White House coverage–remotely

Photo by Dennis Brack Remote cameras are part of the coverage of wire service photographers covering the White House.  During the pre-set for an event, the photographers would position the remote cameras behind the president to get a back shot or a photograph of the president walking into or out of the event.  Today’s announcement of President Obama’s statement is a good example. AP, Reuters, and AFP positioned the remotes to the side of the flags, but they were seen by the television cameras on the back stand. Photo by Dennis Brack The photographers moved their cameras out of the shot, but they were seen in the picture of the president and vice president walking down the colonnade.

Remotes are triggered by radios that work off of the flash synch of the camera,so the photographers can make remote photos at the same time that they are using their hand held camera.

A story from PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES tells of a time when remotes were triggered by infra red transmitters and receivers.

The White House florist and Nikon tech representative Ron Thompson talk about putting flowers in the top of the wooden flowers pots and remote cameras at the state dinner. Photo: Dennis Brack.

The White House florist and Nikon tech representative Ron Thompson talk about putting flowers in
the top of the wooden flowers pots and remote cameras at the state dinner. Photo: Dennis Brack.

In the story below, I used  a Nikon infra red triggering device which triggered the Nikon cameras. When one camera fired, it triggered a second infra red triggering device, (on a different frequency), which triggered a 2000 Watt Dynamite strobe which was mounted at the top of a FicusTree. Reagan remote 3 SS This was used to generate the large amount needed to override the television lights from the back of the room.  Ron Thompson, the Nikon technical representative for Washington, helped a great deal on this.  Ron was a master at making photographers look much better than they actually were.  Nikon Professional Services does this same service all over the world today.  Thank  you Nikon!!!  One last word.  Ron also worked with various government undercover law enforcement agencies and he asked if I had any use for the “flower pots”.  I didn’t and they had a second life housing surveillance cameras.

President Reagan giving a toast with the flower pot camera in the background. The 2000 watt strobe is mounted on a light stand  on the back of the truck of the ficus tree extended to the to.p of the  tree with the head bounce off of the  ceiling of the State Dining Room. Photo: Dennis Brack.

President Reagan giving a toast with the flower pot camera in the background. The 2000 watt strobe is mounted on a light stand on the back of the truck of the ficus tree extended to the to.p of the tree with the head bounce off of the ceiling of the State Dining Room. Photo: Dennis Brack.

A story from the book:   Throughout her time as the first lady, Mrs. Reagan remembered the photographers who were on the early Reagan campaigns.  Time magazine was doing a large story on a state dinner and one of the “must” photographs was a picture of the toasts. On all state dinners, the guests stood for the toasts, blocking the photographers in the back of the room. A solution was a remote camera mounted in a flower vase positioned behind the president. The only vase that would allow a hole for the camera was a six-sided wooden container. I cut a hole in each side and then sanded and painted the two vases white.  On the afternoon of the dinner, Mrs. Reagan came into the State Dining Room to check on the final arrangements. I had the two vases in position for her approval before the White House florist arranged the flowers, which were planned for the top of the vases.

“Do we really have to do this?” she asked.

At that point Rex Scouten, the White House usher, said of course not. That could have been the end of the toast picture. As a last plea, I said that I had worked for six hours sanding and painting my flower pots. The first lady looked at the pots and then at me and said, “Okay, but don’t put any flowers in the vases.” Reagan Sadat dinnerThe photograph worked and nobody noticed the containers—except for Howard Baker, the longtime senator from Tennessee and a chief of staff for Reagan. Baker who was an excellent photographer.

  • Jonathan Ernst, the new staff for the Reuters Bureau in Washington

    Ernst at workRecently Reuters made Jonathan Ernst a staff photographer.   I am sure that most White House News Photographers reaction was the same as mine. “Well, it was about time”.  Ernst has been Reuters “go to” photographer at the White House for years and especially after Larry Downing’s retirement.  Actually,  Reuters needed Jonathan more than he needed them.  Why?  Because he is one of the best news photographers in this town.  His services as a freelancer were sought after by Getty and other news gathering organizations. Most of all he is a  fierce competitor who wins.

    Jonathan wanted the Reuters job and he worked hard to get it.  It is a good feeling when something is done correctly in this town!

    BTW:  Jonathan is one of the photographers who gives back whether it is a project that he feels deeply about or a project for the Washington photographic community.   He has spent, hours, days, working on the White House News Photographers Association “Eyes of History” contest.  Jonathan always comes forward to lend a hand for his friends.



  • Hillary! www.dennisbrack.net

    Clintons waveA selection of photographs of Hillary Rodham Clinton that I have made is on my photographic website:   www.dennisbrack.net

    An interesting look at a presidential candidate, a secretary of state, a first lady and the wife of a candidate.

