After taking office, Johnson altered the course of White House photography by allowing expansive access to his appointee, Yoichi Okamoto, whom Johnson worked with as vice president. Okamoto captured Johnson happily howling with his dog; in historic meetings with Civil Rights leaders; recovering from surgery in bed, on an IV drip; and, of course, giving the “Johnson Treatment,” which involved the president imposing his physical stature upon politicians in his path. The effect of these images is that of a fly on the wall, a public eye placed in the room with one of the most powerful men on earth.
“I had always looked to Yoichi Okamoto…as the level of access that I wanted to attain,” Pete Souza, chief official White House photographer to Barack Obama, told Artsy. Souza, who previously photographed for the Chicago Tribune, documented Obama’s rise from freshman senator in 2005 to the presidency in 2009. He describes Obama as “someone who understood the value of a visual historical record of his administration,” and Souza, in turn, was given broad access—including top security clearance—to the Commander in Chief throughout his tenure.
“I saw my role as someone trying to create an archive of photographs for history; that was the number one thing in my mind,” said Souza. “Everything else didn’t matter as much to me. What mattered is that I was doing a service to the future, really, to have this archive that will live in perpetuity.”