Bush years: Defining his presidency

January 19, 2009

As I take my last pictures of George W. Bush as President just days before Barack Obama’s inauguration, I reflect on what it was like to cover the 43rd President of the United States for the past six years.

I would characterize President Bush as a person of single-minded determination, a man guided by a moral compass to protect the nation, all the while bringing a style of Texas swagger into the oval office. We shared a passion of mountain biking and on several occasions I was fortunate enough to ride on his ranch in Texas where, away from the prying eyes of the press, I witnessed a man who loved the sport, always rode fast at the front of the pack and showed genuine interest in those around him.

Two of my favorite pictures center around perhaps the most definitive legacy of  Bush’s presidency – the war in Iraq.

On an unannounced clandestine trip into the Iraqi desert province of Anbar in 2007, Bush is seen casting harsh shadows onto the desert sand made with dramatic side lighting in front of two humvees. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear to symbolically follow Bush into the desert night, both as second-term appointees following the controversial departure of Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld.

Another image that I think defines the man as commander-in-chief is this simple composition of Bush looking very presidential among heavily-armed soldiers during his visit to Fort Irwin in the Californian desert in 2007.

It was rare for Bush to let his guard down in public but if you follow one of the most photographed people on earth long enough, it’s just a matter of time before an unguarded moment presents itself and you have to be ready to capture it. Bush’s goofy facial expression as he strains to open a locked door following a press conference in Beijing was a fleeting moment that I wasn’t even aware had happened until I looked at the back of the digital camera moments later. At the time I got a lot of grief from Bush’s press staff for putting it on the wire as they tried to protect ‘the honor of their president” but it occurred in front of the world’s cameras so it was my duty to record the moment, which later was the fodder of late night talk shows everywhere. The man is only human.

Dancing with Senegalese performers in the Rose Garden of the White House during a cultural event was another rare instance when Bush let his guard down. After being encouraged to get up on stage, he proceeded to lead the group in a silly dance which he may or may not have regretted later, after seeing our pictures.

In photographing President Bush, I learnt to never drop the camera from my eye, because the very next moment could be one of those that will define his presidency for all of history.


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[…] Jason Reed capto este gesto cuando el Presidente intentó abrir una puerta que estaba cerrada tras una rueda de prensa en China. También viajo a Irak durante un viaje sorpresa. Jason dice. “Fotografiando al Presidente Bush, he aprendido a no separar nunca el visor de mi ojo, porque el instante siguiente puede ser uno de esos que definen su presidencia para el resto de la historía.” Aquí podéis leer su post. […]

Posted by La mesa de luz » Los fotógrafos de Reuters y Bush | Report as abusive

[…] Jason Reed writes: Another image that I think defines the man as commander-in-chief is this simple composition of Bush looking very presidential among heavily-armed soldiers during his visit to Fort Irwin in the Californian desert in 2007. U.S. President George W. Bush poses for a group picture with soldiers during his visit to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in the Californian desert, April 4, 2007. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES) […]

Posted by Flopping Aces » Blog Archive » The Long Goodbye… | Report as abusive

Hands down one of the darkest era’s in the history of the United States.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

As an amateur photographer, this blog has become a personal favorite of mine.

However, these past four entries about Bush in office have helped me see a different person than how the media wishes to represent him.

Thank you all for these wonderful articles.

Posted by Kaycee | Report as abusive

President Bush is the Man, sooner or later America will regret not having someone like him as their President. You made the world , not America alone safe for the last eight years. Now we don’t know what’s lie in waiting. I salute you, Mr President enjoy yourself.


Posted by Sebastine | Report as abusive


Posted by I HATE LIBERALS!!! | Report as abusive

I am proud to see the media acknowledging that retired President Bush was a human. He laughed, thought, cried, tried, and strove through two incredible terms in office. They were incredible because of the lasting events that happened in its years. We may hate, love, or be indifferent to him; but we need to realize that one man is not going to make an entire country happy. Everyone makes mistakes, fumbles words, and makes silly faces.

Posted by overeducated | Report as abusive

Seeing these photos is great! I wish we had known more about these sorts of things (eg., GWB dancing on stage or making funny faces – they make him seem so much more human as well as a person who’s okay with being goofy) before President Bush left office!
For some strong reasons, I had decided early on in his 2nd bid for office that I would not be voting Republican for president again. For the first time in my life, I talked about politics: I was so upset about several issues, but I never said things like “He’s a stupid idiot” and really believed it. I know he was well-educated at an ivy-league (i.e. “tough”) university, and I also know that what we, “the public” see is not necessarily what is really going on. In fact, it rarely is.
But the way Bush was treated in the last month or so of his presidency was an embarrassment to me. I felt terrible for him that he would have shoes thrown at him, have people cheer for him because he wasn’t president any more, have newspaper, magazines, internet articles written about him as if he were the absolutely worst president ever. That’s what we say now. But there are many ways to look at his presidency. We haven’t had another terrorist bombing here. (Yes, I know: it’s been “made up for” in Iraq!) WE DON’T REALLY KNOW what Bush helped to improve because not enough time has past. All the economical problems we’re having now can’t be blamed just on Bush. Others … WE … must take responsibility for having contributed to the state of the country.
Mr. Bush, I apologize to you that we haven’t treated you with more gratitude and respect. I do believe that you believed that what you were doing was right, even though most of hte time I would have disagreed with you. You were devoted and I believe you DID try your best. Thank you for your service. God bless you and yours. Namaste.

Posted by redredwinesofine | Report as abusive

The world stood and applauded loudly – the day he left!!!
You were here eight years too long.

Posted by artwych | Report as abusive

can’t speak about the man…but nice candid pics!

Posted by corporate singapore | Report as abusive

[…] Zoom — blog de Errol Morris en NYT — ha reunido a Vincent Amalvy (AFP), Santiago Lyon (AP) y Jim Bourg (Reuters) para seleccionar y comentar las imágenes de Bush que resumen sus ocho años en la Casa Blanca. Cada fotografía va acompañada de un diálogo entre los tres fotógrafos, del que se aprende mucho. A éste post hay que añadir otros dos del blog de fotografía de Reuters (quizá uno de los mejores): Impresiones de un hombre en el despacho; Los años de Bush: definiendo su presidencia. […]

Posted by Guerra y Paz » Blog Archive » Las fotografías que resumen la presidencia de Bush | Report as abusive

[…] be interested in the Reuters photographer blogs where Larry Downing, Kevin Lemarque, Jim Young and Jason Reed share their thoughts and experiences of photographing President George W. Bush. Technorati tags: […]

Posted by The Image(s) of Leadership: The Bush Years | Weekly Leader | Report as abusive

Let’s see if Obama will be as successful as Bush was in keeping America safe. That you President Bush for your service to this country

Posted by tim c | Report as abusive

I work in Singapore as a professional photographer and regularly visit this column. Another good read and insight to Bush. Thanks.

Posted by Singapore Photography | Report as abusive

[…] Bush Years: Defining his Presidency […]

Posted by Jason Reed, Witness to History « Pocketwizard Blog | Report as abusive