Turning the lens on Trump

We asked White House photographers to share their most memorable Trump pictures — and the stories behind them By Benazir Wehelie and Kyle Almond, CNN

Ever since President Donald Trump raised his right hand, vowing to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, the world has watched his efforts to “Make America Great Again.”

Among those observing have been photographers who cover the White House. Day after day — and often shoulder to shoulder — they document the happenings of the Trump administration.

We asked some of them to share what they feel is their most memorable photograph from Trump’s first 100 days, and why.

Reporters raise their hands as Trump fields questions during a White House news conference on Thursday, February 16. The President lashed out against the media and what he called fake news as he displayed a sense of anger and grievance rarely vented by a president in public. He said he resented reports that his White House was in chaos. "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine," he said. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

“Covering Trump has been challenging, daunting and frustrating. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a transition run like this before, and this is my third time! (Clinton-to-Bush, Bush-to-Obama, Obama-to-Trump.)

“In the first couple of days and weeks, the photographers assigned to the White House took the motto ‘expect the unexpected’ because we didn’t know what was going to happen or, for that matter, when. All we knew is that whatever President Trump was planning on doing, it was going to make a lot of news.

“The photo I’ve attached was taken halfway through President Trump’s first solo news conference at the White House. Normally at an event like this, members of the White House press are given a couple of hours ‘heads-up’ to prepare. But this was not the case: I only knew because my co-worker Evan Vucci sent me a text while he was covering Trump’s scheduled meeting in the Roosevelt Room where Trump made the last-minute announcement.

“The text went like this: ‘Trump is going to do a news Conference in 60mins in the East Room,’ followed by ‘I’m not joking this is real.’ What happened next was a mad scramble by all the members of the media to set up in the East Room — not a small task.

“The news conference itself was what I can only best describe as surreal. The President’s remarks covered a far range of topics and took questions from a wider range of journalists than normally expected. In the photo above, the President is pausing while he glances to see who he will pick next.”

Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, January 28. Also in the Oval Office, from left next to Trump, are White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, national security adviser Michael Flynn, White House press secretary Sean Spicer and chief strategist Steve Bannon. Andrew Harnik/AP

Andrew Harnik, Associated Press

“In the early days of the Trump presidency, photographers were invited to make images of the President as he made phone calls to leaders around the world. Because the administration wanted to offer this opportunity but did not want members of the media to be able to hear his conversation, we were allowed to make images by shooting through the windows into the Oval Office.

“Trump had been making phone calls throughout the day, and we had been taken out earlier to make images of him on the phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo opportunities at the White House are usually very fast (they’re often called “sprays”) and with the earlier phone call I had made pretty tight images focusing on Trump at his desk for a variety of reasons, one of them being to help cut down on the amount of glare from shooting through a window.

“Because of the reports of Russian interference that had surrounded the 2016 campaign and the questions of Russian contacts that had dogged Trump’s inner circle of advisers, I knew that this phone call was a big moment that could possibly have significant historical significance. I wanted to emphasize the fact that this was now President Donald Trump making a call to Vladimir Putin, the man who might have had a significant impact on the election.

“While other photographers went to a farther window for a tighter image of the President and his advisers, I took a position toward the center of the room and photographed with a wide lens to emphasize the significance of the room.

“During the call, one of his biggest advisers Steve Bannon, who held a lot of power and influence during the election and into the administration, began to slowly and contemplatively pace around the room as he listened to the call. I made an image of him in the center of the room, framed by a door as the rest of Trump’s advisers were focused on the President, sitting behind a desk on the phone. I think Bannon’s body language makes the image work, and I think after Bannon draws you into the center of the image, the wide angle lets the viewer move around the room to look at each person’s expression.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is greeted by Trump in the Oval Office on Monday, February 13. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Newscom

Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

“As world leaders began making their visits to President Donald Trump, perhaps none garnered more star power than the visit of Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau and Trump are contrasting figures on many levels, and this photo, for some, provided an effective illustration on that theme.”

