While the first President to be photographed was James K. Polk, in 1849, it was not until President Lyndon Baines Johnson's Administration that the first official White House photographer was appointed.
White House photographers are responsible for documenting the day-to-day activities and events in which the President participates. They have taken some of the most memorable pictures of our time: President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964; President Richard Nixon's final wave to his staff as he boarded Marine One after resigning as President; President Jimmy Carter signing the Camp David Peace Accords; President Ronald Reagan shaking hands with Mikhail Gorbachev; President George Bush meeting with American troops during Desert Storm; and President Clinton encouraging the famous handshake between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat.
Whether photographing the President as he works in the Oval Office, enjoys quiet moments with his family, delivers a speech, or makes a crucial decision affecting our nation's future, White House photographers have a front row seat to history in the making.
In a rare moment in front of the camera, Sharon Farmer chats with the President.
In a rare moment in front of the camera, Sharon Farmer
chats with the President.
Today, there are four official photographers on the White House staff, and each uses nearly 3,000 rolls of film during the course of a year. Sharon Farmer is one of these skilled professionals, and she has documented President Clinton, his family, and his staff in photographs since the President first took office in 1993. Although Ms. Farmer studied music in college, a chance visit to watch photos being developed in a darkroom inspired her interest in photography. In her current assignment as Director of White House Photography, Sharon Farmer has witnessed history unfolding, capturing on film many of the best-known photographs of the Clinton Administration. Some of her most memorable photos are the famous handshake between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat; the President and Mrs. Clinton witnessing the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery with Astronaut John Glenn on board; and the President and Mrs. Clinton at the annual Easter Egg Roll festivities on the South Lawn.
Reflecting on one of her most exciting assignments as a White House photographer, Sharon Farmer says, "In 1998, I accompanied the President and Mrs. Clinton to Ghana. There was a huge rally in the stadium in Accra. There must have been over 250,000 people cheering the President and First Lady. They were given the kente cloth of the Africans and, wearing them, proudly stood next to President and Mrs. Rawlings of Ghana. What a moment in time! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that an American President would visit an African country and be received so wonderfully. That moment, to me, is only second to watching and photographing Nelson Mandela being sworn in as President of South Africa. I attended the event with Mrs. Clinton and the delegation that Vice President Gore led. Every day I pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming that I have this job here, in this time, in this world."
White House Photographer Yoichi R. Okamoto confers with President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
White House Photographer Yoichi R. Okamoto confers with
President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Photo courtesy the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
Sharon Farmer encourages aspiring photographers to know that "you should challenge yourself daily. The more you do, the more you know yourself. Knowing yourself is very important. Never turn down a chance to show what you can do, because it's the littlest things that lead to bigger things."
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