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President Donald Trump in in Washinton DC. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. 
© 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard

   
 
   

The Story Behind That Picture:
"My Evening with President Trump"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. July 7, 2018.

 

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I flew from Brussels to Washington DC on a red-eye for the opportunity to photograph President Trump a few weeks ago. 

I'm a big fan of presidential photography, photographing a president is always on my bucket list, preferably as much behind the scenes as possible. One of my favorite books is “The Clinton Years” by White House photographer Robert Mcneely, shot with a Leica, showing pictures from his presidency. But any photographer who has had special access to a president, I find it interesting reviewing what they made out of it.

One of the favorite photos by Mcneely is the one of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Clinton alone in front of the fireplace in the oval office. Everybody had left the room and they were now to speak one-on-one. Mcneely stands his ground as the White House photographer, and President Boris Yeltsin looks annoyed as if to say “Didn’t you get the memo? Bugger off”; Mcneely looks at President Clinton, who gives a nod that means, “He stays”. (There’s a one hour talk by Robert McNeely on YouTube here).

You cannot photograph the moment others want to indulge in, if you aren’t there. You as a photographer have to be prepared for the moments, and you must be prepared to work within the short windows of being allowed there, until the moment somebody decides to throw you out. Ideally, the photographer is the last one to leave the room. Stay a fly on the wall and make something out of the seconds it takes until someone discovers you and decides to throw you out.

So that’s what I try to envision. The possibilities of being a fly on the wall, or perhaps even a welcomed guest, in the moments where nobody else is there to see what happens.

In this case I had a few opportunities as my ex-wife (2016-2019) would be singing for President Trump at the Susan B. Anthony List Gala in the evening.

 


Thorsten Overgaard visiting the East Wing of The White House. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.
Thorsten Overgaard visiting the East Wing of The White House. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4.

 

My morning started with a tour of the White House East Wing, which was more of the normal tourist route than I had hoped it to be. Frankly, it was a tourist trap where I ended up having to photograph people with their own iPhones. My visit as guest to the White House Christmas Dinner in December had been much more fruitful with unlimited access to the whole place.

In the afternoon I went to the event space so as to get an overview of the location, the backstage and the schedule of who would arrive when, and where they would likely walk to the stage. I build a mental timeline and a map of possible locations I should try to be in to get my fly on the wall photo.

My official assignment, not to forget, I had to get great photos of my ex-wife singing, and be ready for any photo opportunities she ends up in.

As you know if you have read up on me, I flew to the Faroe Islands to photograph President Bill Clinton and had a one-on-one coffee drinking photo opportunity with him in the midst of all the frenzies of the official visit. I was there, alone with Clinton – until someone decided to throw me out a few seconds later. I know the drill.

I am always looking and hoping for the unexpected – but not unlikely – moment of getting a chance to photograph the president off-guard and casually.

Part of my considerations for the President Trump photo was also which camera to wear. I decided upon the Leica M10 with the 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25, knowing that this new exciting lens might look so big it could cause problems in the entrance. I had a plan B, but didn’t need it. It was a gala diner, and thus not very restrictive on “professional cameras” which usually means cameras with big lenses and/or flashes (and always remove the electronic viewfinder if you intend to use it as it is often mistaken for a flash).

 

Tables decorated with chocolate treats curtesy of the president. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
Tables decorated with chocolate treats curtesy of the president. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

I was seated at a table just next to the stage and I had scouted which locations I would photograph from, beforehand. I tested the grounds before people got seated to see how the Secret Service would react.

Suddenly a Secret Service woman walks determinedly over to me as I am next to the stage and the speaker’s chair. My eyes go to the bulge of weaponry beneath her jacket and my heart freezes for a second. She stares at me and stops. “Is that Christian Louboutin sneakers?” she asks and point at my shoes. “Yes”, I answer, relieved. She nods approvingly, and continues her rounds remarking, “I love them”.

So good so far. I’m recognizable, they’ve seen where I am and what I am doing. If the locations would cause a problem later, they would have told me by now. Of course somebody else might come around later, with the President, who may see things differently.

