“They are real people … I think it really says a lot about the kinship that this very select group of people has for each other,” he says. “They’ve all served. It’s not so much about the politics at that time. It’s about honoring a very select member of that club,” says Paul Morse, the official photographer who took the picture.
So how did that scene come together?
“Just be ready, technically” he says of these kinds of shoots. That means plenty of memory cards and batteries that can be seamlessly popped in and out of cameras — without missing the action — “because things can’t stop for me,” he adds. “Things happen relatively quickly and fluidly in that environment. I knew a lot of the personalities already, and I knew they’d come and want to say hello to ’41,’ as they call him, so I just put myself near him for most of that morning.”
“I was just trying to keep an eye behind me to see who was arriving and watch people greet 41. I’m always looking around, always observing, to anticipate who may come up to him and try to think about each story behind the person who’s greeting him,” Morse says. “I was particularly interested in seeing President Clinton because I know they have a very special relationship since they’ve left office.”
“What I find is you have to shoot as many frames as there are people in the photo to make sure you have everyone’s eyes open and they’re looking at you,” he says. “All those presidents and first ladies are professional. It wasn’t too hard.” By that rule, with eight people in the picture, he estimates that he only had time for about four pictures before the group headed into the service.
He checked the back of his camera immediately to make sure he got something that worked. Later, he downloaded the images from his memory card and touched up a little of the color before sending it to McGrath, who would release the image.
Morse only “glanced a little bit” at some of the commentary that followed. Asked what he hoped viewers would take away, he was succinct: “They are real people … I think it really says a lot about the kinship that this very select group of people has for each other,” he says. “They’ve all served. It’s not so much about the politics at that time. It’s about honoring a very select member of that club.”