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Barbara and The Clintons

Tuesday August 14th, 2012

In 1993, Barbara Kinney received a call from a friend and member of the Clinton presidential campaign. He was transitioning into the new administration and needed a photographer to be with Hillary Rodham Clinton during the inauguration. According to Barbara, it was a perfect example of a “right time, right place” situation. She took the job and spent the week with Hillary Clinton, ending up riding in the motorcade down Pennsylvania Avenue, right into the White House. From there, she became a White House photographer on a day-to-day basis, then on a 30-day contract period, and eventually was officially hired as a White House staff photographer. Barbara spent many years photographing the Clinton family, and continues to do so to this day. Below, she and I discuss her time as a White House photographer as well as her latest assignment for The Clinton Foundation in Africa. Enjoy!

- Maria Luci

What was it like being a White House staff photographer?

My time in the White House was incredible on so many levels. It was a somewhat high profile position, in that the photographs released would often be published in magazines and newspapers that I’d always hoped to work for. My work covered both TIME and Newsweek, so I got a lot of recognition during that period of my life. It was pretty exciting, not to mention flying regularly on Air Force One and Marine One.

It was also an opportunity to meet all sorts of people, from celebrities to world leaders to famous photographers. I took Albert Watson, on a tour of the Oval Office once. I also met other great photographers like Patrick Demarchelier, Gregory Heisler, Annie Leibovitz and Yousuf Karsh. And most importantly, working at the White House meant that my photographs would become a part of history, as a documentation of the Clinton Administration. That is pretty moving for me.

President Clinton visited Nelson Mandela on the eve of his 94th birthday at his residence in Qunu, South Africa

How often do you work with the Clintons now?

Over the last few years, my work with the Clintons has been fairly regular. After working as Hillary’s photographer during her 2008 campaign, I became reconnected with a lot of Clinton staff I’d previously worked with. As a result, I was hired for a Clinton Foundation 2008 trip to Africa, began shooting Clinton Global Initiative meetings and then was fortunate to be asked to photograph Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. All those things combined have allowed me to spend lot of time around the Clintons since my White House days.

 How was this recent Clinton Foundation assignment presented to you?

This trip to Africa was a chance for President Clinton to visit some of the programs and initiatives supported by the Clinton Foundation. It’s funny, I had been talking to my contact, Adam Schultz for weeks prior to the trip, asking if there was a chance that they were hiring me for the project. At that point, they weren’t sure how big the traveling delegation plane would be and therefore, didn’t know if they would have room for a photographer (I know, hard to imagine since in my opinion, the photographer is the second most important person on the trip—the President being the first!) Anyway, I found out on a Sunday that I was going, meaning I needed to be in New York on Thursday for a Friday morning departure.

Any especially memorable moments from the trip?

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Nelson Mandela at his home in Qunu, South Africa, the rural village where he grew up. I was nervous about making this photograph because I wanted to respect Mandela’s privacy and not be too intrusive. I waited to be called into the room and thought I would only have a minute or two to photograph the meeting. However, the living room was full of family members and staff and nobody seemed to mind that I was there. I felt like I had my picture and was turning to leave when another photographer came bursting into the room. He was shooting for the Mandela family and he asked the two former presidents to shake hands (which I thought was a bit cheesy.) As they did, he patted Mandela on the shoulder and said “Madiba, smile!” A grin came across Mandela’s face and THAT was the photo—not so cheesy after all.

Another special moment of the trip was when President Bill Clinton met with Ugandan teenager Bill Clinton. I was part of a White House trip to Africa in 1998 when President Clinton met an infant who was named after him. The local Ugandan newspaper ran a story during our 2012 trip about the boy. Our staff was able to track him down and arranged a meeting at the airport. It was an emotional moment as the two embraced on the tarmac. Later that evening as we were flying to our next stop, some of the staff and myself were talking about the 1998 photo and thinking about how great it would be to see the two pictures together. I’m notorious for never throwing anything away (you never know when you might need something) and that means my computer is usually full of outdated files and folders. Luckily, a slide show of my White House images was still on my laptop, and believe it or not, the 1998 photo of Bill Clinton holding Bill Clinton was there. I paired the two photos and we were able to send it to the Ugandan newspaper the next day and post it on the Clinton Foundation website.

President Clinton meets 14-year-old Bill Clinton in Uganda (right) President Clinton met Bill in 1998 when he traveled to Uganda (left). Bill was named after President Clinton.

Were there any challenges?

There are always challenges when shooting a high-profile person at events, even when you’re the “official” photographer. There are always press photographers, videographers and random folks with point and shoots and the dreaded camera phones. Everybody is carrying some sort of camera these days and each of those people just represent someone who is going to get in my way!  It can sometimes be so difficult to get a “clean” shot with people pushing and shoving to get their own shots.

Also, every evening of the trip, I would edit my photographs from the day and email them back to the Foundation’s New York office, where they would be uploaded to an online gallery and to the Foundation’s Flickr site. People could get daily updates on President Clinton’s travels with photos and an ongoing blog written by Chelsea and various members of our delegation.

How are the photos being used?

Besides the Foundation photo gallery and Flickr postings, the Foundation will use the images throughout the next couple of years on their website, in print materials and at Foundation and CGI meetings.

Which is your favorite photo from the trip?

My favorite photo was a candid moment between President Clinton and daughter Chelsea. As we were on the tarmac, I turned around and saw this wonderful moment in beautiful light. Thanks to Nikon for loaning me a 24mm f1.4 lens for the trip, which was just what I needed in this low light situation and was a perfect match for my new D800 camera. These are the types of documentary, candid moments that make a trip like this worth it as a photographer. There are so many official meetings and events, grip and grins and group shots, that to come away from the week with a couple of interesting and behind-the-scenes moments makes me satisfied that I have done a good job.

View more of Barbara’s work at barbarakinney.com.

2 Responses to “Barbara and The Clintons”

  1. This is such a nice interview and story about behind the scenes. Thanks.

  2. Crystal says:

    Lovely interview! Thanks for sharing!

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