Where Are the White House Photos?

A departure from the Internet-era tradition.

President Joe Biden poses with the Biden family dogs Champ and Major Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

This will likely interest no one who isn’t running a political blog or otherwise in the market for a steady supply of open-source photographs but the White House photostream from the Biden administration blows.

For years now, the official White House photos have been publicly available on Flickr. Even the Trump administration, which thumbed its nose at pretty much every other norm, did a fantastic job of it.

There were multiple photos just about every day through January 12.

The Obama team did their part, providing a constant stream through January 13.

The Bush 43 administration photos don’t seem to be archived at Flickr but there was a steady stream through the White House website itself. They’re archived and indexed in what seems an old-fashioned manner but 2001-2009 was a very different era in terms of web design.

The Biden feed, though, is simply terrible. The most recent photo is from July 27. And it focuses almost entirely on Vice President Kamala Harris; President Biden is a bit player. Hell, Jill Biden gets featured more.

Well into composing this post, it occurred to me that maybe the Biden team was simply using something other than Flickr as their main archival system. But I can find nothing on the White House website. I did find Instagram and Facebook feeds, though:

If anything, they’re more anodyne and less President-centric than the Flickr feed.

Interestingly, Trump was criticized early in his administration for not using the official photographer much. But it was soon remedied. Shealah Craighead’s work was quite prolific. Conversely, Obama’s team came under fire for over-controlling the image of the President.

John Bredar wrote the book about the history of White House photographers, and he agrees with Losh — to an extent. “I remember from interviewing [Pete Souza] back in 2010, that he was saying something like 90% of their selects, 90 to 95% of their selects, meaning his and his picture editor, were being uploaded to Flickr, and that maybe 5% were being filtered out for a variety of different reasons by [Obama’s press secretary] Josh Earnest at the time.”

In 2013, Obama came under fire when photojournalists from mainstream outlets noticed that Souza was uploading large numbers of photos from events and engagements to which they hadn’t been invited. The White House Correspondents association and 37 news outlets sent a letter to then press secretary Jay Carney that compared the behavior to that of Soviet Russia. The New York Times described the protest as a “mutiny.”

But, aside from the petty concerns of journalists and bloggers, there’s a real issue here:

“From the perspective of someone who looks at history kind of with a student’s eye, those are valuable documents to understand what was going on,” Bredar says. “And if nobody’s kind of avidly collecting or managing that, that’s one issue, and potentially a significant loss to the country.”

Regardless, we’re eight months into the administration and this is likely what we have.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Tony W says:

    I think Mr. Biden is far more concerned with getting things done than for getting credit for it.

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  2. I wonder how much of this is a function of photos not being taken or of them simply not being posted online.

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  3. Slugger says:

    Maybe we’re all a little tired of seeing pictures of puppy dogs and kitties and the latest dinner creations that our relatives text us. The photos shown are the presidential equivalent with a measure of Potemkin thrown in. George Bush at a desk, working earnestly is a fine example of utter piffle.

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  4. James Joyner says:

    @Tony W: It’s a sweet sentiment but 1) he certainly seems very much interested in taking credit for things and 2) posting official photos online isn’t something the President himself does. He has people for that!

    @Steven L. Taylor: One presumes the latter. But, for all intents and purposes, they’re the same!

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  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    You’re kidding, right? If this is a problem for the American people, then we are the luckiest damn nation on earth.

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  6. Jax says:

    There’s an army of right wing trolls armed with photoshop and video-editing software that already grabs every published photo and video of Biden and edit them to fit the “Sleepy Joe” narrative. Why give them more material to work with?

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  7. wr says:

    I’ll trade the White House photos for the White House visitors log any day.

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  8. @James Joyner:

    But, for all intents and purposes, they’re the same!

    True!

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  9. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: @wr: Where in the post do I suggest that this is some scandal comparable to the Trump administration? Hell, I open with a note that it’s probably of little interest to most. But, yes, I find it aggravating.

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  10. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: Of all the things in the world to worry about, THIS is what you’re having a hissy-fit about?

    I’ll take “people who don’t know when they’re well off” for $200, Alex….

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  11. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist: In what world is this a “hissy fit”?

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: Tone, dude. A lot of your work about things that seem “irritating” or “perplexing” to you comes off more like “old man shouting at the clouds.”

    But, whatevs…

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  13. Gustopher says:

    Where is the White House cat? We were promised a cat. Get the cat, and then I’ll want photos.

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  14. grumpy realist says:

    @James Joyner: You’re the dude who thought it was important enough to write a blog piece about.

    If I were to write a blog piece about, say, the ordering of silverware in my kitchen drawer, people would ask: “why in the heck did you write an article about that?” and conclude that the topic was obviously important to me otherwise I wouldn’t have said anything.

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  15. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist: I write blog pieces about things that interest or amuse me. That I’m curious as to why the Biden White House stopped providing a steady stream of photos of the President—as all previous Internet-era Presidents have done—isn’t a declaration that it’s outrageous or the most important thing happening on the planet.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Sigh…

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    Here was my reaction to this piece: “Hmmm, what’s this about? Oh, James is annoyed because, as a blogger, he doesn’t have a convenient source of vetted photos like he did for previous administrations. Oh well, I understand where he is coming from but not much interest to me. I would be surprised if it got more than a few comments, unless it turns out he missed the big glaring “BLOGGER PHOTOS HERE” button on the official White House website.” Then I look and see there are sixteen comments. I pop back in, fully expecting some jokesters taking the piss because he missed the obvious and instead see people giving him a hard time for being annoyed.

    I don’t think I understand this internet thing.

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  18. Jax says:

    I, for one, am 100% in favor of a White House Cat, and he must have his very own Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts full of snark and cat shenanigans. In fact, TWO White House Cats, because two cats are more apt to provide entertaining shenanigans. 😉

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  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    I did not think James was having a hissy fit. He rarely has hissy fits. I took this as mildly irritated amusement.

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  20. Blue Galangal says:

    Bring back Pete Souza! We need our Biden memes!

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  21. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Given the irritating people who sometimes comment here, I’d say Prof. Joyner has the temperament of an individual hooked up to a valium/vodka i.v. 24/7.

    Were I Joyner, I’d probably have divested some of them of their heads by now.

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  22. JohnMcC says:

    But it’s definitely a more interesting thread than that long, intense conversation on these pages a couple months ago that left so much hard feelings. You remember? The one about maple sugar.

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