(Photo by Eric Draper/AFP/Getty Images)
By David Beard, Globe Staff
Eric Draper spent the last 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 Britian's Prince Philip. He also received an unexpected farewell gesture from No. 43 earlier this week. Here are excerpts from a telephone interview with Draper, who spoke from his home in Alexandria, Va.
Q. When was the first time you met George W. Bush?
A. 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.
Q. When did you get the job offer?
A. I still blame everything on the recount....If the election was decided that night, I would have probably moved on. But during the recount, everything was in limbo ... It gave me time to think ... I found out I had an invitation to attend the governor's Christmas party ...I thought this was my shot (to go for the job). My wife and I went, and at the very end of the party, I walked up to the President 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...When I met Secretary Card, I got the job.
Q. What were the unexpected ways it changed your life?
A. For starters, I had to buy a suit or two. ... Moving from quiet Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Washington D.C. was quite a flipflop for me...I really had no idea what I was getting myself into until I started... I traveled 18 months on the campaign and thought I knew what the president was all about, but I didn't, until I went to work for him. ... I was pleasantly surprised.
Q. He wasn't very popular in the African-American community. Did you get tired having to defend him?
A. I never had to defend him on the outside, and race was never an issue on the inside. What surprised you was that people of all stripes really respected the president when they stood right in front of him.
Q. How did it compare with the 24/7 deadlines of The Associated Press?
A. This was the hardest job I ever had, and I'd worked 8 years at the AP. In terms of the travel, planning, execution and followup, this was more work than I'd ever have to do. You're dealing with really important people on all levels, and historic events. It was an intense environment. It was very extreme -- the stress, the fun, the laughter, the teamwork, and the camaraderie it took to accomplish the mission.
Q. Wherever he was, you were?
A. 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 was recorded. If I wasn't there, I'd want a member of the photography staff there. I tried to be there as much as possible. For domestic travel, I tried to stick to all the warm states, not the cold states.
Q. Did you have to take vitamins and exercise to keep up?
A. One of the things I learned quickly was how amazingly in shape he was. He was a runner early in his administration, and mountain biking then became his passion. I was never in good enough shape to keep up with him, so I stuck to photographing him, not participating.
Q. Everybody had a nickname. What was yours?
A. Nothing ever stuck. One day it was Big Eric; another day Erich, with a hard H, like in German.
Q. What was your last assignment?
A. 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.
Q. You must have a thousand stories. Give me one:
A. I had an interesting experience when 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.''
Q. When did it hit you that it was over?
A.The day the photos came down from the West Wing, the final weekend of the administration, it hit me. They were already removing the photos from the walls. I'd walk in, and there were no photos.
Q. What have you been doing since you got back from Texas on Wednesday?
A. Sleeping. (Laughs).
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.