Renowned Photographer Lawrence Jackson Visits 8th Grade Photography Class

On January 6, the 8th grade photography elective class was treated to a special presentation by renowned photographer Lawrence Jackson. Mr. Jackson was an official White House photographer for all eight years of the Obama administration. It was, as he noted “a wonderful time to document history.”
As part of a team of five photographers and four editors, he helped capture more than 9.000 images a week. By the end of President Obama’s two terms, the team had entered more than 4.2 million images into the archives of the White House.

In 2013, Mr. Jackson began freelancing and in 2019 he published a book of photographs and reflections titled Yes We Did: Photos and Behind-the-Scenes Stories Celebrating Our First African American President. He has been covering Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s campaign and transition to the White House since August 2020.

Mr. Jackson shared with the class that there are three key elements that he feels make up a great image: emotion, information, and aesthetics. The recipe for success is when a photo can convey a strong emotion and/or important information about an event or person in an aesthetically pleasing way. Mr. Jackson scrolled through his countless stunning images that captured both historic events, such as when the White House was lit up with the Gay pride colors to celebrate the landmark Supreme Court decision affirming same sex marriage, as well as more personal moments, such as President Obama deep in thought in the Oval Office.

One of the photos Mr. Jackson takes great pride in is not as visually striking as some of his other work. A group of men stand gathered around President Obama, his back to the camera. Yet, the story behind the image gives it tremendous weight. This picture, Mr. Jackson explained, is that of the national security team seeking authorization to pursue Osama Bin Laden. Mr. Jackson was only able to get this one frame before he was waved out of the room. The following evening, President Obama announced that Bin Laden had been killed in a nighttime raid where he had been hiding.

One of Mr. Jackson’s most popular and historic photos is that of the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery. President Obama and the first lady are flanked by the original freedom walkers on one side and their daughters on the other side. Mr. Jackson explained that, “without those people on the right, you wouldn’t have the people in the center and, without those people in the center, you wouldn’t have those people on the left.” We are the beneficiaries of the sacrifices of previous generations.

Q&A with Lawrence Jackson

Do you use natural lighting or do you edit the photos ? - Fiona J. ‘25
I use natural lighting as much as possible. I can only lighten, darken, or crop an image - anything else would be manipulation of the photograph and would fall outside of the bounds of documentary photography.

What was your favorite part of working for the President? - Oliver P. ‘25
My favorite part was to be part of history and see it happen in front of me -- to document what you hope will be cherished for decades to come. When I look at old pictures, I don’t think that the person who took that photo thought that 100 years later people would be looking at it. That’s what excites me and hopefully makes a difference.

What is your favorite photograph that you ever took in the White House? - Maddie E. ’25
My favorite photograph was of President Obama hugging a little girl, because it was a totally unexpected moment. The President was greeting people in the Oval House. She put her arms up like she wanted a hug. The look on her face seems to say “thank you.”

What is your favorite story or moment behind one of the photos? - Ella H. ‘25
It was when the First Lady was celebrating at her surprise birthday party...she had no idea I was still in the room and she closes eyes to make a wish...she was just being her natural self.

What advice would you give to young photographers? - Ms. Pilon
I started taking pictures when I was in high school, just because I liked it. Back then we used a dark room. When you see the prints develop in front of you, it was magic. I was hooked. Anyone who feels that way about photography in your class, learn as much as you can, take as many pics as you can, and try as many different styles and mediums of photography as you can.

Special thanks to Gloria Johnson (Fiona ‘25) for arranging this very special speaker.
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