"One of my main photographic problems with President Nixon was to get him to appear casual and to show him at ease with people around him" writes Ollie Atkins, Nixon's personal photographer for six years in the White House. And looking through this book, you can believe it.
Political photography is visual propaganda, designed to make is subject look good, wise, humane or important. It is contrived, rehearsed, often little more than a snapshot. Persons looking for more than that in Atkins's book will be disappointed. These are not powerful pictures: of the several dozen in the volume, only two or three are even memorable. Throughout the photos of meetings and briefings, the trips of Russia and China, and even the final days before resignation, Nixon is buttoned up in a business suit, stiff, impenetrable. We do not see the inner man in his outer image.
In most cases, the text is as flat as the pictures. What Atkins was willing to say, before his death early this year, is little more than a simple diary of the events he recorded on film. There is no back-room intrigue here (although at one point Ron Ziegler gets mad), few insights into Nixon or his family (we hear that Nixon ate breakfast in three minutes, and that he once cut short Mrs. Nixon's birthday part at 10:30 pm because "it was time to go home.") and certainly no valuable advice for photographers interested in how Atkins did his job ("When shooting, I tried to watch the President's eyes and mouth, so I wouldn't shoot when his eyes were shut or his mouth was open," Atkins reveals.)
If this book is worthwhile, it is an historical investment: something to keep, so that years from now you can show the grandchildren the president who resigned. Otherwise, you can put something else on the coffee table. (Playboy Press, $12.50)