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Presidential Picture Stories Hardcover – December 2, 2013
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In five decades as a professional photographer covering the White House and other major news subjects, Dennis Brack became a master at capturing the essential story-telling moment on film. So the exquisite timing of his book, Presidential Picture Stories: Behind the Cameras at the White House,' should come as no surprise.
Whether by design or coincidence, this history of American presidents being photographed at work and play reached bookstores amid heated arguments over an Obama administration decision to bar the long-time professional newsphoto corps at the White House from its customary coverage, while issuing photo handouts by an official in-house photographer.
Many presidents have had official photographers on call, but not at the exclusion of newspaper, magazine and TV cameras. Responding to fierce criticism of this virtual blackout of the working photo media, as propaganda,' and the kind of thing that totalitarian governments do,' White House officials did promise to give the policy another look.
While waiting for bona fide photojournalism to be restored (or
not) at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, interested readers can find much to savor in Brack's self-published book.
There are a few historical gaps _ the author might have noted, for example, that the first president to be photographed in office was James K. Polk in 1849, and the first to have his photo printed in a newspaper _ Teddy Roosevelt? Taft? _is not named at all. But the book is well-researched and replete with colorful anecdotes and gossipy vignettes of unique relationships between presidents and the picture press.
Brack's narrative also makes clear that photographers generally have been more connected to presidents than their writer colleagues could ever be. For one thing, presidents generally like being shown doing their job; for another they have much more control over what photos show than what reporters write.
Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War era photographer, was a powerful force in bringing Abraham Lincoln to public attention in 1860 as a statesmanlike figure, not just a western rube. In 1919, Woodrow Wilson _ no friend of the press to begin with _ suffered a stroke that was kept secret from the nation, but intrigues to expose the truth about his health became so intense that the chief of the White House Secret Service detail was warned he would be fired if anyone got a photo of Wilson in his wheelchair.
Wilson's successor, Warren G. Harding, was the only newspaper publisher to become president, and predictably opened doors to the press. His vice president, Calvin Coolidge was the taciturn Silent Cal.' but always ready to be photographed, even in Indian headdress.
As Brack writes, Herbert Hoover was not known for his charisma,'
distrusted the cameras and, like Wilson, let his wife manage his media image. The result, says one photographer, was very few pictures of Hoover in action, or in the White House.'
Despite strict rules keeping his polio-induced paralysis virtually secret and strict wartime security, it remained for Franklin D.
Roosevelt to usher in a new era of warm president-photographer relations that would continue beyond his time. Breaking the rules on FDR's handicap just was not done,' the author says, but the president photographed like a million dollars, and seemed to enjoy the barrage of cameras.'
In Congress, Harry Truman was so friendly with news photographers that, as president, this down-to-earth former senator would enjoy the company of working men who showed no pretense.' Indeed, Truman himself founded and served as president of the Just One More Club' of White House photographers, and on his last day in office, toasted its official disbanding.
From Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton and the Bushes, presidents have generally maintained friendly --
(Review by Richard Pyle, former AP foreign and Washington correspondent, author of Lost Over Laos)
About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Capturing American Presidents from Lincoln forward, the book has great information and wonderful stories from life in the White House. The first president to get his own chapter is Roosevelt (FDR), and each president forward has their own chapter excluding Regan and H.W. Bush who share a chapter, and likewise Clinton, W. Bush and Obama also share a chapter.
This tome captures a beautiful history of the American Presidency, in a way most have not seen or thought about. Photographs of presidents, although extremely common today, were treasured works back in the day for news and insight into the White House and the President of our country. Brack does a wonderful job capturing the stories of those who took many of the pictures we know of today from presidents past. He also gives us a deeper look at what it took to get those 'perfect shots' as we know them today, through the collections of stories and photographs he has gotten over the years from the sources. As you make your way through the book, the photos are mostly black and white, and as you get closer to the end, they become more color than black and white. A soft reminder of how far we've come in journalism and documenting history.
This book, ...Read more ›
I have had the pleasure of being the object of Mr. Brack's handiwork and he is as good-natured and humble as he is brilliant. He is revered by his peers for good reason; his career's work has been a benchmark that others aspire to. And it is utterly characteristic of the man that his memoir is told by introducing us to his comrades-in-arms in that most specialized branch of photojournalism, recording the Presidency of the United States of America. Few have done it, and very few have done it as well as Dennis Brack.
Read the book and learn the history of the history you were shown in the news.
Since I love history, politics and photography, I was eager to read this book. It is a beautifully made hardback. I enjoyed the stories about the presidents and their relationships with photographers. Every president from Woodrow Wilson to the present president has had to deal with photographers. Some presidents had a close relationship with these photojournalists, while others did not. Surprising to me, Harry Truman bonded with the still photographers and he gave them free access to the White House. It hasn't been the same friendly relationship since that time, including the present President.
The second section discussed some famous photographers, including Diana Walker, one of the few women photographers. The last section shows the changes and improvements the camera has made over the years.
The book was readable and many of the pictures were fascinating. I enjoyed the back stories of famous photographs and some of the jokes and tricks played by the different photographers. However, there could have been better editing. Pronouns were not used appropriately. For instance, it sounded like Rosalynn Carter covered the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale in 1984. However, I think the author meant Diana Walker, a photographer. There were typos in several places. There were some poorly printed pages, at least in my copy, which detracted from the overall quality of the book.
However, I do recommend reading this book, especially if you want to get a different portrait of our presidents.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Dennis, who was present at many of the events shown in the book, presents a timely look at White House photographers and their work over the years. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Carl Rochelle
This was about behind the scenes the White House through the years and through many presidents as seen by the photographers who were there as history unfolded. Read morePublished on April 23, 2014 by Tamara, Oklahoma
I received this book for free through BookLikes giveaways.
This book takes you behind the scenes of famous and iconic presidential photos. Read more
An excellent insider's look at the White House machinations. Info and stories not found anywhere else. Great to have a seasoned photographer's perspective.Published on April 9, 2014 by Glenda C. Booth
Okay listen up all you would be historians, camera bugs and just plain curious people. This book takes you on a truly working journal, decade by decade of US presidents and the men... Read morePublished on March 10, 2014 by Lady Vampire
Love this book! so interesting- part history lesson part human interest stories about one of the most powerful places in the world! Lolly AndersonPublished on February 24, 2014 by Lolly Anderson
Dennis Brack is a genuine insider -- he has photographed the chief executives from Kennedy forward -- but his account reaches back to the relationships earlier photographers had... Read morePublished on February 22, 2014 by Carl F in Port Republic
"Presidential Picture Stories" is an entertaining history of White House photography, from Matthew Brady to digital cameras. Read morePublished on February 10, 2014 by Margaret Picky