  • Mathew Brady Birthday toast in NPPA NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER

    NPPA MayBill O’Leary’s photograph of Chris Usher making a portrait of Brady historian Wayne Ritchie and his wife was featured as a page article in the National Press  Photographers Association, NEWS PHOTOGRAPHER May issue.

  • D Day: Marty Lederhandler, Associated Press photographer, tells a fascinating story about his coverage of the Normandy Invasion.

    American troops storm the beaches of Normandy. Photograph by National Archives

    American troops storm the beaches of Normandy. Photograph by National Archives

    The Newspaper editors wanted to get the pictures from the Normandy Invasion back across the channel to  London about the same time  the stories would be going out on the invasion.

    Marty tells his story :    “ Someone decided that pigeons would be the best way to get the pictures back quickly.  The pigeons could carry film back across the channel.  And so the English pigeon  fanciers  used to race the pigeons across the channel  in peacetime from Calies to Dover so they donated them to the  Army for the photographers who were going on “D Day, but now they figured out that a pigeon could not carry a full thirty-six exposure roll of film. It was too heavy so they build this little elastic harness with an aluminum tube that the pigeon carried, but it could carry only a ten-exposure roll. And all the photographers who were going in on D Day morning were given these two pigeons and I was given two pigeons in South Hampton on June second.  The invasion was supposed to be June fifth so because of the bad weather we were delayed a day and we went in on June sixth  that means the pigeons was cooped up for four days.  They didn’t tell us that a pigeon would not fly if after three days unless he is exercised.  They didn’t tell me that. So on the forth day on going to the French shore I shot pictures with my Leica camera very quickly and put the film in the capsule with the caption paper with my name and unit and where I was. And I threw him up in the air.  Of  course he wasn’t exercised so he came right down and I threw something at him so he went inland.  On the beach we did the same thing, I shot ten pictures very quickly on the beach as we landed and threw the second pigeon up in the air and he sort of scooted off into the brush someplace.  Three weeks later we captured a German command post near Cherbourg and I’m kicking around the command post and I picked up a German newspaper, a hometown newspaper of one of the  German soldiers, and I looked and on the front page was my picture,  They captured the pigeon and used them as adverse propaganda  and saying these pictures showing the Americans being destroyed on the beaches of France and came from pigeons which fell exhausted  into our hands and they gave me a byline.  They spelled my name right.”

    Lenses Schield 9-11 Associated Press Photographers discuss how they photograph history, Allen G. Breed

    The Living American Master Photographers Project.  www.Lamp.org

  • Bob Schieffer, a newsman who has always been a friend of the photographers

    Bob Scheiffer 2



    Bob Schieffer’s last FACE THE NATION broadcast will be next Sunday.  Bob is one of those few reporters who was actually there–no sitting in a newsroom and coming out to do a standup for Bob.





    Bob Schieffer at Republican ConventionYou could always come up to Bob and ask what was going on?  Where do you think things will happen?  Bob would give you a straight answer.  I’m sure that the information went both ways.

    Our White House News Photographers Association Dinners, (We call them the “Eyes of History Gala” ) doesn’t attract the Hollywood stars.  It is more of a tribute to the photographers who have won the various categories in our contest.  We invite the presidents and all of them have come since the dinners started in the Coolidge Adninistration.  President Obama has not attended, but there is always next year.   We asked Bob if he would attend and be the master of ceremonies, ( a tough job, this is sometimes a loud crowd),  Bob said that he would be glad to help and asked if he could bring his band, Honky Tonk Confidential.  It was great fun.

    Bob Schieffer and his country band,Honky Tonk Confidential at the White House News Photographers Association Dinner. in 2009. photo by Kevin Wolf

    Bob Schieffer and his country band,Honky Tonk Confidential at the White House News Photographers Association Dinner. in 2009. photo by Kevin Wolf

    Bob is retiring, but I’ll bet he will stick around.   He has friends in Washington–especially the photographers

  • Mathew Brady’s portraits in the halls of the United States Capitol

    Mathew Brady presenter, Wayne Ritchie, and his wife visit Brady's portrait of Senator John C. Calhoun.

    Mathew Brady presenter, Wayne Ritchie, and his wife visit Brady’s portrait of Senator John C. Calhoun.

    One of the most important halls of the United States Capitol is on the second floor directly outside of the Senate Chambers.  Senators rush down the  hall to get to the chambers to speak or vote.  Reporters and photographers use the hall for the senate stake out position.Calhoun Visitors usually stop by the Ohio Clock, and icon of Washington history.  If these visitors would turn around or look to their left, they would see see portraits of Senators Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, and John C. Calhoun.  This was the work of Mathew Brady.  Brady created the portrait using the daguerreotype process and then hired artists to create and oil painting. Webster LLR The portraits of Senators Clay and Calhoun were painted by Henry Darby in New York.

