Photographer Gets Personal Side Of Presidents

This story was written by Jennifer Dryden, Iowa State Daily


Even the president of the United States has a personal life, but only a select few get to witness moments outside of their busy, everyday duties.

Susan Biddle, former White House staff photographer and current Washington Post staff photographer, presented her photographs and insiders view of the White House, as well as other historical photographs taken during her career. Her presentation was a part of the second annual Chamberlin Lecture on Tuesday in the Sun Room of the Iowa State UniversityMemorial Union.

Biddle captured former President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush at their best and worst, like any White House photographer, but Biddle also shot from a different angle.

Her photographs focused not only on political debates, problems in the White House and phone calls to ambassadors in other countries, but she also concentrated on portraying the president in a very personal and intriguing way.

Although the personal photographs hardly made it to the press, she said she enjoyed catching the president when his personality was shown the most. Biddle said she had to catch them in the moment.

President Bush is a family guy and loved his dogs, she said while showing a photograph of Bush lying on the lawn of the White House with his two dogs. President Bush is lying on the lawn with the puppies, so I rushed out there and I got off a few frames.

She said as she worked in the White House, she captured a lot of personal moments, but also the history of the presidency. She said even now, while working for the Washington Post, she finds history is always being shot.

Its really for history, Biddle said. Its all historical, I think what I do with the press [the Washington Post] is still historical, but when youre covering it for the press, everything these days is orchestrated. It used to be much more accessible, and now its just photo-ops.

She said her job was to just shoot the pictures, not get into the conversation of the president or know what was going on. She said Bush was always nervous about secrecy.

I would know about the subject, but I would not know the details you just dont hear, Biddle said. A lot of the time you are photographing, you dont know how important they are until later.

Biddle said she kind of fell into the photography profession after earning her French degree from the University of Colorado and entering the Peace Corps. Having never had much experience in photography, a photographer inspired her by giving her a camera to document a family wedding.

Biddle said even though presidents have a lot on their plate, she values her time spent shooting for Presidents Reagan and Bush.

No matter what you may think of him [President George H.W. Bush] politically, he really is an incredibly warm, caring human being, she said.
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