Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I mentioned a week or so ago, when President Bush had his initially-troublesome encounter with a Segway, that I enjoy humorous Presidential photos, regardless of the President's political affiliation. For instance, here is President Bush the Elder, during his own inaugural festivities on January 20, 1989, indulging one of his grandchildren's fascination with flashlights and dentistry.

Over the last week I've been dipping into a fascinting book called Public & Private: Twenty Years Photographing the Presidency by Diana Walker, a photojournalist who covered every President of the United States between Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton. The book is fascinating for its look, as the title indicates, into both the Presidency as a public institution and the lives of the individual men who have held the office.

Some more partisan Republicans might want to take this next one more literally than I would, but it's still a funny picture:

Of course, the book isn't devoted to humorous photos -- far from it, actually. The full gravity of the Presidency is on display here, as is the toll it takes on both the men in the office and the people surrounding him. There are some very poignant candids in the book. For instance, there's a wonderful shot of President Reagan, for example, walking across the lawn of the White House with a gift basket for Nancy Reagan in his hand (she was in the hospital at the time) and looking not quite as "larger than life" as Reagan often looked. Another pair of images of President Bush the Elder after he lost re-election capture the disappointment of losing such a race: one of Bush delivering his concession, the sadness evident in his eyes, and a shot from the back taken the next morning of the President and Mrs. Bush leaning on one another. The book abounds with such examples.

Finally, there is this next image, taken in 1991 for the opening of the Reagan Library. This photo perfectly captures the idea of the Presidency's ongoing nature by showing five Presidents standing side-by-side. I once saw a speech by former President Bush, at an event where he and Presidents Clinton and Carter paid tribute to the White House itself. In that speece, Bush referred to the Presidency as a "continuum of service", a phrase which I liked.

I find books like Public & Private to be a good antidote, and a necessary one, to the occasional political depression that can set in when one focuses too much on the issues and personalities of right now and loses a bit of focus on the idea of ongoing history.

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