Hitting the ground running

March 1, 2013

Washington, D.C.

By Kevin Lamarque

Air Force One descends and the well choreographed dance begins: meal trays go up, shoes put back on, and laptops slipped into backpacks. Often the movie is abandoned minutes before the ending. Perhaps it’s time for one last reach into the candy basket. Cameras are slung over shoulders and settings are re-checked. Questions are asked: “Is it raining out there?” “Is there a pen of greeters?” Photographers, first out the door of the press cabin, make their way to the designated spot under the wing to photograph the President descending the steps of Air Force One.

Whether it’s a quick day trip to Virginia or a red-eye to Europe or Asia, the arrival of Air Force One is always a spectacle. For locals, it is the quintessential moment of self-importance: “Air Force One is landing in our city.” Footage of the plane landing is usually broadcast live by local networks. From inside the plane’s press cabin, we often watch this live footage, actually seeing ourselves land. It’s a pretty weird experience when you think about it.

For photographers, the arrival is the first image that places the President in his new locale. It is the beginning of a new story. The arrival photos are usually the first images we transmit to our clients who are sometimes eagerly awaiting a timely visual to match their story.

On domestic trips, those first images consist of a wave at the top of the steps followed by the President being greeted by a local politician at the bottom of the steps. Often, there is a “greeting pen,” a group of well-wishers selected to see the President’s arrival in person. President Obama will almost always make his way over to the greeting pen, at times breaking out into a spirited jog. Upon arrival at the pen, hands are shaken, babies are kissed and then Obama jumps into the waiting limo and the motorcade is off to its first destination.

Traveling abroad, the arrival is usually a more elaborate affair. The President may be met by the leader of the host country. There could be dancers in traditional costume, a band to play national anthems, children bearing flowers and an honor cordon. These elements help provide a unique setting and are a good early photo to kick off the President’s visit.

Upon completion of the arrival, photographers and journalists frantically bolt for their designated motorcade vehicles, which are often a good distance behind the President’s limo. Press wranglers shout “we gotta hurry, the motorcade is moving!” The motorcade press vans are always in the same order in the motorcade and journalists all have designated seats in these vans. It is important to have this rigid routine. The last thing we need is journalists arguing over seats while the President’s car is pulling away.

Once inside the vans, someone invariably asks, “How much time to our destination?” and the generic answer of 20-minutes comes back from our wrangler. Photographers pull out their laptops and transmit a photo or two from the arrival. Are these likely to be the best photos of the trip? Probably not, but since it is the first it carries an added importance.

For the President, his staff, the secret service and the traveling press pool, we all hit the ground running.

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