Barack Obama behind the scenes - exclusive interview with his photographer
06 February, 2019
Anna Wilding served as the President Obama’s White House photographer. Along with a group of other photographers, Anna was taking photos of formal and informal moments of the former U.S president Barack Obama. Unknown photos of Barack Obama will be showcased in California at the end of February. Before the exhibition, read the interview with the photographer telling the stories behind the scenes accompanied by unique photos. The interview was done by the Georgian Journal’s journalist Nino Tsipuria.
barack obama

1. Dear Anna now
I am watching your photography and thinking about a lot of questions I would like to ask, but let’s start our conversation from the start of your carrier, from the first photo you have photographed.

My very first photo ever, that I recall, was a box brownie and it was of a colorful balloon in the sky. I was about 8 years old or so but so conscious and mindful of taking the photo. It was in a land far far away, the South Island of New Zealand, I used to run around in the paddocks and grass barefoot. I knew early on I wanted to direct photograph, be an actress, write, produce. I was and am interested in humanity. Stories of foreign lands, Africa, South America. I used to study them and their peoples. Of course, I was also a teenager and loved fashion and used to have national model agencies come to me to model but I would get bored in the make-up chair for hours on end. I wanted to be either on the theater stage or in the field, on location. So I started photographing not only street life but also a friend of mine. who was a model? I moved to Auckland and started getting published and paid in national magazines for my photographic very early by the time I was 17 or 18. That is young to be working professionally. I have worked professionally since I was 16 and prior to that was a semi-pro tennis player and fly around the country by myself at about age 13 or 14 onwards. I worked. I would print my photos in a dark room in black and white - bands, models, actors. I was hired to photograph Mrs. World for a major magazine layout and I photographed Sir Bob Geldof on stage when he visited. I was hired often. At the same time...I was working as an actress in every TV and film show that NZ had to offer - which was not many at the time. I also went to a production company and declared I wanted to direct act and produce.. they were shocked as I was a woman.. and said well women don’t direct or produce and instead they stuck me in front of the camera looking sultry eating a piece of grass. But I was determined. They produced a film with legendary Entertainment Tonight Host Leeza Gibbons and they hired me on that as an assistant. I also worked for a well-known photographer at the time in his lab dark room and as his editor and assistant. So I got a very thorough understanding. By 19 I had sent up and owned my own photographic studio. I eventually realized that I really wanted to work more with the moving image so that, long story short soon enough, via Australia I was living and working in America by I think 19 or 20. I also lived in London at other times. It all started with photography for me? ..the still camera’s having the eye? I had the eye?! You can teach anyone the technical aspects but to really photograph well, you have to have the eye.

2. How did you become White House Correspondent?

As you will see in my last answer I have always written and photographed and been published from early on. In the White House, I also did some on-air broadcast to, as a commentator. I enjoyed that. However I initially went into the White House as a filmmaker, however, it became clear to me, it was through photographs I was going to tell the visual aspect of the Obama administration story. When I first went there, there was quite a bit of racism, by some areas of the American public; on the internet. especially towards Mrs. Obama, so I worked hard to hopefully help correct or right that narrative. Mrs. Obama is a fabulous woman and both her and her husband were an incredible and iconic President and First Lady.
3. Is it hard to photograph The President of the United States?

I am just going to smile and laugh at that question and keep my lips sealed.

4. Dear Anna, you have photographed Obamas and Trumps as well, what is the main differences during working with these two families?

