I got a huge break in the winter of 1988, when Newsweek assigned me to spend a full five days with then presidential candidate (and current VP) George H. Bush. Five days on assignment back then was a big deal for me. It might have been my longest political assignment up to that point.
Monday morning I jumped on the press bus in New Hampshire and realized things were a bit strange (though I couldn’t put my finger on it). So I sat down next to PF Bently, the Time contract photographer assigned to Bush, and kept my mouth shut. Everyone, the campaign staff, and the other photographers assumed I was shooting for my agency Contact Press Images, and I didn’t tell them any different.
Back then, what the colorful, newsweeklies (as one of my favorite collegues use to refer to them as) published was important. I hadn’t yet seen a copy of Time or Newsweek, but as the bus filled up people began to talk, and the only thing they were talking about that morning was Newsweek’s cover. It was the infamous George Bush is a wimp cover.
Needless to say, the campaign was less than thrilled (remember Bush had just come in third place behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson in Iowa). Newsweek needed a photographer on the bus, but they didn’t want one of their Washington based staff photographers to get tainted in the eyes of the campaign. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even put a reporter on the bus that week either. Suffice to say, I was offered up as the sacrificial lamb.
Naturally, once I figured this out I continued to keep my mouth shut.
At the end of the week, I admitted to PF and the campaign staffer riding herd on photographers (Bruce Zanca) that I was there shooting for Newsweek, and we all had a good laugh.
Thank you, Karen Mullarkey and Guy Cooper. That was a big week for me. I know the covers were heavily guarded secrets, but one of you could have given me a OTR heads-up!
I spent most of the rest that year on the Bush campaign shooting for LIFE. They used a single frame, the arms raised with the flag, across two pages (shown above).
One of my favorite shots with him was made on Governor’s Island with Reagan and Gorbachev. Though I was a tad overexposed as it was overcast until they arrived and then the sun went and popped out on us. We had two positions available that day. This, or from headon with the Statue of Liberty in the backgound. I’m thankful I went with the cutaway. (I’ve seen versions by Ari Mintz and Paul Gero this week that are better than mine.)
Then VP Bush celebrates his birthday on the campaign trail in Iowa by taking a bite out of a White House shaped cake. I weaseled my way opposite of the offical press area as I figured it’d make a better shot (with the help of the aforementioned Bruce Zanca).
Once again with Gorbachev, but now president, at the Malta Summit. Bush chose to stay on a Navy destroyer. We went out to visit him for church Sunday morning in sixteen foot swells. It’s no fun to transfer from a launch to a destroyer in those conditions. Someone joked that the difference between him and his predecessor was that Reagan would have brought an aircraft carrier. This shot made a double-truck in Paris Match.
The last significant shot I made of Bush 41 was on election night 2000 in Austin, standing next to his son watching the election returns. but that’s another story.
He was pretty good to the photographers. He did refer to us as “photo dogs”, which some people didn’t appreciate. I didn’t care what he called me as long as I could get into the room.
May he rest in peace.