Baltimore Sun video editor Christopher T. Assaf visits the Oval Office after winning the Photography – Sports Action category in the White House News Photographer Association’s ‘Eyes of History’ contest.
The perks photojournalists get are varied. They range from documenting and witnessing history, odd or rare experiences, and getting close to interesting or famous people. And, once in a while, meeting the President of the United States.
A high school friend wrote on Facebook, after I posted the news of face time with the Commander in Chief, “You have the coolest job. Ever. Today it is even cooler than Jerry!” A classmate currently living in New Zealand, Jerry is a cinematic animator. His work for movies such as “Avatar,” “The Avengers” and the “The Hobbit” films is probably way more cool on a consistent basis.
In 2008, I transitioned from staff photographer to multimedia editor. My duties involve shooting and editing video and producing content for baltimoresun.com. Occasionally I get behind the still camera, usually to do stills and video from the same assignment or photograph the Ravens. For the 2012 White House News Photographers Association’s “The Eyes of History” contest, I entered three still images. Two were from a Town Hall with President Barack Obama, while the third showed Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith abruptly stopped by a defender’s grasp of his hair.
By complete surprise, the Smith picture topped the Photography – Sports Action category. Yeah! A third trip to the White House. The first place winners in the photography and video contest get the chance to meet the president. Previously, I won for a 2007 photograph of Baltimore detectives patrolling a public housing project and got a handshake from President George W. Bush. Last year a first in the Video Photography – General News category for a piece on “Snowmageddon 2010” allowed me a visit with President Obama and an individual picture with him.
The video “Dignified Transfers” on Dover A.F.B. was honored as well, garnering a third place in the Video Editing – News Feature category.
The organization’s president handled introductions in the past, but this year it was different. We were required to introduce ourselves as we were greeted at the Oval Office door by Obama as we entered — and this year I was in the strange position of being last.
With a last name atop the alphabet, I am not accustomed to being last. In line I thought about what to say and how to say it – and get my nerves amped up. After listening to all the people in front of me, I decided on “Good day, Mr. President. I am Chris Assaf with The Baltimore Sun.” No problem, I thought; short, sweet and to the point.
My nerves rarely affect me. Actors, astronauts, exploding propane tanks, murders, hurricanes, tornadoes and more – none of it really gets to me. There is a job to do and I do it.
But meeting the president? It’s as if I stepped into Nerve City Central.
My turn finally comes, and grasping the president’s hand I instantly choke on ‘Good day.’ Slogging through, I finally get my name out. He smiles as if he has seen this before, slaps me on the shoulder and shoves me aside. Not much time for an idiot at the door.
This historic 2012 gaffe is undocumented, as the photographer stopped shooting after seven winners entered the room. Being last in line had to do with being one of the fortunate few to get a picture from 2011 (though I did not get one with Bush.)
We gather around the large, historic Resolute Desk, a 19th century gift from Queen Victoria first used in the Oval Office by President John F. Kennedy. The president talks with us for a few precious minutes, joking how photographers are not afraid to wear nose rings or show tattoos, unlike the more stiff reporters. He also apologized for not being able to attend the WHNPA gala, eliciting a spontaneous group “Awwwwwwwwww” of disappointment.
After a few minutes, we are wrangled into position for a group photo. My late entrance forced my spot on the end to Obama’s far right. My body is distorted by the ultra wide angle lens used by the photographer. Photographically foiled again.