Diana Walker

Lucian Perkins discusses a photograph with fellow photojournalist Diana Walker and moderater Neal Spelce at an event sponsored by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Presidential Library on Thursday evening.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

A photojournalist whose work became a pop culture phenomenon joined with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and UT alumnus to discuss iconic photographs from the past 80 years of U.S. history on Thursday.

Renowned photojournalists Diana Walker and Lucian Perkins discussed their favorite photographs, journalistic topics and their own experiences covering presidents and their staff members from the Carter administration to the Obama presidency in the Lyndon B. Johnson Auditorium. More than 500 people attended the event sponsored by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Presidential Library.

Perkins and Walker selected their favorite photographs from each other’s work and images taken by other photojournalists, providing commentary on the still images. Moderator Neal Spelce picked his favorite two photographs each from Perkins and Walker.  

One of Walker’s recently known photographs includes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wearing black shades with her phone in hand. That photo sparked widespread praise and even inspired countless memes. Walker said she was not happy when her photograph was not credited to her and turned into a meme.

“The secretary of state, on the other hand, her staff thought it was great,” said Walker. “She handled it so well … That was her way of dealing with it and I said, ‘Diana get a life. Relax about this and enjoy it.’ Time [magazine] finally got my credit on it and the picture went viral, as they say, and went all over the world. It’s still out there somewhere.”  

Photographic work by Perkins and Walker is on display at a Briscoe Center exhibit titled “News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency”. The exhibit presents a collection of photographs from the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to the current administration. “News to History” is the inaugural exhibit in the new temporary exhibition space added during the renovation of the LBJ Library.

Even as the two featured photojournalists discussed a variety of historical and iconic photographs, they covered journalistic topics within the context of present-day issues. Perkins said each presidential administration, regardless of party affiliation, learns from the other how to manage the press and get their message out.

“When I first came to Washington in 1979 under Carter and then Reagan and look at it today, the control that the White House has — it’s a successive step each administration,” Perkins said. “They seem to manage to curtail us a little bit more each time. I think a lot of it is that the press is underrun in many ways.”

Photojournalist David Valdez just recently donated his life’s work to the Briscoe Center. He said for aspiring members of the press, and photojournalists especially, it is important to pursue your passion for photography.

“Shoot, shoot, shoot,” Valdez said. “I really embrace the new media — Flickr and Instagram — I put stuff up there and that can generate following and assignments. Some people see it as passive but if you really put up real pictures, it’s a way to promote yourself. You never know where life takes you. It is fun to be part of history.” 

Published on March 8, 2013 as "Photographs bring history to life". 

Appearing in publications from Time magazine to Vanity Fair and portraying figures including President Gerald Ford and President Bush, Diana Walker’s photographs have been some of the most popular political images to hit news stands.

Walker lectured on her experiences as a photojournalist and White House insider for nearly 20 years during a lecture Wednesday at the Briscoe Center for American History. She then played a slideshow as she explained some of her most successful published work, such as presidential and dignitary portraits.

The center’s director, Don Carleton, introduced Walker’s exhibited archive collection, which she originally donated to the University in 1997. The audience of about 50 people included Walker’s photojournalist colleagues, political diplomats and University officials.

“[Walker] was a part of a tiny handful of women that broke into photography when it was very much a man’s world,” Carleton said. “The very best photojournalists are also outstanding journalists, and that is why Walker has been so successful.”

Her career began in Washington, D.C. shooting amateur black-and-white photographs of the 1963 March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial and President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Almost a decade later, Walker obtained White House and Congress credentials through freelancing for Washington Monthly, and by 1979, she was a contract photographer for Time magazine.

Walker opened her lecture with a light-hearted story from the beginning of her career involving President George H. W. Bush and photographer David Valdez, who worked for Bush as director of the White House Photo Office and as his personal photographer during his four-year term.

“The president said, ‘Diana, what do you want from me today?’ And I looked at David with wide eyes, not sure what to say, in which he said ‘Mr. President, just forget she is here. In which President Bush said, ‘Okay that’s easy,” she said.

Valdez, who attended the event, said his role differed from Walker’s because he accompanied the president every day and was on
call 24/7.

“I saw myself documenting history,” he said. “I was during there during hard times like when Bush Sr., called [Bill] Clinton to congratulate his victory but also during happy times like when Bush’s grandchildren were born.”

Walker discussed the highlights of covering the White House for Time, which she said was a lot of fun but extremely stressful. She traveled abroad with presidents on Air Force One, photographed foreign dignitaries as they visited the States and was one of the only photojournalists who was allowed access to presidents behind the scenes.

Her exclusive photographs with the presidents later became part of a book, titled “Public and Private: Twenty Years Photographing
the Presidency.”

“To take photographs is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeing reality,” Walker said as she quoted former photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. “It is at that moment that mastering an image becomes a physical and intellectual joy.”