Photographers' Blog

Only human: A photographic look at the Bush presidency

Washington D.C.

By Stelios Varias

In the eight years that George W. Bush served as the 43rd U.S. president, Reuters’ photographers were witness to big events and the daily grind that is full-time presidential coverage. Along the way, they amassed a collection of truly memorable images. As their longtime colleague and picture editor, it has been my pleasure to see their images come across the Reuters’ wire and land on the fronts of newspapers and online home pages.

With the Bush presidential center scheduled to be dedicated in Dallas on April 25, I’ve assembled a few of my favorites from our photographers.

President Bush will be most remembered for steering the United States through the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, from the day he was told “America is under attack” by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, to when he stood on the crumpled remains of a fire truck at New York’s Ground Zero and told the country through a borrowed megaphone that the United States would respond.

Looking back I see a trail of memorable images. Some of the strongest pictures for me are of what I like to think of as in-between moments, that reveal more about the man than the office.

As candidate-with-baby photos go, they don’t get any better that this Jim Bourg image of Bush handing back a crying infant.

Migrants are deported to Guatemala

The mood was somber in Arizona as deportees filed up the stairs to the plane that would take them back to Guatemala. I remember a woman crossing herself as she looked up at the plane. Later I learned it was the first flight she’d ever taken.

Migrants deportation from Carlos Barria on Vimeo.

Most of the migrants I talked to had crossed the border into the United States on foot. One woman told me of being abandoned by a ‘coyote’ during the crossing after she injured herself. She said she had wandered for two days before U.S. border agents found her, dehydrated and weak. She also told me how one of the agents had cleaned and bandaged her feet– a kindness that clearly moved her.


When the plane landed in Guatemala, the deportees let out a subdued cheer and smiled nervously. It was a journey that would reunite them with families, even if it meant the end of a dream to get ahead in the United States. For others, it was a setback. Several told me they would try to run the border again.

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.

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

Bush years: Impressions of the man in office

Bush has faced many battles in his tenure. Record low approval ratings, a failing economy, the September 11 attacks, a war with no near end in sight, and for the last year, most of the world was looking more to his successor, than to the sitting President himself.

But when I look back over my three years here in Washington, I come away with two impressions of the man in the office.

One impression is that of a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, an insurmountable burden. As from my first image of Bush, making the long, slow walk back to the Oval Office, head and hands hanging low.

Bush years: Good, bad and ugly

Reuters Washington staff photographer Kevin Lamarque made the move to White House coverage in 1999. Before that, he was covering London politics spanning the end of Margaret Thatcher, the John Major years, and the beginning of the Tony Blair era.  Washington proved to be an interesting contrast.  He has covered the final two years of the President Bill Clinton, and all eight years of President George W. Bush.

As one of only two Reuters photographers covering the entire eight years of President Bush’s term, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, most of his time was defined by the latter two.

Early days in Crawford, with both of us looking much younger.

From the beginning Bush seemed a most unlikely President. I have often used the metaphor of a schoolboy who has not studied for an exam showing up on test day. He seemed as surprised as anyone that he actually was in fact president. He gradually grew into the role, though it could be argued that it never was a good fit.

Bush years: First-time history

Larry Downing is a Reuters senior staff photographer assigned to the White House. He shares that duty with three other staff photographers. He has lived in Washington since 1977 and has been assigned to cover the White House since 1978. He worked for United Press International and Newsweek Magazine before joining Reuters as a stringer in 1997 and then as staff in 1999.

As the final moments of President Bush’s administration wind down, I look forward to Barack Obama’s historic inauguration. Having grown up in America as a child of the 50’s, I found the odds impossible that he, or any other African American, would ever win the presidency in my lifetime.

Early on election day last November I drove with my wife from the suburbs in Northern Virginia to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in the Anacostia district of Washington D.C. to watch as thousands of African Americans stood in line to cast their vote on a cold, raw morning. It was heartwarming to watch.

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