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|| News Item: Posted 2007-09-24

Recording History
Paul Morse went from the Los Angeles Times to the White House as a staff photographer.

By Paul Morse

Photo by Paul Morse /

Photo by Paul Morse /

President George W. Bush walks through Cross Hall en route to the East Room of the White House Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006, from where he spoke to the nation.
Photography has always taken me amazing places and my journey to the White House started while I was walking along the beach in Santa Monica, CA looking for weather features in January 2001. I answered a phone call from my college buddy Eric Draper who was asking if I could help him out. After covering the 2000 Presidential campaign for the Associated Press he was named the President's personal photographer and needed to hire a staff of photographers to cover the White House. I was his first call.

Working at the White House wasn't in my plans. I had a great job at the Los Angeles Times covering sports but when a once in a lifetime opportunity to help a friend document the White House from the inside came along I couldn't pass it up. A couple of weeks later I left the 80 degree weather of LA on a redeye flight for the 40 degree drizzling rain of Washington D.C.

As an outsider to Washington D.C. I focused on documenting the White House in the same style I used at the newspaper. I would look for the moments, expressions, gestures that would best tell the story of that given day or event.

A constant challenge was trying to come up with fresh images of the same subject for nearly 7 years. I would use remote cameras to provide fresh perspectives on routine happenings of the White House when I could.

Having my images tell the history of the President gave the most the most routine photos a different dimension. While a photo might not be really dramatic at the moment it was taken, time and history added new meaning to the images. Having the luxury of time and access allowed me to try new approaches to photos knowing if I failed I would have another chance at it.

Anticipation was a key skill. Even if the Oval Office is smaller than the Staples Center knowing where to place myself was critical in getting the best images. Knowing that any of my images could be released to the White House press corps I used the same high standard of ethics concerning digital manipulation to insure that no one would ever doubt the validity of my images.

Photo by Paul Morse /

Photo by Paul Morse /

President George W. Bush and 2005 Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong take a ride together through a field of sunflowers on the President's ranch in Crawford, Texas on August 20, 2005.
A dramatic change of perspective came for me after moving to the other side of the "velvet ropes". Being a part of something that was covered by the press gave me an insight to how the press covers the President.

Sometimes the coverage was fair sometimes it wasn't but when I witnessed behind the scenes events and then read an wrong account of the same events in paper the next morning I became skeptical of a news organization's intent.

Through out my time there I tried to build a good relationship with the photographers who cover the White House beat by staying out of their way. Their time to photograph the President was limited and I didn't want to be beat down for ruining a shot while working from their vantage point.

The photographers covering the White House are a great group of shooters and I would help when I could by helping secure better locations to shoot from or place remote cameras. The photo world is very small and little favors can go a long way. Many famous shooters like Greg Heisler, Annie Leibowitz and Neil Leifer would be assigned to photograph the President and First Lady and it gave me the chance to see them work.

Also when professional teams would visit for a photo opportunity I got the chance to say hello to Andrew Bernstein of the NBA and Julian Gonzalez of the Detroit Free Press who I worked with covering sports for the LA Times. They didn't recognize me in a suit!

The people supporting the President are fantastic. From the members of the military to the Secret Service everyone treated me with respect and kindness. I learned Secret Service agents are warm and friendly people behind their serious game faces. They are also great observers.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Photo by Robert Hanashiro / Sports Shooter

Paul Morse, left, and Wally Skalij at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000. Little did Morse know that in a few months he would be working for the President.
When I first started an agent and I were talking about how we both came to the White House from Los Angeles. He remembered me as a photographer for the LA Times even though I never met him personally. He had a little trouble recognizing me at first and then said, "Didn't you have a pony tail before?"

In my time there I traveled to 60 countries and almost every state in the US. On the overseas trip I would fly on the support plane and on domestic trips on Air Force One. There is no other feeling as to board AF-1 and it was something I cherished each time I traveled on it.

Friends ask me how tough will it be to fly commercial and I say nothing is as special as AF-1 so I'm not going to try an compare the two. I'm just going to bite my tongue when asked by TSA to take off my belt and shoes.

Entering back in to the real world I had a chance to cover sports again. It was a profile story on Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies for USA TODAY. Getting to the stadium early, watching batting practice and hearing the crack of baseballs flying off into center field brought back all the good memories of covering sports.

The portrait session with Rollins went well and I never felt so relaxed about talking to and photographing a professional athlete. As the game started I felt as if time had stood still, it had been 7 years since I had covered a professional game and nothing had changed except the digital cameras.

(Paul Morse formerly worked as a staff photographer at the Pasadena Star and the Los Angeles Times. He is currently freelancing and you can see a sample of his work at his member page:

Related Links:
Paul's member page

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