You just have to limit your possibilities of sticking out. Only do what’s necessary. It’s like photographing in a museum. You plan the angles and things that you want, and when you have planned it properly and the scene is as you want it, you take the photo. The museum guard comes over and tells you, “No photographs” and you act surprised and say, “Oh, I’m sorry”. You got your photo of children and people studying a painting. Then you walk to the next room in the museum where it’s a new guard and a new opportunity.

There’s plenty of people who prefer that nobody takes any photos of anybody or anything, so you as a photographer must be able to decide what’s fair and what’s worthwhile to preserve; and find a way to do it without setting off all the alarms. As long as what you are making of it is valuable for history and a greater good, you can do it. I’ll get into that in another article, “Why no photographs”.

 

How is he?

I know by now that President Trump will arrive just a few minutes before he goes on stage, and I know I won’t be allowed backstage. It is unlikely that I would have any plausible reason to casually hang around there. I already saw the tall Secret Service agent guarding the entrance, and while friendly and professional in his asking for credentials, thre was no way he would ley anyone in that just wanted to wander about and get a good photo!

 

Singing the national anthem in Washington DC. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
Singing the national anthem in Washington DC. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

I already have my location for the photo, which happens to be my seat at the dinner, next to the speaker’s chair. The saying is that President Trump is supposed to speak for 20 minutes, but that he always speaks twice as long. All I have to do is sit and study the gestures and expressions and make a decision which ones I want. Then get into action.

I'm not going to photograph non-stop for 20 or 40 minutes. I have certain looks I want, and overall they should communicate something about the person that gives you an idea about how and who he is. It’s like making a portrait of a person, but one who is speaking, and it won’t work with mid-sentence photos, open mouth and so on. It has to be a moment of a pose in-between all of the other things going on.

A determined look into the camera while not speaking. Maybe a smile.

There are already many photos of Trump with what I would call less desireable expressions. It says a lot about a photographer who let bad photos slip out of his subjects. In fact, it speaks more about the photographer than the subject. I don't intent to put my opinion about the person in a photo. I want to make a photo of him, not of somebody's opinion about him.

I work my location from the seat, the same location standing, from the front of the speaker chair, from an angle amongst the tables and from an angle behind the stage.

 

One of my planned angles from a location amongst the tables. President Donald Trump speaking. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
One of my planned angles from a location amongst the tables. President Donald Trump speaking. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

People always ask, “How is he?” and the answer from a photographer viewpoint, and a bystander is that he is very energetic. He balances his weight from one leg to the other behind the speaker’s chair, like a Muhammed Ali dance, and he’s comfortable speaking, and addresses specific people in the audience as if it was a family dinner, rather than an official speech.

There are lots of expressions I don’t want to capture. Open mouth, freezing face, and you can tell he doesn’t really care to look photogenic for the cameras. His main aim is to affect the people he is speaking for, as if there were no press and no cameras. In this event there happens to be 15-20 photographers below the speaker’s chair, herded in the minutes before President Trump arrived.

It’s not easy to make a great, historically significant photograph of a speaker who uses gesture and talks most of the time. President Trump is not making it easier. From a live standpoint, he’s moving like he’s an athletic person in his 40’s, and he is charming and has confidence, and the experience is that this speaking engagement is all he has on his program this week. In reality, he likely had a presidential schedule of meetings and work stretching 14 hours back before he got here. From a visual standpoint, he doesn’t have a slim face, and he doesn’t dress as slim as he could. He has a number of gestures and facial expressions that I could capture in-between sentences and which wouldn’t work for a photograph portraying the personality.

 

When the official White House photographer stands next to you, you know you got a good angle. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
When the official White House photographer stands next to you, you know you got a good angle. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

The more you photograph, the less you look. So I make it a point studying how it works visually, and then aim for the moments that could work. My total of photographs is 120 photos during the 40 minutes, so I spend a lot of time observing, not photographing.

 

A lucky strike

The photo I took away from the event, is very cool, I think. I happen to like President Trump as a person. I always look for the personality of a person, not their job nor their image. In my books, I talk about ‘capturing the soul’, and by that I mean the personality despite his current occupation and how he dresses.

 

"Thank you" from President Donald Trump in his address to the guests at the Susan B. Anthony List Gala. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard.
"Thank you" from President Donald Trump in his address to the guests at the Susan B. Anthony List Gala. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

When we look back in 20 years, what person was he? That’s the photograph I would like to make.

The moment comes where he points to me, and smiles. It’s as if he recognizes the 75mm Noctilux, and says, “Awesome lens. You got one!”

But reality is that he’s making a gesture to my ex-wife sitting next to me, and says “Thank you Joy” (for the song and your work).

So, I’m stealing that moment, and what I got was Trump looking straight at the viewer of the picture and smiling confidently.

Interestingly enough, this was very close to what I wanted, and I think that if one pre-visualizes the look, or perhaps more applicably, the significance and soul of the photo, one can recognize when the possibility arises, and get it. If you have no idea, it’s going to be chance only, and likely what you will get will be a person behind a microphone.

 

         
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I had hoped for some audience interaction, maybe President Trump walking out in the room, or something else giving other photo opportunities, but none of that happened. That’s where the family dinner feeling leaves and the reality of the presidential schedule and security steps in. He exits through the back of the stage and straight back to the White House.

I saw that at the Christmas Dinner as well, there’s no mingling with people or taking selfies and shaking hands for half an hour. His work seems more focused on the office and less on pleasing people with nice family album photos.

I had a tour of the White House later that evening again, this time the West Wing. For me of course, it was another possibility of eventually bumping into President Trump. But the West Wing was empty of people, just a few working, and the Oval Office was open to look at, but empty of action.

One interesting thing I got to see was the walls throughout the West Wing with lots of framed 13” x 19” prints from the White House photographers. It’s an ever-changing gallery of their work, displaying recent events like the French president Emmanuel Macron’s visit, and many other unique moments.

What was particularly interesting to me was the excellent quality of editing and printing. I was somewhat disappointed in a lot of the Obama period photographs done on mostly Canon dSLR’s, and when President Trump took office, there wasn’t a White House photographer appointed until weeks later.

The online Flickr feed of White House photos doesn’t do any justice compared with the many excellent and unique photos I saw on the walls there. I always feel a sort of desperation when history passes by and nobody makes any aesthetic preservation of it. So I was glad to see that my desperation was unnecessary. Like there eventually came a great photography book out of the Obama presidency  by Pete Souza (who was a Leica Digilux 2 user for a while), there will be thousands and thousands of high-quality photographs from the Trump presidency. 

As an aside, the photos on the walls have yellow Post-It notes on their backs, with the names of White House employees who would like to have the photos when they are taken down and new ones put up. A lottery draws the winner.

 

I hope you enjoyed today’s Story Behind That Picture. As always, feel free to e-mail me with suggestions, questions and ideas.

 

The Whie House view to the obelisk. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. © 2018 Thorsten von Overgaard. The Whie House view to the obelisk. Leica M10 with Leica 50mm Summilux-M ASPH f/1.4. © Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

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Above: President Donald Trump in in Washinton DC. Leica M10 with Leica 75mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/1.25.
© Thorsten von Overgaard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 


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Leica M9
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"Leica M10 Video Masterclass"   "Leica M 240 Video Masterclass"
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Lightroom Presets
     
Lightroom Presets Leica M10   Lightroom Presets Leica M9
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Lightroom Presets Leica TL2   Lightroom Presets Leica Q
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Lightroom Dutch Painters Presets by Thorsten Overgaard   Leica Presets for Lightroom by Thorsten Overgaard
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"Hollywood Film Presets"
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Hemingway Presets for Lightroom by Thorsten Overgaard
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201 Lightroom Presets
+ 4 Export Presets
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Capture One Styles:
     
    Leica Styles for Capture One by Thorsten Overgaard
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17 Capture One Styles
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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish born multiple award-winning AP photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops which cater to Leica enthusiasts. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

You can follow him at his television channel magicoflight.tv and his on-line classroom at overgaard.com

Feel free to e-mail to thorsten@overgaard.dk for
advice, ideas or improvements.

 

 
           
  · © Copyright 1996-2020 · Thorsten von Overgaard


 

© 1996 - 2021 Thorsten von Overgaard. All rights reserved.

 

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