Reagan Photographer Michael Evans, 61
Saturday, December 3, 2005
White House photographer Michael Evans, whose memorable shot of a grinning Ronald Reagan in a cowboy hat became one of the most enduring images of the 40th president of the United States, died Dec. 1 of cancer at his home in Atlanta. He was 61.
Mr. Evans was a photographer with Time magazine in 1975 when he was assigned to cover Reagan's first run for the Republican nomination. He visited Reagan at his California ranch, where they relaxed on the porch in the late afternoon sun.
As they talked, Mr. Evans snapped the shot of Reagan in his tilted white hat, flashing a genial, lopsided grin.
"I can't exactly remember what I said," Mr. Evans told the New York Times last year, "but he must have liked it, because he had this smile that came and went quickly."
The photograph, later used for campaign buttons and as a model for a statue at the Reagan presidential library in Simi, Calif., became one of the most familiar images of Reagan, capturing the folksy, western charm that was his political hallmark. After Reagan's death on June 5, 2004, the photograph was used as the cover shot on Time, Newsweek and People magazines.
Mr. Evans covered Reagan's triumphant 1980 presidential campaign for Time, developing such a rapport that Reagan asked him to be his personal photographer. Mr. Evans had almost total independence to document the president, and many of the familiar pictures of Reagan clearing brush or chopping wood at his California ranch or having a private moment with his wife, Nancy, are his.
Mr. Evans supervised a staff that included four photographers. He estimated that they shot 37,000 rolls of film during his four years in the White House and acknowledged that 70 percent of his job was taking "grip-and-grin" photos of visitors having their moment with the president.
"Working down in the basement," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1985, "I used to wish the Russians would invade Poland so that there would be an honest-to-God crisis."
In March 1981, crisis did strike when John W. Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate Reagan outside the Washington Hilton. A later police reconstruction indicated that Mr. Evans, standing near the president, narrowly missed being hit in the abdomen by a bullet.
Mr. Evans captured Reagan during other tense moments, including a finger-pointing Oval Office exchange with Speaker of the House Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. Presidential adviser Michael Deaver ordered that the photos not be released, but Reagan requested a copy for himself, which he promptly forwarded to O'Neill.
When the picture appeared on the front pages of newspapers the next day, Deaver demanded to know who had made it public, Mr. Evans recalled last year in an interview with News Photographer magazine.
"It was the 40th president of the United States," Mr. Evans said. "You're going to have to talk to him about it."