The President and the first lady visit the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, on Saturday, April 22. Trump had just given the Purple Heart to Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos, who was recently wounded in Afghanistan. At left is Barrientos with his wife, Tammy. Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times/Redux

Gabriella Demczuk, freelance photographer

“I traveled with President Trump on his first visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The press was taken into the lobby of the hospital to wait for his entrance. Sgt. 1st Class Alvaro Barrientos came in with his wife, Tammy, followed by President Trump and the first lady a couple minutes later.

“Trump was presenting Barrientos with the Purple Heart, an honor given to service members killed or wounded in action. The ceremony lasted only a couple minutes, with very brief remarks by the President. When it ended, Trump and Barrientos went their separate ways and we were ushered back into the motorcade while Trump toured the rest of the facility. That was the first time I had witnessed a president give a Purple Heart, as President Obama would always do so in private.

“To me, this photograph represents the disconnect between the administration and its citizens, as well as the disconnect between America and its service members, particularly the community of veterans. ‘We are much easier not seen,’ a friend and veteran told me, a belief he says many in the community feel. It’s only been 100 days. There are plenty more days ahead for President Trump to change this sentiment.”

Trump departs the Oval Office before signing two executive orders on Friday, March 31. Eric Thayer/The New York Times/Redux

Eric Thayer, freelance photographer

“When Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States, I stood on a riser at the back of a ballroom thinking that it was the end of a yearlong-plus journey that had taken me all over the country. I never thought of myself as a political photographer. A photographer who covered campaigns yes, but full-time politics? Not really a thought in my mind. I guess I just figured that a whole wildly talented crop of people already does that in DC with way more experience than I have. But I moved here, and there have been a lot of firsts and I’ve loved every minute of every one of them.

“Turns out DC is kind of a spectacular place to photograph politics, especially in the midst of an administration that makes a lot of news. There has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the media, but when we are all working, there are no personal politics involved — myself and my colleagues are there to document history.

“The day I made this picture was my first day in the Oval Office. I just remember standing nervously 2 feet from the Resolute Desk, waiting for the President to arrive and wondering how in the hell I got myself into this spot. The President entered the room and spoke and it was a blur, and I just kept shooting, hoping something came of it.

“It’s certainly not the best picture I’ve made of President Trump since I first started photographing his campaign at the Iowa State Fair in 2015, but sometimes the pictures you hold closest aren’t the best. Sometimes they just mean something to you.”

The President pretends to drive a tractor-trailer during a White House event with truckers and truck industry executives on Thursday, March 23. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Jim Watson, Agence France-Presse

“This photograph of Trump stuck out to me because it was one of the first times I saw a candid moment with him. It seems these days we, the White House Press Corps and Tight Travel Pool, are ushered into a room to see the President at a table or a podium, reading from notes or a prepared statement — which to me is a scripted event where you don’t expect anything other than what the administration wants you to see to deliver their message to the press.

“This, of course, was their event, highlighting health insurance and the trucker industry, but there was a moment in it that just stood out where the President appeared to be screaming while pretending to drive an 18-wheeler semi truck. I had no idea I even had the frame at the time because it all happened so fast, but once I got back to my desk and began editing I noticed there truly was a moment where we finally see some of the President’s demeanor and personality. The image quickly went viral on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, with memes coming from all over the country and world. BuzzFeed.com even jokingly took many of my images from that day and made it into a children’s book, ‘The President and the Big Boy Truck.’ ”

Trump surprises visitors who were touring the White House on Tuesday, March 7. The tour group, including many young children, cheered and screamed after the President popped out from behind a room divider. Evan Vucci/AP

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

“This photo was taken the day the White House was reopened to tours. There was a large group of visitors that had no idea President Trump was going to drop by and greet them. As we were setting up, I noticed the painting of Hillary Clinton hanging on the wall. I couldn’t believe my luck. As Trump arrived the crowd cheered and I got my favorite photo of the first 100 days.”

At left, the President dances with first lady Melania Trump at one of three inaugural balls on Friday, January 20. At right, a young couple embraces at the end of the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, January 21. Stephen Crowley/The New York Times/Redux

Stephen Crowley, The New York Times

"What a difference a day made
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain"

— Lyrics from "What a Diff’rence a Day Made” by Maria Grever

“President Donald J. Trump mouthed the words ‘I did it my way’ as he danced with first lady Melania Trump during an inaugural ball in Washington.

