circumstances of the transition.  Photographs of the Obama Trump transition was one that the White House were looking forward to.  It was an important picture and it could have gone many ways.  It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t.  The press room was crowded with the regulars as well as photographers who had press credentials and managed to get through the security clearance and into the White House pressroom.  There was the usual crunch at the door.  The pool was first and the regulars were right behind them,and then the “strap hangers” .  The White House staff kinda looked the other way after the pool went through the doors, the photographers who cover the White House everyday passed through, and that was it.  The Oval Office was crowded, but the stills and the video crews knew exactly where to go.  Everyone worked together and everyone got photos and video.

    Other transitions were not as well planned.  On the night of November 22nd 1963 Air Force One landed at Andrews Air Force base.  After the casket carrying the body of President John F. Kennedy came off the plane, former First Lady Jacquelyn Kennedy climbed into the gray Navy Ambulance and slowly rolled away.  As a bit of an after thought  and light stand with microphone attached was set out and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnston spoke to the nation for the first time as the president of the United States.

    I think the President Johnson was very happy to turn the presidential responsibilities over the  Richard Nixon.  He had a long meeting with Nixon at his ranch and you could see that he felt that he was leaving the office in good hands on the November morning President elect Nixon visited the White House. 

    Of course, the Nixon —Ford transition was very different.  A quick hand shake at the steps of Marine One, the series of waves and then the Nixon “Double Wammy”.   As the engines of Marine One churned and the red carpet was beginning to be rolled up, the nation and everyone on the South Lawn had their first look at Jerry Ford as their new president.

    The Carters and Reagan met on the steps of the North Portico of the White House.  They had coffee and then traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inauguration. 

    Most thought that the greeting of the President Elect and the First Lady would be similar to the photograph of  First Lady Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but that was not to be. 

    Lyndon Baines Johnston spoke to the nation for the first time as the president of the United States.

    President Lyndon Johnson meets with president elect Richard Nixon at the White House in November 1968
    President Lyndon Johnson meets with president elect Richard Nixon at the White House in November 1968. Photo by Dennis Brack

    I think the President Johnson was very happy to turn the presidential responsibilities over the  Richard Nixon.  He had a long meeting with Nixon at his ranch and you could see that he felt he was leaving the office in good hands on the morning that President elect Nixon visited the White House. 

    Of course, the Nixon —Ford transition was very different.  A quick hand shake at the steps of Marine One, the series of waves and then the Nixon “Double Wammy”  .  As the engines of Marine One churned and the red carpet was beginning to be rolled up, the nation and everyone on the South Lawn had their first look at Jerry Ford as their new president.

    President and First Lady Ford walk away from Marine One with President Richard Nixon on board after Nixon resigned in August 1974. Photograph by Dennis Brack BBBs 20
    President and First Lady Ford walk away from Marine One with President Richard Nixon on board after Nixon resigned in August 1974.
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

    The Carters and Reagan met on the steps of the North Portico of the White House.  They had coffee and then traveled up Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inauguration. 

    The Carters and the Reagans on Inaugural day 1981 Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27
    The Carters and the Reagans on Inaugural day 1981
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27

    Most thought that the greeting of the President Elect and the First Lady would be similar to the photograph of  First Lady Barbara Bush and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but that was not to be. 

    Hillary Rodham Clinton visits the White House and First Lady Barbara Bush after the presidential election in November 1992. Photograph by Dennis Brack
    Hillary Rodham Clinton visits the White House and First Lady Barbara Bush after the presidential election in November 1992.
    Photograph by Dennis Brack

  • Thirty years ago the Reagan Gorbachev talks began in Reykjavik, Iceland

    Reagan and Gorbachev as they leave the final session at the summit in Reykjavik Iceland Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27
    Reagan and Gorbachev as they leave the final session at the summit in Reykjavik Iceland
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27

    On Oct. 11, 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev opened two days of arms negotiations in Reykjavik, Iceland.  Warm smiles and waves at the start of the talks.  The end of the talks were another matter.  Long after the talks were supposed to end, the doors opened and President Reagan’s stern look told the photographers that they were about to make some important pictures.  There was almost no light at the top of the steps, but the picture didn’t happen there.  Reagan and Gorbachev walked to the cars where there was absolutely no light.  It was a long throw and the 300mm f2.8 was the lens that the pool of seven photographers used.  


