Diana Walker, White House
photographer for Time Magazine
What are the challenges President Clinton's face presents to the
The challenges of Bill Clinton are many. I think he's by far, without
question, the most difficult political person to photograph, that I've ever had
to photograph. I say this because he has, in my view the President is a
wonderful politician. And, he obviously loves getting into it with people. And
touching them. And getting out into a crowd. This feeds him. He has
developed, or he was born with - how do I know- a series of
expressions....That appear on his face for almost every situation.
I and some of my colleagues, can kinda tell you the expression that you're
going to see, depending on what the situation is. And, it's just the way his
face works. It's absolutely fascinating. He has...'I'm proud of America' -
he has that look. He has a look of steely determination; ...he has a look
of concern. But this does not mean that it isn't true. This does not mean
that he is not feeling these things. But it is how he looks. He bites his
tongue in a certain way, and his lip in a certain way. AndI see those looks
and I, I wonder when I see them.
And what my challenge is.... all the time when I'm photographing him is to find
what's real. And I'm deadly serious about it. And it's what I'm looking for
all the time. Because I'm trying to find out if the 'there' is 'there', if
what's real is real. That's what I am trying to give you, is the real Bill
It's always expressions that he has. Why should I doubt them? I think
what comes up with the photographer is they look at them, and when they see
them as often as we do, if you cover somebody everyday, you begin to wonder
about them. Maybe that's what I'm saying. You say, 'Is this real or is this
just the politician being out there, calling on these, these emotions?'
And with him, it is difficult, because of this, if we wanna call it a political
facade. Do you see this is a question that....if it, that is what's there -
what's wrong with that? That happens to be the way he is. I don't want to be
judgemental. And I'm also going on too, too long about this. It is important
to me to show what's real.
FL: There are other reasons people question...the word authenticity is a very
The day after Ron Brown had died and they had a small service for the
close Brown associates and friends, and the White House staff, and the Commerce
staff that were close. And they all came to that church. And the Clintons
stood outside. And they greeted everyone of those people who were inside. And
there were moments there that were terribly moving. Where I saw Hillary
Clinton embrace her own staff in a way that I had never seen before. It was
that expression that a mother gets when a child is in pain. And it was quite
extraordinary to watch. And I truly believed that I was seeing true grief, and
true comfort giving.
And I heard afterwards that the President had walked across Lafayette Square,
and that NBC had a camera there. And that, he'd been laughing and having a
nice time with his colleagues. And that when he got close to the camera and
saw that there was a camera, that his expression had changed again to sadness.
And this was used on the air to show, apparently, I'm not sure exactly what.
And I remember saying to one of my colleagues who works for NBC, I said, "No,
this man is very upset about this. He also is able to turn and have a
conversation with his colleagues. And people do this all the time. You've
gotta understand. They get up, you know, in deep sadness. You know they get
up, they're fine."
And my colleague said, "But Diana, when he saw the camera, is when he changed
his expression." And I said, 'You know, that's what we're there to find out
and to see.' I can't answer this. You know, I can't be critical. I can't
argue with you. I can't do anything except try and see what I see.
But I keep looking. And the more I look, the more real I think what I'm seeing
is. This is who he is. But I never stop looking. And I have seen him in
situations where....I'm absolutely sure I know who he is. Because I watch him
so carefully and so closely. Where he is full of joy. And he is. He just is
loving what he's doing. And I have seen him as I would put it, deeply moved.
I've seen him, only once or twice, deeply moved where I have felt that this,
this truly was a terrible moment for him. And I've seen those moment. And
I've seen alot of others where he is required to be sympathetic or sad, and
doesn't seem, to me, to be personally moved.
I was undone by how he looked when he lost Vince Foster as a friend. And when
he came out to tell the press what had happened. There was something in his
eyes I'll never forget. And when I saw him at Ron Brown's funeral. This
wasn't a man going through the motions. This was when a politician kind of
says, 'This is me and this is what I'm all about. And I've lost my friend and
it's killing me.' And it was very apparent, to me. But that's, that's what
I'm there for....and what I'm there for is to try and, if you will, tell the
American people who look at the pictures what their leaders are all about.
