A Photographer’s View of the ESSA Signing
Associated Press staff photographer Evan Vucci gives a behind-the-scenes account of his assignment to photograph President Barack Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act into law.
The White House is a unique place to work. Whenever the president makes a big announcement or signs a piece of legislation, you’re going to be working alongside a dozen other photographers trying to make a unique photo or a series of photos that tell the story. It can be a difficult thing to do, and it doesn’t always work out in your favor.
The Every Student Succeeds Act bill signing was held in a conference room on Dec. 10 in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the White House complex. Usually the event would have been held in the more ornate East Room of the White House, but due to annual holiday parties the president hosts, it was unavailable. This conference room is a tough place to work- it doesn’t have the grandeur of the East Room. It’s a much smaller room that was packed with lawmakers, educators, students, and journalists.
Events at the White House are scripted and controlled to the finest details, from who introduces the president, to where the press will be allowed to work. Bill signings usually follow a prescribed script as well: The president is introduced by someone impacted by the law, the president makes brief remarks, then walks over to a table surrounded by lawmakers who helped the legislation pass, and finally signs the bill. One of the stranger things that occurs is the president will use a number of different pens to sign his name to the document. These pens are then given out at a later date as ceremonial gifts.
From start to finish the event lasts less than 20 minutes, and most wire photographers will file dozens of images. In the end, the best pictures will usually be the ones that show some real emotion. It doesn’t always happen, but when the president signed this bill there was a genuine smile on his face. A bipartisan bill passed by Congress and signed by the president can be a tough thing to do these days. “A Christmas miracle,” Obama said. “A bipartisan bill signing right here!”