  • The 9 11 Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16 photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16  photo by Dennis Brack

    The September 11th Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon was, as it has been in the past, a ritual for President Barack Obama.  After a  private observance in the  White House there was a  rapid motorcade to the Pentagon.  The pool got in to position to photograph the president positioning a wreath

    President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Memorial Observance Ceremony photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama lays a wreath at the Memorial Observance Ceremony
    photo by Dennis Brack

    .  Photographers held for the president to take the stage and then were escorted into the buffer area.  This position allowed  us to photograph the president facing the flag on the Pentagon during the  playing of the National Anthem and o photograph Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford to make brief speeches before the President took the podium.

    President Barack Obama with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16 photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr photo by Dennis Brack

    This position was perfect for photographing the people in the front rows watching and reacting to the remarks by President Obama. Unfortunately it would have been disturbing to ask for their names.

    Guests on the front row of a 9 11 Pentagon ceremony listens to President Barack Obama deliver remarks at the Memorial Observance Ceremon photo by Dennis Brack
    Guests on the front row of a 9 11 Pentagon ceremony listens to President Barack Obama. photo by Dennis Brack

    The photographers asked the advance person to get the names after the event.  She begrudgingly said that there would be an information email coming.  No email was received.  Hey, there are some great advance staff and some not so great advance staff persons.

    President Barack Obama shakes hands with guests at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16 photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama shakes hands with guests at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16 photo by Dennis Brack

    After his remarks President Obama went down to the crowd and began to shake hands.  Before  he got to any of the interesting people on the front row, the advance person told us that we had to load the motorcade.  We sat in the vans for a good ten minutes.  There would have been plenty of time to stay to make some memorable photographs.

    President Barack Obama at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16 ISP Pool Dennis Brack/Black Star
    President Barack Obama at the Memorial Observance Ceremony at the Pentagon on 9 11 16
    Photo by  Dennis Brack

     


  • Republican Conventions: A combination of political excitement and sometimes predictable boredom.

    A balloon drop at the Republican Convention in New Orleans in 1988. Photograph by Dennis Brack bb33
    A balloon drop at the Republican Convention in New Orleans in 1988.
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bb33

    The Republican Conventions for the past  fifty years have been a combination of political excitement  and sometimes predictable boredom.  The photographers covering the White House are usually in the key positions to cover these events.  For years the center stand position for the Associated Press was manned by Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Edmonds. 

    The Center Camera Stand during the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980 Photograph by Dennis Brack bs b 17
    The Center Camera Stand during the Democratic Convention in New York in 1980
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bs b 17

    This year Scotty Applewhite will be on the AP  center stand and no doubt there will be hundreds of photographs with the credit J. Scott Applewhite, AP.

    For the last two days photographers have been busy mounting remote cameras on poles to the side and behind the speakers.  Cameras are also positioned on the catwalks overhead to  get  new overall photographs.  These remotes have come a long way.  The Canon camera loans their latest remote cameras that will zoom and pan to various wire services. 

     Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew at the Republican Convention in 1972 PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5

    Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew at the Republican Convention in 1972
    PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5

    Sometimes the excitement comes from the selection of the vice presidential nominee.  In 1968 outside of Maryland, nobody had ever heard of Spiro Agnew. 

    Vice President candidate Dan Quayle speaks as candidate Vice President HW Bush watches at a rally the day after the Republican Convention in August 1988. This photograph was the cover of TIME magazine that week. Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27
    Vice President candidate Dan Quayle speaks as candidate Vice President HW Bush watches at a rally the day after the Republican Convention in August 1988. This photograph was the cover of TIME magazine that week.
    Photograph by Dennis Brack bb 27

    Likewise in New Orleans, we were are lined up and waiting for a Mississippi paddlewheel  to dock so that we could find a fellow named Dan Qualye.

     Nixon supporter at the Republican national Convention in 1972 Photo by Dennis Brack b11

    Nixon supporter at the Republican national Convention in 1972
    Photo by Dennis Brack b11

    Regardless of the news value, the Republican Conventions are a good show.

