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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Today's guest: White House Photo Director Eric Draper

Eric Draper
May 15, 2003

Eric Draper
Good evening everyone. This is Eric Draper, Director of the White House Photo Office. Thank you for joining me on this latest edition of "Ask the White House" I am ready to take your questions and talk about some of my favorite photos I have made while working here at the White House. I'd like to start things off with my current favorite image of the President. It shows the President walking outside from the Rose Garden to the Oval Office during the early morning hours of Feb. 15th last year between phone calls to world leaders. All the elements of light and composition and timing come together in a quiet moment.

Scott, from Rapid City writes:
Eric I really thought the photos from the other day President Bush meeting with tornado victims were touching. But who is Susan Sterner? Is she a photographer from a newspaper that you borrowed or does she work at the White House? Do you have a staff? Scott

Eric Draper
Hi Scott..... Susan Sterner is a White House photographer currently assigned to Mrs. Bush. On that particular day she was covering the President. I have four photographers on staff. There was a time when I was the only photographer as in this picture early in the administration (taken a week after the President was sworn in) showing the President's proud parents on the South Lawn. I also have three photo editors who help look through the hundreds of images each day that my staff makes.

Louis, from Franktown, Colorado writes:
What was it like taking photos with the President on 911?

Eric Draper
I get asked that question a lot, Louis. It was a very memorable day. And each time I go back and look at the photographs on that day, what I felt during those moments sink in. Most of the day felt like being in a nightmare -- having the job of being an observer with a camera helped me deal with it emotionally. Seeing the strength of the President carried me through the day. I knew it was very important to thoroughly document every moment that I could including marking times on a notepad of when things happened because these photos will be critically when historians looking back at this day years from now. This photo was taken during the Air Force One flight back to Washington, DC. The White House staff on the plane (including the President) are looking at the F-16 escorts that flew just a few feet away from the wings of Air Force One. To see some of the photos, go here

Patricia, from Battle Creek, Michigan writes:
Eric You have photographed the President in some very touching, emotional times. Have you ever found it hard to take the photos because of the atmosphere? Isnt it hard to always be on?

Eric Draper
It is very difficult to photograph anyone in an emotional setting. In each situation I'm faced with, I try to be very respectful of everyone I'm photographing and it is hard balance between respecting their privacy and getting the picture. This picture, for example, showing the President meeting with families of those who lost loved ones in the 911 attacks in New York was probably the most difficult situation I've ever been in. I took very few photos and I attempted to capture the storytelling moments of this meeting. Again focusing on making the picture enabled meet to complete the job in the midst of incredible sadness.

Brian, from Sandusky, Ohio writes:
How many photos do you take a day?

Eric Draper
I get this question a lot too. There really is no average day. It depends on the schedule of the President. My team of photographers photograph every official event on the President's schedule. We also photograph private events when invited. To give you an example of the number of images that we have in our archive....Our film archive counts every single roll that is processed. As of today, we are up to 29,929 rolls of film. Of course, not every roll of film is shot to a full 36 exposures. But this is just to give you an idea of the size of our photo archive. Along with the official moments that I capture on a daily basis, there are also very candid moments that happen during the President's day. As shown in this picture, the President enjoys a laugh looking at humorous photos of his staff.

Taj, from Mission Hills writes:
What is the most memorable photograph you have taken? Why?

Eric Draper
The most memorable photo for me happened on Day One of the administration. The moment the President sat at his desk in the Oval Office for the first time joined by his father, former President Bush. It was a special moment for me because it was my first time in the Oval Office.

Bill, from Norman Oklahoma writes:
Does the President review every photo that you want to put up on the web site?

Eric Draper
The President does not approve these photos but he is very interested in seeing our photos. We provide a "photos of the week" book for the President every week. We also have large 20 x 30 prints on display in the West Wing and throughout the complex called "jumbos". This is a typical photo that did appear in one of his "photos of the week" books showing the President making a phone call to a world leader in the Oval Office. The top of the image shows the embossed seal of the ceiling in the Oval Office.

Annie, from Long Island writes:
What is your travel schedule like? Are you allowed to take photos on Air Force One whenever you like?

Eric Draper

There is a lot of travel involved in my job. I try to make most trips with the President and if I'm not with him, one of my staff photographers makes the trip.

Air Force One is a wonderful subject to photograph. It is an incredible site each and every time I see it.

In this first photo, you see the President and Mrs. Bush walking to the plane with Barney and Spot before departing Texas in June of 2001. The next photo shows the President walking off the stairs of Air Force One as the sky clears in Tampa, Florida in June of 2001 as well.

Covering the President on Air Force One adds a whole other dimension to the presidency to document. I work on Air Force One just like I work in the White House -- meaning that it is basically a flying White House, conference rooms, the President's cabin, and I have my own work area on the plane. And the food is not bad either.

Gina, from Kalispell writes:
Eric -- We want more Barney photos!!!!!

Eric Draper
You got it! Here is Barney as a puppy shown here -- he's the black spot on the right. The President is hitting a tennis ball to him at Camp David in the fog. This was taken in April, 2001. The President's pets are a joy to photograph. That will be my last question of the night. Thanks for joining us on "Ask the White House". This is something I intend to do quite often. So keep checking back on the site for the next time we do this. And keep logging on to the site as we will be posting even more photos and more photo essays. Thanks again!

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