Photographers' Blog

Michelle Obama’s unscripted moment

Washington, D.C.

By Jason Reed

“Never work with children or animals” is a famous show business adage once attributed to the comedian W. C. Fields. Those words may well have crossed the mind of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama this week during an unscripted moment at the White House.

Hosting the annual unveiling of the White House Holiday decorations, the first lady was the center of attention, as she is any time that she is in public view. At this time of year all of the historical rooms on the ground floor of the White House are decorated with trees, tinsel and a gingerbread house, which all become fodder for the press cameras as we are led on a carefully stage-managed guided tour of the “State Floor” by staff and volunteers. It is something that the regular White House press corps mark on their calendars long in advance so that we don’t miss it and the resulting pictures are usually pretty.

In the last moments of this year’s event, Michelle Obama introduced to the young children of U.S. military service members the Obama family’s new pet Sunny, a female Portuguese Water dog. With the combination of children, animals and a world-recognized public figure now set, it was just a matter of time before an unscripted moment presented itself, a split second where little Ashtyn Gardner, all of two years old, lost her balance over another child’s walker and fell to the floor. Dozens of camera shutters fired at up to 10 frames per second, capturing a moment so far off script that the first lady’s facial expression said it all. To her credit the little girl popped right back up, didn’t shed a tear and carried on.

At the end of the event Michelle Obama and Ashtyn shared a little embrace.

It is the unscripted and unexpected moments that we as independent press photographers not working for the government capture that show our readers and viewers a human element in otherwise carefully stage managed White House events. If those moments make good pictures we put them out without hesitation. They round out our picture file and are often the images which are published most around the world.

Where celebrities get slimed

By Mario Anzuoni

This year, as in the past, I was assigned to shoot the show portion of the annual Kids Choice awards. The show caters to an audience of children and teenagers and most importantly all the awards are voted on by the kids. The main star of the show is always the green slime – which the kids and some of the celebrities get plenty of.

A few days ahead of the show there was an announcement that the First Lady of the U.S. was going to attend the show with daughters Sasha and Malia to present The Big Help Award to singer Taylor Swift.

Naturally this year security was stepped up due to the attendance of the First Lady, so I had to be at the venue a few hours in advance to clear Secret Service. We were informed that Michelle Obama would arrive about 15 minutes before the show and we would have a few minutes to photograph her in her seat. Despite being a hectic and quick photo opportunity surrounded by thousands of screaming kids, I managed to get a few spontaneous frames of the First Lady interacting with some kids in the audience.

Fitness first for the First Lady

As children’s obesity has dramatically increased in recent years, Michelle Obama had made a cause out of fighting the national trend towards bad diet and too little exercise. Two years ago she launched her “Let’s Move” initiative to improve the diet and fitness of our nation.

According to “Let’s Move”, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. “Let’s Move” states that “today, nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese. Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner. Meals were home-cooked with reasonable portion sizes and there was always a vegetable on the plate. Eating fast food was rare and snacking between meals was an occasional treat.”

My, how things have changed! I see it at my own kid’s schools. Students have limited recess activity and physical education classes that seem to be more about eliminating injury than actually providing exercise. On several occasions I’ve gone to the school principal and requested more exercise opportunities for the kids at school. My requests were generally accepted and appreciated. On diet, my kids have never, to my knowledge, eaten at McDonald’s. Down time…..well….we have a saying in our house….”If the sun is out, so are you.” TV and computer time is closely monitored. Am I being a whacky parent, or were there others that thought like me?