    W Clemment Stone at Republican Convention in 1972 PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5
    W Clemment Stone at Republican Convention in 1972
    PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5

    Millionaires like W. Clement Stone arrive in their million dollar yachts.  There usually  is no shortage of beautiful ladies.

    Of course,  there are folks that are there to protest and that is a major part of the  convention story.

    Often there are Republicans who the  Republican leadership would like to forget.  When asked why Sarah Palin was not speaking at the convention, Trump relied  “It’s a little bit difficult because of where she is. We love Sarah. Little bit difficult because of, you know, it’s a long ways away.”

    Often they bring back their heroes. 

     President George W. Bush talks with his father after the president's speech to the Republican National Convention in New York, NY on September 2, 2004. Photograph by Dennis Brack

    President George W. Bush talks with his father after the president’s speech to the Republican National Convention in New York, NY on September 2, 2004. Photograph by Dennis Brack

    The convention loved Bush 41 and Bush 43 on the  floor together in New York 2004.

    No heroes are coming to Cleveland for this week’s convention.  The action will most likely take place on the streets. 

    Demonstration during the 1972 Republican Convention PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5
    Demonstration during the 1972 Republican Convention
    PHOTO BY DENNIS BRACK B 5

  • The Friends in “Lately”

    So, What have you done—Lately?  A question often asked to photographers.

    For me,  It is a search for really valuable photographs. No I’m not searching for world leaders, historic events that I have covered.  I open boxes of  transparencies with the hope that I made a few frames of my friends and competitors.  In the sixties, personal pictures were easy.  Everyone would make pictures, develop them and make a few prints to give to friends.  With color we lost control of our film.  We would ship the undeveloped rolls to New York where they would be edited by a series of editors who could sometimes be a little picky.  Personal pictures were seldom of these rolls. Hey, you didn’t want the editors to see how much fun you were having.

    Lately 1

    Interns Dennis Brack and Tucker Henry in the photo office of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS.  FYI, they made the woodcut engravings of the newspapers photos in the room next door

    Charlie Tasnadi, AP, with Fidel Castro on visit to Cuba in 1975.  It was one of the first trips to Cuba by Americans and we were granted visas to cover Senator McGovern’s visit.  Barbara Walters was part of the press.  I think that Fidel was more interested in Barbara Walters than Senator McGovern

    Roddy Mims and press wrangler, (we didn’t call them wranglers back then,I think we called them friends), at a party for the Reagan press covering President Reagan on vacation in Santa Barbara.

    Joe Holloway jr,  Chick Harrity, George Tames, Joe Marquette, Dennis Brack on the outskirts of Plains, Georgia in 1975.

    Larry Downing at Windsor Castle waiting  for Queen Elizabeth and Ronald Reagan.

    The seventies brought small cameras for “Happy Snaps”  The middle picture is not a happy snap, but it is my most cherished.  It was made on a Ford trip in New Orleans.  Kennerly  handed his Leica to a young lady who dreamed of being a photographer and she made the picture.  She did a great job!

    Lately Panel 2a copyNaiomI Nover in her blue dress and ready for battle!

    Photographers having coffee and  Beignets at Cafe Du Monde before boarding a paddlewheel riverboat to cover the campaign of President Ford on the Mississippi; Wally McNamee, Charlie Tasnadi,Paul Slade,Bob Sherman, David Burnett,Dennis Brack, David Hume Kennerly, Dirck Halstead,

    Electrician Marvin Purbaugh in Kennebunkport, Maine during a vacation that President H. W. Bush to his home in Kennebunkport

    With digital we regain control of our images. Personal pictures are plentiful.  It is my hope that everyone will preserve them, so they can have the delight of looking back at their friends from decades past.

    Panel 3 for webStephen Crawley working on a “Crawleygram”

    Cindy Campbell Brack at the office.

    Nikki Kahn, Pat Benic and Patsy Lynch on the South Lawn

    Rodney Batten

    Bentzen Ginburg

    Ron Edmonds and friends on the center camera stand in 2009.

