The Picture / The Story

Dan Winters photographing Barack Obama

02/04/2017

Diptych, Senator Barack Obama, San Antonio, Texas, March 5, 2008-- President Barack Obama, Washington D.C., 2016

President Obama, (Window), 2016

BTS Dan Winters photographing Barack Obama, 2016

 THE PICTURE | THE STORY

I find great joy in portraiture. The human interaction while making a portrait leaves me with the deep satisfaction that one can receive through collaboration-- even though some sittings happen at a whirlwind pace.

I first photographed Senator Barack Obama on March 5th, 2008 in San Antonio on the morning after the Texas Presidential Primary, which he lost to Senator Hillary Clinton. I had been commissioned by TIME Magazine to shoot a cover portrait of him.

When making someone's portrait, the real time lies in the prep and set-up. Once the advance work is done, making the photograph can sometimes seem like a formality, as setting the lighting and determining the environment is the lion's share of the work. We were given twenty minutes with him. It was smooth and uneventful. He was very kind to my 13 year old son Dylan. I was impressed by that.

Eight years later, in July of 2016, I was contacted by New York Magazine to photograph the President that following month. For this assignment, the responsibility fell on me to generate not just a single portrait as I had done for TIME, but several stand-alone images. The White House gave us five minutes with the President. A week before the shoot, I flew to DC and visited the White House to do a tech scout. On the morning of the shoot, myself and a crew of five spent four and a half hours setting lights and backgrounds in anticipation of the President's arrival.

To create images that stood apart from one another, I used both seamless paper and painted canvas backgrounds. I had also chosen a spot in front of a large window that showcased the neoclassical architecture that would unmistakably place the photograph as having been made in the White House. The Washington Monument can be seen clearly in the distance. I had an unpublished outtake from the 2008 TIME Magazine shoot that I wanted to replicate so that the two images could run side-by-side in the magazine, as a reminder of the physical toll that eight years in office takes on a person.

Even though the entire shoot was well choreographed, moving from station to station and achieving all the shots that I wanted was a challenge. I went over in time by four minutes, using nine minutes in total.

The President is a class act. His PR person made him aware that we were over on time but as he could see that we were moving at break-neck speed, he allowed me to get what I needed. Midway through the shoot, the President thanked myself and the crew for working so efficiently, apologizing that the shoot had to happen so quickly.

Of all the photographs I made that day, my favorite is the simple shot of the President from behind, looking out of the window. I realized as he walked up to the window that his silhouette is instantly recognizable and the sunlight creeping into the frame reminds me of that hot August day.

 

Dan Winters, 2017