“The next morning, tens of thousands, still smarting from their loss, gathered to participate in the Women's March on Washington to protest ‘the rhetoric of the past election cycle.’ ”

Trump arrives at the White House’s State Dining Room for a meeting of the National Governors Association on Monday, February 27. Trump was about to unveil his first budget plan, which looks to increase defense and security spending by $54 billion and cut roughly the same amount from non-defense programs, the White House said. Aude Guerrucci/Pool/AP

Aude Guerrucci, freelance photographer

“Taking pictures of the President when he is walking in or out of a room can be good opportunities to try to get something different. People don't usually pay too much attention to the hands of a chief of state, but Trump's hands had gotten an unusual and disproportionate amount of talks and interests during the campaign, and through handshakes and bill signings, they remain in the public eye.

“It has been interesting to see the wide range of articles this photo ended up illustrating (and how it was re-captioned).”

Trump arriv­es to addre­ss a joint sessi­on of Congr­ess on Tuesday, February 28. Al Drago/The New York Times/Redux

Al Drago, The New York Times

“There was a lot of expectation and pressure on President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress in late February. I wanted to show the President entering the House Chamber similar to an athlete taking the field.

“I was shooting from Statuary Hall with a 300mm lens, and it was the first chance to see the President that evening. I caught a flash from the House photographer right next to the President and it gave the photo a nice texture, complementing the flag backdrop and framing in the doorway. I was live transmitting from the back of my camera, and my editor Tanner Curtis received the photo before the President took the stage.”

Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House as he announces Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee on Tuesday, January 31. Gorsuch — at right with his wife, Louise — would replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last year. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong, Getty Images

“We know President Trump is always very proud of everything he does. So, announcing his pick for the Supreme Court was no exception. What I had captured was a very proud President standing behind the podium, as his not-so-at-ease nominee applauds.

“Filling up the seat that was left vacant by the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was one of Trump’s campaign promises. There is no doubt that putting Gorsuch in the Supreme Court is one of his greatest accomplishments, if not the only one, in his first 100 days.”

Trump pauses near the Resolute Desk in the White House Oval Office on Wednesday, February 1. It was during the swearing-in ceremony of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

“Photojournalists at the White House cover a parade of managed events. In what can become routine, I always look for something different. I search for those unscripted moments where the subject is more candid and true. That is what this quiet image is for me. President Trump is standing tall and in motion at the same time.”

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talk before a joint news conference at the White House on Friday, February 10. The two leaders held Oval Office talks and had lunch together in the State Dining Room. The next day, they traveled to Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort and played golf together. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

“Donald Trump is our first reality-television president. After being in the public eye for decades, the President knows that cameras are an important part of the mass communication landscape, and he doesn't shy away from them. Just the opposite: He is confident and comfortable in front of the lens. He seems to live the contemporary ethos that if it wasn't photographed, then it didn't happen.

“I selected this photo of President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe because of its sense of intimacy and tension. From between the trunks of trees that border the Rose Garden, you can see the two leaders standing face-to-face on the West Wing Colonnade, pausing while on their way to a joint news conference.

“I was too far away from the leaders to hear what was being discussed, but Trump was expressive and Abe — the political leader of a country of 127 million people that Trump was frequently critical of during the 2016 presidential election — stands close with fists clenched. Despite the body language, Trump and Abe said their meeting was good and they pledged close security and economic cooperation. ‘The bond between our two nations and the friendship between our two peoples runs very, very deep,’ Trump said during the news conference. ‘This administration is committed to bringing those ties even closer.’ ”

Trump pauses while delivering his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, February 28. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/EPA

Jim Lo Scalzo, European Pressphoto Agency

“Pundits spun President Trump’s first address to Congress as reassuring and presidential, a departure from the dark — and much criticized — speech he delivered at his inauguration. While the President did stick to his script, it perhaps made him appear more staid and reined-in than his normal self.”

Top photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/Newscom

Photo editor: Brett Roegiers