Friday, December 16, 2005

Photojournalist discusses her work

Diana Walker records 20 years in the White House

Express Staff Writer

"We took Her Majesty and the Prince up in the elevator to the private quarters as is customary before a state dinner. The door opened and there was our son?I won't mention which one?standing without his shirt on. Betty and I were embarrassed. Her Majesty said, 'Don't worry, we've got one just like that." ?Gerald Ford.

Despite the so-called loss of print journalism's reign, photojournalism remains a vital occupation. People need to see to believe. Moreover, it's a curious career. It requires qualities a portrait photographer, for instance, may not possess, such as a willingness to be curious, to fade into the background, to take initiative, to be courageous and to be clever.

A Washington, D.C., native, Diana Walker grew up around politics by virtue of proximity. Married with two children, she formed a photography firm with a friend taking pictures of families, Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and the like. But Walker had bigger things in mind.

By the mid-1970s, she was covering the White House as a freelance photographer, first for the Village Voice, then for the Washington Monthly, and finally at Time-Life. She signed a contract to shoot for Time magazine in 1979. Eventually, she photographed White House life through five different administrations, from Ford to Clinton.

The Community Library in Ketchum welcomes Walker for a discussion on her work and the circumstances regarding the events and people she captured on film, 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20.

Walker's photographs have won awards from World Press, the White House News Photographers Association and the National Press Photographers Association, and they are in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, the Art Institute of Chicago and other museums. Walker's photographs were shown at the International Photojournalism Festival in France. In 2003, the National Museum of American History mounted a full retrospective of her photography called "Diana Walker: Photojournalist."

The coffee table book "Public & Private: Twenty Years of Photographing the Presidency" was published in 2002. Other books with her photography are "Found Dogs: Tales of Strays Who Landed on Their Feet" and "Second Chances: More Tales of Found Dogs," with Wood River Valley resident Elise Lufkin.

Many of her images are familiar. They capture scenes from state dinners and the campaign trail to momentous occasions such as the announcement of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt with Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin and Anwar El-Sadat in 1979.

As well, there are special candid, behind the scenes photos. Some of the most engaging ones show the President (whichever one), his staff, family, friends in deep laugh mode. These tend to humanize each leader in unforeseen ways. Each photo is accompanied by Walker's captions about the shoot, as well as comments from many of the subjects. It makes for fascinating and intimate reading.

In the foreword to "Public & Private," presidential historian Michael Beschloss wrote that Walker's photographs have "a distinctive influence on the way we have viewed the presidents during the last quarter of the 20th century. It is a tribute to Diana Walker's original eye, superb technical skill, and unexcelled personal diplomacy that she has so often won exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to these leaders and used it . . . to show us hidden, heretofore unseen facets of their personalities, character, and sometimes, senses of humor. It is startling to recognize how many of Walker's photographs have become iconic images in our national memory."

Walker left the White House beat Jan. 20, 2001, her birthday and the day George W. Bush was sworn in as the 43rd President of the United States. She remains a contract photographer for Time and lives part time in Sun Valley with her husband Mallory Walker.

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