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He clicked with the president

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  February 7, 2009 05:15 PM

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Eric Draper with President Bush
President Bush looked through a book of photographs in 2003 that his official photographer, Eric Draper (R) prepared for him once a week. Photo by Tina Hager

Eric Draper spent the past eight years alongside George W. Bush as the chief White House photographer. Draper, 44, who had covered the 2000 campaign for the Associated Press, took the White House from film to digital as he met world leaders and mixed it up with Britain's Prince Philip. He also received an unexpected farewell gesture from No. 43 last week. Here are excerpts from a telephone interview by Editor David Beard with Draper, who spoke from his home in Alexandria, Va.

When was the first time you met George W. Bush?
When I started covering the campaign in 1999. I never really had a formal introduction; I was just part of the media traveling with the campaign.

When did you get the job offer?
I found out I had an invitation to attend the governor's Christmas party .... At the very end of the party, I walked up to the president [-elect] and said, "I want to be your personal photographer." I used a line he used in his campaign, "I want to look you in the eye and ask for the job." It was the longest handshake. About a week later, I got a phone call from Andy Card for an interview in Austin [Texas] ... When I met Secretary Card, I got the job.

Wherever he was, you were?
That was my goal. I wanted to use a photo documentary approach where I would try to be a visual diarist of what the president's administration was all about - the daily schedule, the people who surrounded him .... The president had the choice of how much he wanted me around, and he found my role was really important, and he wanted everything recorded.

Everybody had a nickname. What was yours?
Nothing ever stuck. One day it was Big Eric; another day Erich, with a hard H, like in German.

What was your last assignment?
I made a photo of the president walking out, seeing Midland, Texas, for the first time as an ex-president. Midland wasn't the last stop. We went to an event in Waco, where we said our goodbyes and he left for the ranch. Aboard the plane to Waco, he asked me what I was doing .... Then he said, "Let's keep in touch." Instead of a handshake, he gave me a fist bump. That's how it ended.

You must have a thousand stories. Give me one.
Queen Elizabeth was visiting the White House about a year and a half ago. Philip, her husband, was upstairs in the residence as well. Mrs. Bush and the queen were headed to the other side of the room. I followed them until I realized that Mrs. Bush was taking her to the restroom. And then Philip says, "Are you following them to the loo?" I said, "Uh no, I'm not."

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