    The portrait of Senator Webster is believed to be painted by Richard Francis Nagle. for more information about these paintings: http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Painting_32_00001.htm

    Like almost everyone I had walked past these portraits for decades.  I have stopped  at and admired the portrait of Senator John C. Calhoun.  I thought it was an excellent work, but never realized that it was the work of Mathew Brady.   I invited Wayne Ritchie, and Mathew Brady historical and presenter, to Washington to celebrate the 193rd birthday of Brady, and Mr. Wayne requested a visit to the Capitol to see Brady’s portraits.  Since these portraits are in a section of the U.S. Capitol which is generally not available to tourists, I asked Jeff Kent, the director of the Senate Press Photographers Gallery for his assistance. Wayne Ritchie, his wife, and their two grandchildren arrived  dressed as Mathew Brady would have looked if he were viewing his work.  Everything worked perfectly and we all learned about a little know piece of American history.

    Set upLLRAfter the Capitol we went to the Congressional Cemetery and to Mathew Brady’s grave. The Congressional Cemetery is a great story.  For decades it had been in ruin.  Besides the  final resting place the area for members of congress and Washingtonians it was used as an open air drug market and one of the most dangerous places in the city.  With creative and innovative management the cemetery was restored to become an “in” place on Capitol Hill.  Great history, a great story, for more:


    Brady and Hanley

    Mr. Ritchie, helped by his grandson who reenacts the role of  Brady’s assistant Levin Handy, set up their gear.


    Usher and Domke bag



    Chris Usher brought his 8×10 studio camera to make photographs using the paper negative process, (https://www.facebook.com/chrisusherphotography).


    The Group photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivals

    The Group photograph by Pablo Martinez Monsivals

    The gathering  was for a champagne toast to Mathew Brady by the members of the White House News Photographers Association.  The guests were a who’s who of famous journalists: Susan Biddle,Darr Beiser,John McDonnell, Bill O’Leary, Joshua Roberts, Aude Guerrucci,Marty Katz,David Kleber.   While waiting for a brief  rain to pass we got a call from Jonathan Ernst, one of the Air Force One pool, asking if we were still there—sure.  The President had just landed at Joint Base Andrews and the Air Force One crew,  Martinez Monsivals AP, Jonathan Ernst, and Nicholas Kamm.

    Other friends and my son, Dennis, joined for a group photograph.  Some stunning paper negatives images by Chris Usher  which Mathew Brady would recognize and then a quick view with a digital camera by Martinez Monsivals which I am certain would baffle old Brady.  It was a fun afternoon and a fine tribute to Mathew Brady who was truly the first news photographer in Washington, DC.Photogs


  • May 18th 5:30 Mathew Brady Celebration on his 193rd birthday

    Mathew Brrady

    Lets gather for a champagne toast  to Mathew Brady,  the first Washington news photographer, on his  193 rd birthday.  May 18th 5—5:30.  Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill. 1801 E Street SE, Washington, DC. Wayne Ritchie, a Mathew Brady presenter, will be there.  Hopefully, Chris Usher will bring his 8×10 Paper Negative Camera.  Lincoln has promised to try wedge it into his busy schedule, (he is running for office again in Fairfax County).  Dolly Madison, a temporary resident of Congressional Cemetery, will attend carrying a small version of the Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington that she saved before the British set fire to the White House.

    This should be a fun event. After the toast, a short walk over to Wisdom, a cocktail parlour, to continue visiting with members and friends.  Wisdom is located at 1432 Pennsylvania Avenue SE.

    Congressional Cemetery is near the Potomac Avenue Metro stop.Congessional Cemetery map

  • The Speed Graphic,the favorite tool of White House Photographers for Sixty Years


    The Speed Graphic is the camera of choice.  Photo: US Signal Corps

    The Speed Graphic is the camera of choice. Photo: US Signal Corps

    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. 4x5 cameraImprovements, 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.

    Graphic 5100The 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. The first thing that a press photographer would look for in a news situation was one good picture that would tell the story. It was called “making one for the bag.”

    Once the photographer had that one picture, he could relax, look for something new, perhaps a feature picture, but he had to have that “one for the bag” before he did anything.

    Times changed. The Rolleiflexs, Nikons, and Leicas became news photographers’ symbols and sweethearts. In 1966 the Graflex division of Eastman Kodak was sold to the Singer Corporation, which had no interest in continuing to make cameras.

  • An Interesting story about the press pool on Air Force One


    Pablo Martinez Monsivals, Associated Press, photo by Hank Disselkamp ABC

    Hank Disselkamp has been a video journalist for ABC for sometime.  For many years Hank was a sound man.  Later he used a 16mm film camera to cover the White House and other news stories.   Today Hank uses the traditional video news camera, but for this story he used an IPhone.  He recorded and edited the entire story on the I Phone. Take a look.