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Excerpt: 'The Bigger Picture'

'The Bigger Picture'



Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself. —Samuel Butler, 1835–1902

I can argue long into the night about what a portrait is, about how much of what we photographers see is truly real, and how much of it is the subject playing to the camera. I can talk technique, I can wonder whether all my chatter to bring out the sitter is worthwhile, or muse about how it is that I ask all these questions but don't really hear the answers since I'm busy framing the picture and adjusting the f-stops. A portrait is a complicated thing, and it seems, by the look of this volume, that I take a very broad interpretation of the word.

Because I work in Washington, there are necessarily lots of photographs of well-known people in this book. However, very little effort has been made to include this famous person or that influential statesman. My editor and my book designer chose these pictures just because they liked them, not because of who was in them. Missing persons can probably be found in the next book, as my archive is large.

I interviewed five individuals for this book, and their words are featured in special sections. They are: Madeleine Albright, Steve Jobs, Karenna Gore Schiff (for her father), Jamie Lee Curtis, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. I have photographed these people in depth over many years.

The different kinds of portraits in this book were taken in a variety of circumstances: There's the shot taken from the back of a riser, using a long lens aimed at a subject who is well aware we photographers and reporters are there; a portrait of a politician shot from the buffer zone below the stage, looking up at him and hoping that your angle beats that of your competition. Then there are pictures made during the reporter's interview, with problems of light and the journalist's mike in the way, or the challenge to capture the author or actor's genius, hoping that his or her gifts indeed will show through. Or studio shots where at last you have control—but is the lighting good, the background neat? There's the excitement of following your subject from pillar to post, only to have the door closed when discretion reigns; or the panic of photographing the President of the United States from "behind the scenes" and suddenly realizing your camera batteries have died; or the disappointment of being poised to go into a fascinating tête-à-tête, and just as you step over the threshold, that perky press aide slips in between you and the door with a "thank you, Diana." "But...but...this is just what I need!" you protest as you are ushered into an empty room down the hall to dream of your lost exclusive moment. Or being assigned to photograph someone you know—which should be a sheer delight—but having to be aware of the minefields when you blur the lines between being a friend and being a journalist. All situations have their perils.

Over the years, as a photojournalist based in Washington, I have encountered all of the above, in spades. But we have chosen here a collection of portraits where mercifully I did have the right lens, the doors were not closed, my cameras had film, my colleagues were helpmates, and my subjects oftentimes seemed to forget I was there. My hope is that I have managed to tell you something about the people I have photographed, perhaps shedding light on aspects of their character you might not have noticed, or reinforcing opinions you already had. I hope you will have as good a time looking at the photographs as I had in taking them; it has been a great ride.

Excerpted from The Bigger Picture © 2007 Diana Walker. Published by the National Geographic Society.

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Diana Walker