    Scotty Applewhite and Kevin Lamarque


  • The Visits

    Prime Minister Modi of India. arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama on 6/7/16 photo by Dennis Brack
    Prime Minister Modi of India. arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama on 6/7/16
    photo by Dennis Brack

    There are all sorts of  grades of  White House  hospitality extended to heads of state.  The largest is the official visit with an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn.

    Prime Minister Modi of India. arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama on 6/7/16 ISP photo Dennis Brack/Black Star
    Prime Minister Modi of India. arrives at the White House for a meeting with President Barack Obama

     

    Since the Obama administration’s first  State Visit was for the Prime Minister of India a few years ago, the visit by Indian Prime Minister Modi was  a North Lawn Honor guard followed byBrack 6 7 16 an Oval Office meeting with a working lunch in the cabinet room.

     

     

    President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Modi of India in the Oval Office on 6/7/16 Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Modi of India in the Oval Office on 6/7/16
    Photo by Dennis Brack
    President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Modi of India in the Oval Office on 6/7/16 ISP Pool Dennis Brack/Black Star
    President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Modi of India in the Oval Office on 6/7/16  Dennis Brack

    While this was it was just another day for the White House press, it was a big deal for the members of the Modi press corps. Things got a bit hyper, but everyone got their pictures.


  • The Best Grass in the USA–most of the time.

    North Lawn mowing2The North and South lawn of the White House has the richest green grass that you can find anywhere in the nation.  After all it is a national park and the Department of Interior has detailed many employees to make sure that every inch is perfect.  In the fall large new machines are busy aerating, seeding and doing all of the right things to make the lawn a showcase.  In the spring, other machines return while giant mowers cut the lawn to the proper height.

    President Barack Obama walks over the weak grass on the South Lawn as he departs the White House en route Joint Base Andrews on 5/15/16. This bare spot in the well kept South Lawn was due to the positioning of a tent for a recent White House event. ISP Photo by Dennis Brack/Black Star
    President Barack Obama walks over the weak grass on the South Lawn as he departs the White House en route Joint Base Andrews on 5/15/16.  Photo by Dennis Brack

    There is one spot on the South Lawn that does not have the luck of the other lawn sections.  This is the space where the tents are positioned for major White House events.  The grounds keepers will attempt to revive the grass that is no doubt dead after a week or two without the sun, but finally they will give up.  Truck loads of beautiful new sod will take this high profile section of the lawn until the next tent event.


  • President Theodore Roosevelt Loved the Cameras

    A photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt by George Harris
    A photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt by George Harris

    President Theodore Roosevelt loved the cameras and encouraged the men behind them.  In San Francisco he meet a young George Harris and  told  him that he would have a great future if he brought his photography business to Washington, DC. Harris followed TR’s advice, partnered with “Bunny” Ewing and formed Harris and Ewing.

    George Harris at work
    George Harris at work

      Harris and Ewing became a successful photographic agency which covered the White House for sixty years.


  • Tommy Craven and the Hindenburg disaster

    Hindenburg disaster 2The first  arrivals of the dirigible Hindenburg at Lakehurst, New Jersey were big stories.  As time passed they became old news, but they still had to be covered to photograph the important newsmakers arriving on the  airship.  The news camera crews would set their cameras on tripods in position and then go to a local bar for a drink.  The Paramount  crew usually left a young member  to stand by the tripods just to make sure that no equipment was taken.  On May 6, 1937 the young crew member was Tommy Cravens.  Young Tommy turned the camera on just before the explosion. Then history happened.  Tommy got it all and suddenly he had an extremely depressing thought:  He had forgotten to set the F stop on the lens and his film could be completely useless due the wrong exposure.  Fortunately, the camera had been set for a daylight story that the crew had completed that afternoon and the exposure was perfect.

    Cravens 2

    Tom Craven came to Washington and covered the White House for Movieton news.  He son, Tom Jr. went to work for CBS and  the two Irishmen always had a wisecrack to share with President Eisenhower.  The president would look around and if one of the Cravens was missing, he would ask “Where’s Junior” or Where’s Senior”  Many years later Tom Craven Jr. would be in the camera car in Dallas on November 22, 1963.