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Hail to the chiefs

Diana Walker: Photojournalist at the Carter Center

Those hoping for fly-on-the-wall views of inappropriate commander-in-chief scratching or eyes rolled at another Netanyahu man-walks-into-a bar joke may feel shortchanged by the Carter Center's current exhibition devoted to candid presidential photography by Diana Walker. Walker worked as a photojournalist, most often for Time magazine. And her career was marked by a singularly intimate access to the American presidents she has documented, from Gerald R. Ford in 1976 to Bill Clinton in 2001.

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But with access comes its silent handmaiden, restraint, and Diana Walker: Photojournalist reveals Walker as a documentarian on a leash. She is constrained by the usual demands of packaging images for a mainstream magazine like Time. But her access also is qualified by remaining in her presidents' and first ladies' good graces.

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Many of Walker's images are not humorous or freakish by design, but by nature — the result of the odd collision in affairs of the state between pomp, protocol, cultural barriers and elderly statesmen. Particularly priceless is a photo from 1983 of Queen Elizabeth looking like a prom wallflower in a hideous ruffled butter-cream dress and bulky eyeglasses "toasting" President Reagan. Her poker face at the microphone, however, contrasts deliciously with Reagan's expression; head thrown back in mid-guffaw, reflexively spasming like a corporate underling over some queenly bon mot.

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And Walker's images are not without some insights into the personalities of the presidents she documents. For starters, Bill Clinton may have been the most unself-conscious and unrestrained president in recent memory. Like some squirrely, irreverent uncle whose charms only reveal themselves in later years, Clinton is delightful in images like one prior to a debate where he assumes a gesture of "The Scream" distress. In an equally telling image, Clinton leans affectionately into Hillary like the high school football captain canoodling with the head cheerleader.

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But such naturalism — save the impromptu laughs Walker often captures in her presidential quarry — is the exception. Instead, Walker's images are revealing in an important regard. They are a reminder of the enormous, nearly inhumane demands we place on presidents to be ever camera-ready, composed and stoic.



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