I mainly photographed the Obamas I was very compelled and inspired to do so. Professionally speaking I don’t just pick up my camera for anyone in creating a body of work or collection, be it directing or writing a film or photographs. I did photograph President Trump in the White House at the start of his administration and got a couple of nice photos of him looking straight at the camera. I had met him and Mrs. Trump, in NY, very briefly. Actually, they are good photographs of him but I then moved away from DC and back to New York and Los Angeles. I think the main difference is evident -both men have very different world views. I think both First Ladies are different too and certainly, their backgrounds are. Mrs. Obama went to Harvard and worked hard and did things the harder but right way. In the position of First Lady, one is almost expected to do charity work and Mrs. Obama certainly did and created a lot of programs and First Lady Melania Trump has done some charity work too. I was pleased that First Lady Melania Trump kept the beautiful kitchen garden that former First Lady Mrs. Obama created. I know Mrs. Obama was concerned it may not be kept going, but it has kept going so that is something. Yes, overall they are two very different families.

5. In my opinion, all of your heroes trust you, I think for successful photo trustiness is one of the main characteristics, but how you make Mr. and Mrs. Obamas trust you?

I don’t think it was a case of making them. I had a fairly established career. I just was there for good reasons. It is an innate sense of one’s spirit and soul. My prior body of work also shows good reasons, good way. To be frank, it is also knowing when to take the photograph. Also, I wasn’t just shooting news style, I was going deeper.

6. Please tell me a story about one photo from your art. That may be a story of your favorite photo or maybe some photos have very extraordinary stories of backstage.

The first time I photographed President Obama was very exciting for me. It was also the first time I had been to the White House and the first time I saw Marine One. The sun was setting, I was wearing a cream jacket. The White House rose garden was in full bloom. Everything was green and lush. We walked towards where Marine One lands on the White House Front Lawn about 25 years in front of us. There were only two news cameramen and myself. I couldn’t believe it. Soon this magnificent bird landed in front of me..the Presidential Helicopter Marine One. It was embarrassing though as the propellers created a strong draft of wind and my shirt flew up. All of a sudden President Obama disembarked and he strode towards us. This was something he never did after disembarking I learned later. It’s only a very short walk and there he was one foot in front of me. I couldn’t believe it. The President of the United States! I had 4 frames in my camera and I had to make them work! I was nervous and excited. I got the shots. It was a huge honor and privilege to be there the entire time and I am grateful. I loved Marine One too..loved photographing it as it landed. Every single time. The precision.Great pilots.

barack obama
7. And what is your advice for the next White House Photographer?

Well, I wasn’t at the White House photographer. Another photographer, Pete Souza was hired by and for work for the White House. I was part of a very small inner circle of photographers there daily. Only 4-5 of us were there daily and those other 4 or 5 were mainly news photographers and mostly men but occasionally a woman too. News photographers are technicians. I am that too, as you have to know your tech stuff, but I go for something deeper. I am an artist and a filmmaker. My background is different. I don’t just shoot anything. My advice? Well, it takes patience, diligence and, hard work. This collection and exhibit are 18 months of solid work.

8. And my last question: in your opinion what makes photo famous? Hero or photographer?

See that is a very good question and could be debated forever. At the end of the day, there is no question that the photographer makes the photo famous. It’s the photograph that becomes iconic. People can take a lot of photos of the same people or mountain or tree..but not all of them are good or become iconic. If it is something truly extraordinary or touching or evocative or tells a great story it’s definitely the photographer that makes the photograph and makes it iconic. How many times has Audrey Hepburn been photographed? Dozens but there are a few photos, including by Douglas Kirkland that stand out. For example in terms of my work. The term Obama Classicism has been coined and named as a direct response to my work by industry scholars and professors as apparently my Obama work evokes Raphael and Leonardo Da Vinci’s Madonna. The Beatles are famous and one of their iconic photographs is them crossing Abbey Road in London. One of my photos of Obama has reminded people of that photo but of course, Obama has his own stride. One commentator remarking that my photo a guy with strode greater than any of those steps on Abbey Road Point being, it’s evocative and that is mainly due to the photographer who knows when to click, how to click and what to click and whatever her or his perspective is.

The Celebrate Hope is my first fine art Gallery exhibition, some of these photos have sold to magazines, newspapers, during Obama’s Presidency.
barack obama
Author: Nino Tsipuria

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