Dodging Secret Service agents in a snowstorm while inspiring a classic Washington painting (PHOTOS)

Snow falls at the White House in Rod Chase's painting "Winter's Eve."  This photo shows a matted and framed limited edition print of "Winter's Eve."  (Photo of framed print by Kevin Ambrose)

Snow falls at the White House in Rod Chase’s painting titled, “Winter’s Eve.”   There is a story behind the art that has never been told.  (Painting by Rod Chase and photo of framed print by Kevin Ambrose.)

Rod Chase is recognized as one of today’s top photorealist painters.  Chase often focuses his efforts on painting various landmarks of Washington, D.C.  One of his paintings, “Winter’s Eve,” shows a tranquil winter evening at the White House with snow falling.  It’s a classic, postcard view of the White House but most people do not know there is an unusual weather-related story behind the painting that involves more than just snow and the President’s home.

The story behind the art involves a December 5 snowstorm in Washington, the Secret Service, and a photo chase to get content for this blog.  Yes, the same blog you are now reading.

(Read below for the story behind “Winter’s Eve” and to see various snow photos from the photo shoot that helped inspire the painting.)

The photo from December 5, 2005 that was the inspiration for Rod Chase's Winter's Eve. (Kevin Ambrose)

The White House snow photo from the evening of December 5, 2005 that was used as inspiration and context for “Winter’s Eve.”  Note, the painting is not an exact duplication of this photo.  The painting provides an expanded view of the photograph and there are also modifications to the tree and objects in the foreground.   (Photo by Kevin Ambrose)

The date was December 5, 2005 and snow was in the forecast for Washington, D.C.  At the time, I had been photographing for the Capital Weather blog for about a year.

My plan was to take a photo of the White House with snow that I would later submit to the blog leader, Jason Samenow, for a future blog post.  I had never photographed the White House in snow and I was hopeful for a good shot.

Steady snow was falling during the evening of December 5 when I left my house for the trip to Washington.  Snow was rapidly accumulating on all surfaces except for the roads.  The drive into the city on I-66 was quite easy.

I parked near the Lincoln Memorial and walked toward the Washington Monument.  I stopped to take a few photos of the Lincoln Memorial and a close-up shot of the Washington Monument with the snow falling through the light beams that are projected up at the monument.  My target, however, was the White House so I moved quickly toward the Ellipse.

The surface weather map for 7 am on December 5, 2005.  (NOAA)

The surface weather map for 7:00 am on December 5, 2005.  The snowstorm produced 3″ of snow at Reagan National Airport during the late afternoon and evening of December 5 and during the morning of December 6, 2005.  (NOAA)

When I arrived at the South Lawn of the White House, I began to set up my tripod and camera while I fumbled with an umbrella to keep the snow from accumulation on my camera gear.  If you have ever tried to assemble a camera and tripod in a snowstorm while holding an umbrella, it’s a little challenging.

I was finally ready to start taking photos when I saw a man quickly approaching.  It was a Secret Service agent and he said I could not use a tripod for photography in that location.

I groaned and muttered, “Really?”  After the drive into Washington, a hike to the White House, and a camera setup in the snow, I was completely shut down at the moment I was ready to snap my first White House photo.  I was more than a little disappointed.

The agent smiled and said he was sorry but that he was following the rules.  I picked up my tripod and camera and walked away.

Snow falls at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, December 5, 2005.  (Kevin Ambrose)

Snow falls at the Lincoln Memorial and Reflecting Pool, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

As I left the area, I decided to trek around to the opposite side of the White House.  The agent didn’t say that I couldn’t shoot from another location.  As far as I knew, I had been in the only tripod-free zone.  I was new to photography in Washington and I didn’t know about tripod rules.

The snow began to fall more heavily as I walked around the White House.  I looked over my shoulder with relief.  The agent did not follow me.

I kept the camera fixed to the tripod as I walked in a ready-to-shoot position.  Obviously, the long setup process with a device getting mounted to a tripod directly facing the White House is going to draw a lot of attention.  My new plan was to plop the tripod down in the snow in front of the White House and immediately take a photo.  I hoped that the plan would work.

Snow falls on the National Christmas Tree, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

Snow falls on the National Christmas Tree, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

 

I arrived at the front of the White House carrying my tripod and camera under the umbrella.  I looked around and did not see agents.  I quickly planted the tripod on the snowy sidewalk and shot a photo.  The camera’s flash was turned on to photograph snowflakes in air.

I checked out the image on my digital camera.  The fence around the White House seemed to be the most prominent feature in the photo.  The flash gave the fence a glare and it overpowered the image.  It was not a good shot.

I walked up to the White House fence, leaned my camera and tripod against the fence, and stuck my camera’s lens into the gap in the fence.  I’ll admit, the setup looked terrible but it worked.  The fence was removed from the scene.

I began to take photos of the White House using my flash to freeze-frame snowflakes in air.  My camera was continuously popping light at the White House every few seconds.  I knew that I was going to draw attention.

Snow falls on the National Christmas Tree, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

The National Christmas Tree with snow, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

Within a minute, a secret service agent stuck his head out of a guard shack and gave me a very stern look.  He didn’t approve of my photography and I could tell that he was preparing to come out and have a chat with me.  I noticed he didn’t have the friendly, smiling face like the other agent.  He looked rather upset.

I waved and smiled but that didn’t appear to help.  My photo shoot was over.

I quickly picked up my tripod and camera and walked briskly away.  I didn’t want to have another agent-to-photographer discussion about tripods.  The scenes I captured on the camera would have to do.

After I left the area, I checked my camera and I had taken 9 photos of the White House in snow.  In one photo, the snowflakes in air were captured quite well.

Snow falls at the Washington Monument, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

The Washington Monument with snow, December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

I walked back to the Ellipse and took a few photos of the National Christmas tree with the White House and Washington Monument.  No-one seemed to mind tripods at the National Christmas Tree.

I walked back to the car and drove home.  Over an inch of snow had accumulated on the ground since the time I arrived in Washington.  The road surfaces were remained wet so the drive home was easy.

I chose my favorite White House snow photo and I emailed it to Jason Samenow, leader of the Capital Weather blog.  He used the photo in a December 8, 2005 forecast post.  In those days, we didn’t have photo posts.  The entire 2005 forecast post with the White House snow photo can be viewed below.

The Capital Weather blog post from December 8, 2005 that features the photo of White House.

The Capital Weather blog post from December 8, 2005 that features the photo of the White House in snow.

So how did the photo become inspiration for the painting?  My photo from the blog post found its way to artist, Rod Chase.  There was something about the photo that must have caught his interest.

I was later approached by Chase’s publishing company, Sumerset Fine Art, to license the photo for the painting.  I happily agreed.  Chase’s painting was titled, “Winter’s Eve.”

I now have a limited edition print of the painting hanging on my living room wall.   Every time I look at the painting on the wall it brings back memories of that snowy December night and the logistical challenges of capturing the scene.  I can still visualize the second agent’s face.

Yes, the photo shoot ultimately worked well with nice results, but I would not recommend trying to duplicate the photo.  I know that I never will.

 

The White House fence on December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

The White House fence on December 5, 2005. (Kevin Ambrose)

 

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