New Camera Angle on Obamas Focuses All Eyes on Inauguration

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There were perhaps millions of photographs made as the lens of the world focused on Tuesday's inauguration of America's 44th president. And yet, one iconic photograph of the Obama family -- topped off by the majestic, white capitol building dome -- stands as a one in a million photographic moment.

It appeared almost immediately on Web sites and television screens around the world and will grace the pages of print publications for days to come.

While riding on the media shuttle bus to the second of his three inauguration coverage stops, 20-year Washington, D.C.-based veteran photojournalist Chuck Kennedy eagerly checked to confirm the fruit of his year-long labor via the McClatchy-Tribune Web site on his Apple iPhone.

The enthusiastic text message validation from his McClatchy-Tribune News services picture editor George Bridges indicating that the photos were "outstanding" did not quite satisfy his curiosity.

After all, this was the first time a camera had ever been allowed in that position.

For years, Kennedy pondered what a more intimate perspective of this historic event might reveal. This was his sixth inauguration assignment, not counting his first involvement during the second Ronald Reagan event when he recalls that, "I never actually saw the president that day."

Kennedy actually began the process of petitioning for this new camera position at the foot of the podium after election day.

Given the charged and competitive nature of things on Capitol Hill, "I presented my idea quietly to the Senate Joint Committee and the Senate Press Photo Gallery, as they are the groups that would have authority over the design of the stage and credentialing. Given the fact that we lost some camera positions this year due to the merging of two previous positions, I was really motivated to do something new," said Kennedy.

Kennedy presented the idea and a test frame to Pete Souza, the president's official photographer, who endorsed the idea and agreed to encourage Robert Gibbs, Obama's press secretary, to support it.

One critical aspect of the plan was the need to silence the camera. "We could not have camera noise ... during the swearing-in service," Kennedy noted. "That was my Christmas project, to construct a Pelican case as an enclosure." Kennedy solicited the services of his father-in-law, Dave Maloney, "who is very handy with tools," to help with this project.

Kennedy arrived on the Capitol grounds at 4:15 a.m. on Inauguration Day to clear security. He set up his Canon, 5D Mark II camera with a loaner 16-35mm, f 2.8 lens at 6am and used AC voltage to power the unit due to the inclement weather. He did not trust his older personal lens so he borrowed the lens of editor and fellow photographer Bridges.

"I knew that the little kids and the dome would be a great perspective," Kennedy said.

The photographs were sent to MCT via the Canon WFT-E4A transmitter immediately via DSL line and moved on the pooled wire within minutes.

Because they were providing pool photos, Kennedy and MCT retain the copyright, with attribution, but have to distribute the images to all sanctioned parties.

On the issue of sharing, Kennedy said, "We never had a problem pooling the image, we wanted the world to see the picture. It is probably my only one-in-a-million frame."

After braving the cold, the crowds and the covert operation, Kennedy said, "I am just happy that it all worked out."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Chuck Kennedy's father-in-law, Dave Maloney. Also, the Canon transmitter number was incorrect, as was the timing of when Kennedy began pursuing the new podium position.

  • Kenneth Irby

    Kenny founded Poynter's photojournalism program in 1995. He teaches in seminars and consults in areas of photojournalism, leadership, ethics and diversity.


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