FL: What are particular challenges in photographing a politician's
What I've always thought what I've had to do was somehow show you in that image
what the person is really all about, and what the situation is really about.
Not just the action that occurs. But somehow peel away the facade, to show
you, really what this human being is like. And with politicians, it's
sometimes not easy. By the nature of who they are and what they do. So that's
my job and that's how I see it.
FL:...which President's faces have been a gift or not?....
Strangely, George Bush was interesting to photograph in that way. Because he
had a very sort of preppy persona, very kind of out there, and sort of
rambunctious in a way, kind of an athelete and throwing tennis balls for his
dog. And he was always when he speaking at the podium usually, he was very,
sort of pleasant to look at. When he was off center, when he was waiting to
speak, here appeared to me to be a depth in his face, in his look that you
didn't always see.... When he was out there with the public. And it was
deadly serious expression that you would see in his eyes. And it was one of
concern. And it was one of, in my view, trying to be something and worrying
about it. And I found him very interesting to photograph that way.
And I found Reagan a little less interesting because he.... not less
interesting as a political figure - I found him fascinating. And certainly to
be around him was a pleasure. But his face was always very funny, and very
'there'. What you saw was what you got, with Reagan it seemed to me. And with
Carter and with Bush, there were times when you could see...go some place else
with them. It was very interesting to me.
FL: Tell me about another picture...Red Square....
Clinton was doing what they call an OTR...an off the record stop, going
through Moscow, something's not on the schedule. And he stopped in Red Square
to see a church. And he went up the stairs of the church. And the church had
been during the communist regime turned into a gymnasium or something. And
then it has been reconverted to its original church. And he came out after a
certain length of time, and he looked quite removed. And he walked towards his
car, ....people were yelling questions at him from the press. And he stopped,
and he turned around, and he said .... someone asked him what this meant to him
or how he was feeling that day or something. And he turned around. And he
looked at us, and he said - I must say first that his mother had died just on
the eve of our trip to the Soviet Union and she had been buried just two or
three days before this. And he turned around before he got in the car, and he
put his hand over his heart and he began to talk to us. And he said, "To be
here, in Russia, and to be able to go into a church once again. And to think
what that means to the people of this country, is fantastic."
And he said, "And I went in, and I prayed, and I lit a candle for my mother."
And as he said that, he had his hand over his heart, his eyes just filled up
with tears. And he turned. And he got into the car. And we went on our way.
And I wasn't sure I had seen what I thought I'd seen, but I'd felt it. And so
I pursued that film when I got to New York and found that, that image.
I gave the President that picture. And I gave him two, one for him, one for
me. And I asked him if he would please write to me on the picture, you know
sign the picture. And he signed it alright... he wrote quite alot on it. And
what he wrote was how much he appreciated being given the picture. But he
didn't remember what it was that prompted that strange expression on his face.
And I was interested in that, that he didn't remember. Because to me, it had
been a moment where he truly was remembering and he truly was feeling. And to
me, it was a very true picture of Bill Clinton and who he was. And it was as
if....'I'm telling you this, it's very private to me, and it's affecting me
deeply', and then he kind of got in the car and went away. So, I think it
tells a lot about him. And I had to remind him.... I did after that, what it
exactly was. And he said, "Oh, that was it, I figured..."
FL: What do you think it means?
I see a lot of politicians, I see the many faces of politicians. I watch them
all the time. This was truly Bill Clinton, in my view. This was a man who was
moved. This was a man who was upset, and I thought, this is important for
people to know. And he told us. And, what his not remembering the situation
tells me, I will really have to leave to you. I'm not sure.
stories of bill | stories of bob | interact | photo gallery | four colloquies | readings | reactions | tapes & transcripts | explore frontline | pbs online | wgbhweb site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation