Robert McNeely - Politics 2000
A Multimedia Presentation by
The Digital Journalist

Introduction by Dirck Halstead

Photojournalists come in all sizes and colors.

There are newspaper photographers, magazine photographers, military photographers, documentary photographers, sports photographers, lifestyle photographers, underwater photographers, and on and on.

One of the rarest of the breed is the presidential photographer. Today, many world leaders have their personal photographers, but until 1960, the concept of a documentary photographer who would slip into the halls of power, and be allowed to capture moments of decision and crisis on film, was unheard of. We are talking about TOTAL ACCESS. The right of a photographer to enter the Oval Office with no appointment, and quietly go about his work.

John Kennedy was the first U.S. president to allow this kind of continuing coverage. Kennedy liked photographers, and had developed close relationships with the ones covering his campaign. Kennedy's military aide, General Clifton (formerly the Army's chief of information), decided to build on this affinity. Clifton brought in an Army Lieutenant, Cecil Stoughton, who believed a cumbersome 4 x 5 Speed Graphic was not the only camera to use in this situation.

Stoughton shed his uniform for civilian clothes, came into the White House with his Hasselblad cameras, and started to shoot in natural light. A young photographer, serving out his military time in Clifton's office, named Dirck Halstead, was also brought over on occassion to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On that fateful day in Dallas, Stoughton was there to witness Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as president, aboard Air Force One, after the death of Kennedy. From then on, with the exception of the Carter administration, all presidents of the United States have had their own personal photographer.

Generally, the appointment to this post results from a relationship developed between the president and the photographer, often forged during the election campaign.

Bob McNeely, a Washington freelancer, started down this path by working as a volunteer during the McGovern campaign in 1972. He was a Vietnam vet, and wanted to help the Democratic cause. He was there with Eagelton, McGovern's running mate, when he admitted having had electric shock therapy. "I didn't think it was big deal," McNeely recalls. But reporters told him Eagelton would be off the ticket in a week, "And they were right!"

In 1976, McNeely spent some time on the Carter campaign, but his heart wasn't in that race. For 14 years McNeely avoided the world of politics and pursued his own projects, working for magazines and commercial clients. In January of 1992, some of the former Carter White House staff asked him if he would volunteer to cover the campaign of an upstart Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton. Still, McNeely thought the whole thing was a long shot, and decided to wait it out, that is, until he watched Clinton stride across 6th Avenue to accept the Democratic nomination. "I said, 'Gee, that guy might actually make it!'" It wasn't long before he was on-staff chronicling Clinton's march to the White House.

For the next six years, each morning McNeely would be waiting in the oval office when the president came down from the residence. He decided to shoot in black and white (other members of the White House photo staff shot in color), in order to make a historic record of virtually every meeting -- every detail of the president's daily life. The key to his success, according to McNeely, was that he could do "a pretty good imitation of a chair."

His photographs show the chaotic early months, as the new team from Arkansas tried to wrestle control of Congress and the political agenda. They chronical the crushing defeat in 1994, when the Democrats lost Congress; the many trips and meetings with world leaders; and the tender (sometimes tense) relationship with the first lady. These are truly pictures from "inside" that only someone who had gained the trust of the president could be allowed to take.

In 1998, McNeely left his job at the White House to set up a project to document the 2000 political race, from the candidates running for local and state office, right up to the the men who were battling it out for the presidency. From Republicans to Democrats to Reform Party candidates, Bob has spent most of the past year on the road covering them all.

"I had always worked for one candidate, and I never felt I was really doing something for me, something that I could leave for history that showed how this process works. It's like a big circus, watching the lion tamer trying to keep from getting eaten. But it's also all about America, the wonderful places you visit, and the people of all kinds coming out to watch the process, it's been just wonderful."

TDJ presents "The Clinton Years," a gallery of McNeely's photographs of President Clinton. The book on this project has just been released by Callaway. His work will be on display this month in the Govinda Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Also part of the presentation is his new work, the pictures he took for himself on the campaign trail, along with his comments. Enjoy this look at "Politics 2000."

Bob McNeely would like to thank Kodak for their continuous support for the Photo 2000 project.