Hon. Robert F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson [LBJ Library photo #415-10-WH64 by Yoichi Okamoto]

Photographing the White House From the Inside

Dec 10, 2013

[posted on nytimes.com on December 10, 2013]

Q.How did the office of the White House photographer start?

A. L.B.J. had seen all these pictures of J.F.K. [President John F. Kennedy] from outside photographers like Jacques Lowe and Stanley Tretick. They had John Jr. under the desk. George Tames had the famous picture from behind the desk, “The Loneliest Job.” J.F.K. was this really good-looking young guy with a beautiful wife and his gorgeous kid. The marriage of J.F.K. and still photography was made in heaven, for both, because J.F.K. came across so beautifully in pictures, and he knew it.

Many of the mental images we have of J.F.K. were taken by outside photographers. There was no in-house photographer.

L.B.J. wanted pictures like J.F.K. was getting, and so he remembered Okamoto photographing for the United States Information Agency on his trips overseas. L.B.J. just let him in to do whatever he wanted to do. And L.B.J. did that out of a sense of vanity and out of a sense of history.

Okamoto was there taking pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. in the cabinet room meeting with L.B.J. He was underneath the table, when [Aleksei] Kosygin, the head of the Soviet Union, and L.B.J. met at Glassboro, N.J. He was in the operating room when L.B.J. had gallbladder surgery.

He had astonishing moments. He had the photographs that really showed the relationship between R.F.K. [Robert F. Kennedy] and L.B.J. Neither of whom liked each other, and the pictures showed that. read more