National Press Club

Former White House Photographer Describes "Helluva Ride"

May 1, 2009 | By Vineeta Anand

Clinton White House Photographer Sharon Farmer

Clinton White House Photographer Sharon Farmer

Photo/Image: Ed Hazelwood

As the official White House photographer during the 1990s, Sharon Farmer got to know President Bill Clinton in a way few others did. He jumped over security barriers to shake hands with ordinary Americans. He wept when the Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes informed him that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated. And, on a state visit to Ghana, he draped himself in the traditional cloth over his suit.

“I thought I died and went to heaven when Clinton wore the Kente cloth,” Farmer told members at a retrospective of her photos of the Clinton era arranged by the Photography Committee on April 29. “I called him the first black President,” she said.

Farmer, who majored in photography at Ohio State University during the turbulent 1970s, worked for the Associated Press, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, the Washington Post, and numerous other media outlets during her 35-year career as a photojournalist. But being the official White House photographer had special privileges.

“My favorite ride is the helicopter. Much more than Air Force One, which is just a big flying office building,” she said.

Most of the time, though, being the official White House photographer meant just standing and waiting for a good shot.

“By being the fly on the wall, I got to cover a lot of things,” she said.

Meetings with heads of state. Ceremonial events. Routine briefings with staff. Accompanying First Lady Hillary Clinton to the funeral of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India. And, on quiet news days, she photographed the Clintons’ cat, Socks, and Buddy, their chocolate Labrador dog.

“What a helluva ride I had as the White House photographer.”