Presidential Picture Stories

February 26, 2014 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Books | Comment |

Presidential Picture Stories: Behind the Cameras at the White House is a new book by veteran White House photographer Dennis Brack. From JFK to today, Dennis Brack has photographed the presidents of the United States for Life, Newsweek and Time. "I've worked the White House as a news photographer for about 50 years," he says. " It was time to write the old stories down." And the stories are extraordinary indeed: from coating the wet plates of Mathew Brady to blowing up a brand new hotel with flash powder to using pigeons to carry film; Dennis Brack has a lot to say about how photographers handled the tools of their day. Presidential Picture Stories is available from Amazon priced at $21.24.

Press Release


Behind the Cameras at the White House
By Dennis Brack

From the days of Woodrow Wilson to the administration of Barack Obama, author Dennis Brack looks back at the men and women who cover historic events with film and flash in the new book PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES: Behind the Cameras at the White House (date of release December 1, 2013 hardcover). Dozens of black-and-white and color photographs illustrate the modern history of news photography at America’s best-known residence.

Nearly a century has passed since news photographers began gaining access to the executive mansion. PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES explores the often contentious and often humorous dealings between photographers and the nation’s chief executives. Brack draws on oral histories, news reports of the day, memoirs and stories told to him by the photographers themselves as well as his own experiences as a news photographer assigned to the White House.

In Woodrow Wilson’s time, news photographers were not routinely allowed on the White House grounds. It wasn’t until after the election of 1920, when voters elected a newspaper publisher, Warren G. Harding, that photographers gained the same access as print reporters. Harding understood the value of a good photograph and ordered a small wooden shed to be built near the West Wing for the men with the cameras. They called it “the dog house.”

Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were ambivalent at best, and hostile at worst, to the notion of being photographed and seeing those pictures in newspapers across the country. Mrs. Hoover wanted the cameras to stay at least fifteen feet away from her husband — photographs tended to show off the president’s double chin.

Franklin D. Roosevelt knew how to work with photographers to his advantage. It was an unwritten rule that no pictures be taken of him in his wheelchair or on any occasion that would show the world how he had been crippled by polio. In exchange, he made sure “the boys” got their pictures.

Other tales from PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES include:

* Photographers had no greater friend in the White House than Harry S. Truman, who moved them out of “the dog house” and into the mansion. Truman enjoyed sharing a drink with the photographers and welcomed them on his early morning walks around the city — as long as they could keep up his brisk pace.

* During John F. Kennedy’s funeral United Press International photographer Stan Stearns triggered the shutter of his Nikon F just as little John saluted his father’s casket. Stearns left the funeral procession and went back to the office, incurring the wrath of his editors — until they saw the photo that would become iconic.

* Lyndon B. Johnson let photographers know if he liked or disliked a picture. When a shot of Johnson holding up one of his beagles by the ears sparked outrage among dog lovers, he asked Charles Gory of the Associated Press: “Why did you take a picture like that? That picture got me in a heap of trouble.”

* Ronald Reagan’s campaign events always produced two types of photographs: One of the candidate speaking, and the other of his wife, Nancy, watching him. Known as “the look,” it was a mixture of concentration and love.

* Vice President Joe Biden loves to tell stories. He even kept President Barack Obama waiting while he finished one of his favorites — about the Time magazine photographer who made pictures during Biden’s first political rally. Both ended up being splattered from the sky by a flock of geese.

Dennis Brack has lived and listened to the stories news photographers tell at the White House for more than fifty years. He has worked as a staff photographer for Black Star Publishing Company and as a contract photographer for Time magazine. He is still covering the White House — and watching out for geese.


A book about Photographers and their Stories. Imagine spending the night in the Oval Office on the night that President Nixon announced his resignation. CBS cameraman George Christian did and it was his first day at the White House. Ron Edmonds, an Associated Press photographer, won the Pulitzer Prize for the photos he made on his first day covering the White House. Shelly Fielman’s first day at NBC was November 22nd, 1963. He was handed a tape recorder and $7.000 in cash and told to get on an American Airlines flight to Dallas, Texas. On his third day working for NBC he was watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald. 

More stories are about photographers’ tricks, triumphs, defeats, and of course, war stories. There are stories about the iconic photographs of our day and how the photographers made them.

Coating the wet plates of Mathew Brady, blowing up a brand new hotel with flash powder, using pigeons to carry film: these are a few of many stories about how photographers handled the tools of their day. 

PICTURE STORIES is a fast history of the news picture business and a collection of delightful stories about the characters behind the cameras.

Dennis Brack

From JFK to today, Dennis Brack has photographed the Presidents of the United States and he hopes to continue this coverage for years to come. Represented by Black Star, the clients have changed through the decades: LIFE, NEWSWEEK, were major clients over these years. Brack averaged a picture a week in TIME for twenty-three years.Dennis Brack has covered ten presidential administrations.

During his time as a news photographer Brack has worked with,drank with and laughed with many of the colorful characters that photograph the presidents and their families. Over the decades he has interviewed photographers young and old to collect their stories and the result is the book, PRESIDENTIAL PICTURE STORIES: Behind the Cameras at the White House.

Dennis Brack education:

Washington and Lee University class of 1962 BA

George Washington University School of Law class of 1965 LLB 



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