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

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

Here’s Just How Far a Southern Woman May Have to Drive to Get an Abortion

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Behold

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 20 2014 1:50 PM Why We Shouldn’t be Too Sure About the Supposed Deal to Return the Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 12:37 PM The Fed Will Probably Stop Injecting Huge Sums of Money Into the Economy This Month
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Oct. 20 2014 1:43 PM Chouara: A Striking 11th-Century Tannery in Morocco
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 1:10 PM Women Are Still Losing Jobs for Getting Pregnant
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 1:26 PM This $248 Denim Jumpsuit Is the Latest Example of a Horrible Fashion Tradition
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 1:51 PM Will Amazon Lead Us to the Golden Age of Books? A Future Tense Event.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 10:23 AM Where I Was Wrong About the Royals I underestimated the value of building a team that’s just barely better than mediocre.