Photographs from the White House walls.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
April 22 2009 11:57 AM

The White House Canon

Photographs from the rotating collection at the White House.

Click here to read a slide-show essay about a collection of photographs selected from the walls of the White House.

Click here to read a slide-show essay about a collection of photographs selected from the walls of the White House.

President Obama can't walk very far from his office without being confronted by a picture of himself. One hundred and forty-seven frames hang throughout the White House, displaying images of the daily life of his presidency. Known as "jumbos," the 20-by-30-inch prints are a long-standing presidential tradition that goes back to the Nixon administration. These pictures don't hang in the grand spaces of the White House. They line the hallways and staircases of the cramped quarters where the work gets done. There are grand offices in the White House, but much of the work area is dim, with low ceilings and such crowded work spaces that it almost seems as if the staff  sit two to a chair.

Advertisement

Most of the jumbos are not formal photographs but candid views into the daily business of the presidency. "We want to show the president, not just photo-op situations," says White House photographer Pete Souza.

It would be hard, with so many of these photos hanging around, not to let the pictures go to your head. Obama, who photographs well, is usually captured in the most commanding way. It also helps that Souza, who also worked in the Reagan White House, has been photographing Obama for some time. He's also got perhaps the best material since the Kennedy administration. "I'm envious of Souza," says former White House photographer David Hume Kennerly. "You couldn't cast a situation better: an attractive couple, the first black president, two kids, the dog."

But the photographs aren't just for the president. They're for the staffers who don't get to see him much. Those who are captured in a photograph with Obama—from White House stewards to speechwriters to journalists—get the thrill of being on public display. And when the photographs are rotated out, as they are every few days, the subjects can hang the picture in their own offices.

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.