A new exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington showcases the work of some of America's most distinguished photojournalists, all of them members of the White House News Photographers' Association.
"The Eyes of History" features 173 images documenting some of the top news stories of the past year, both here in Washington and abroad. "Being a White House News Photographer Association member just means that we're based in Washington," said Michael Williamson who works for "The Washington Post." Williamson says it doesn't preclude photographers from travelling elsewhere.
Mr. Williamson, who received a Pulitzer Prize in 1990, was named photographer of the year by the association. Among his most moving images on display in the exhibition is one he took in Nigeria of a woman at a hospital cradling her young son in her lap. "I was very worried about being obtrusive, because the child was very sick and almost comatose. And the mother was waiting and waiting and looking at her child and stroking his head, so I snapped a couple of pictures, sort of from far away, which isn't my style," Mr. Williamson said. "I like to be right there. But I wanted the moment to be pure. I made about three or four pictures and a nurse stepped between us, and she started yelling. Here's this quiet woman, beautifully holding her baby and she starts yelling, and I think 'I've really blown it now, she is ready to have me kicked out of this hospital.' I had my translator and asked, 'what the heck is going on?' She says, 'the lady you're taking a picture of, she is yelling at the nurse, 'Get out of my way! I'm having my picture taken. I want to have my picture taken. You're blocking him.' It was really great, because they have one-hour photos there, I was able to get the film developed and give her a picture."
While Michael Williamson has traveled all over the world, other members of the White House Photographers' Association spend most of their time covering the President and his family. Diana Walker became Time magazine's photojournalist at the White House 20 years ago. "People think we have the run of the White House," she said. "Uh-uh. You wait to be called, and you line up and go into the Oval Office or into the Rose Garden or into the East Room, and you photograph from behind ropes, or you photograph from press pens. And it is a very difficult kind of photography. It's a challenge to make the pictures interesting."
Diana Walker has had a little more freedom than most White House photographers have had. In both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, she was given permission to do a "behind the scenes" photo essay of the President at the White House. "Whenever I was let in behind the scenes over the last eight,nine or ten years, the only ground rule was that when I got the high sign from someone in the room, I would leave," Ms. Walker said. "But they never had to tell me that, and sometimes I would leave before they told me I had to, because I knew I had a picture and why push your luck."
The last behind the scenes series of photographs taken by Diana Walker at the White House document the final moments of William Clinton's presidency. "He was very busy with papers and things and then he said good-bye to all of us who were in the room, and then he turned around and walked over to the window and he looked out the window," she said. "And seeing Clinton look out the window in the Oval Office with only the envelope on the desk with the note to the incoming President in it was kind of a finale for me too. Because I'd been covering the White House for twenty years and told "Time" a couple of years ago: 'On January 21, 2001 I was leaving with the current administration.' Because 20 years is long enough to do this kind of work."
While she continues to work for "Time" on other assignments, Diana Walker says she hopes to publish a book featuring some of her White House photographs from the past twenty years. Both Diana Walker and Michael Williamson say the exhibition will bring their photos and the others on display at the Corcoran to a wider audience: