What would it be like to be a photographer in the White House? The following is the first post in a blog series that will answer that question through the efforts of former White House photographers Paul Morse and Ralph Alswang. They will attempt to recap their experiences through the following topics- The Buildup, The Job, and The Aftermath.
The first of these posts features Paul Morse, a Washington, DC based corporate photographer who served as White House Deputy Director of Photography from 2001 to 2007. Paul has been published in magazines and newspapers around the world including Sports Illustrated, Time, US News and World Report, Mens Journal and the New York Times Magazine. His photographs have illustrated the covers of many books on subjects such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Air Force One, and the Oval Office. His images are on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Thank you to Paul for taking the time to answer these questions and giving us a glimpse into the process of becoming the White House Deputy of Photography.
What did you do before you were a White House photographer?
Before working at the White House I was working at the Los Angeles Times as a staff photographer. It was a fantastic job! My beat was sports and I was able to photograph major and minor sporting events such at the Super Bowl, NBA Championships and the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and Sydney, Australia. Portraits were also my strong point and I lead the way in the newspaper’s transition to digital photography.
Before the LA Times I worked at the Pasadena Star-News after graduation with a degree in journalism.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue that job?
The job at the White House was never one that I pursued rather it came about by helping friend. Each President chooses his personal photographer and that person is the Director of the White House photo office. President Bush chose my close friend from college Eric Draper.
I got a call from Eric while looking for feature photos on the beach in Santa Monica on a warm January day asking if I could help him document the start of the administration. After a few days in Washington he made me Deputy Director of the photo office.
It was a tough decision to leave the newspaper. I had a great job and friends in Los Angeles but I knew this opportunity would not come along again. I left LA on a beautiful 80-degree February day and landed the next morning after taking the red-eye to drizzling rain and 40 degree temperatures. What was I thinking!
Honestly I didn’t take the job because of politics. The job was an opportunity to document history from the other side of the ropes and have those images preserved so they I can share them with future generations. No one asked me my opinion and I didn’t write policy yet editors discount my images from the White House because of the President I worked for.
What was the interview process like and how did you get the job?
I really didn’t have a sit down interview rather Eric wanted me to work a few days to see how I would get along with the President and the White House staff.
I remember the first day clearly. My first job was to take a portrait of the whole Bush family in the Blue Room of the White House the day of the inauguration. Everything was set up and the President walked in on time and came right to me and introduced himself! I was laughing inside thinking “ I KNOW who you are!” He also thanked me for coming all the way from California to take photos of his family. Later I asked Eric when he told the President about me. He said two or three days prior which really impressed me because he had just been sworn in as President and he still remembered who I was.
The toughest part of being a White House employee is the background check. The form was 15 pages long and the FBI personally interviewed all my references and those not on my form. And I passed!
The photographs: (Courtesy of Paul Morse)
(Paul is in the bottom right corner of the above photograph, firing the remote camera!)
Written by: Elizabeth Villa (Pictage Blog Team)