Bush years: Defining his presidency
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.
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.