At this point, few would dispute that President-elect Donald Trump has a prickly relationship with the media. At his first press conference since his election, he called CNN terrible, and BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.” And during the campaign, he sometimes banned certain outlets, including The Washington Post, from covering his activities. So it was a very welcome surprise when he agreed to sit down (and stand up) for a Post photographer this Tuesday, just days before his inauguration.
Staffer Matt McClain took the assignment, which became a 3-minute, 9-second whirlwind with the president-elect.
Expecting that he would have only a few moments with Trump, McClain made sure before the shoot to have an idea of the image he wanted. “I looked back at the photography of Yousuf Karsh, a famous portrait photographer with dramatic lighting,” McClain said. One picture in particular jumped out among the many prominent figures who sat for Karsh — a 1941 image of Winston Churchill.
“It’s the personification of a power portrait,” McClain said. “And that’s what we wanted. A power portrait.” McClain even went so far as to show Trump the Churchill photo at the start of the shoot to make sure there was no misunderstanding. “I wanted him on the same page. And he really took that to heart.”
Washington Post photographer Jabin Botsford, who covered the entirety of the Trump campaign and accompanied McClain on the assignment along with two assistants, said the president-elect was different from the candidate he’d followed for 18 months. “He is a very different person behind closed doors. He comes across much more personable away from the fans and world.”
From Bill Clinton to George Clooney, McClain has photographed many famous figures. While he started the day nervous, he said everything went smoothly when Trump arrived. MaryAnne Golon, Post director of photography, was pleased with the final product. “Matt’s photo successfully translates Trump’s power into a singular image,” she said.
And as of noon Friday, after one of the longest political campaigns in U.S. history, Trump will indeed join the likes of Churchill in occupying one of the most powerful positions in the world.