The President of the United States is one of the most photographed people in the world. Listen to any press con- ference or announcement and you will hear hundreds of shutter clicks sounding like a hailstorm on the hood of a car. To photograph the President in a private setting is exceedingly rare. To do it with a 20×24 camera seems to happen once a decade.
Chuck Close has been using the 20×24 camera and Polaroid film since its inception and has made portraits of over 100 people with the camera. His signature style is a very close–up, strongly lit unrelenting rendition of his subject. Nearly all of his images are made to be converted into paintings up to 7×9 feet. Some are also transformed into edition prints in a variety of traditional printmaking methods from screen prints to paper pulp constructions. Since the late 90s Chuck has also embraced digital transformations of his portraits, embracing inkjet technologies and also a digital tapestry process.
The Obama portrait had been in the works for quite some time. Chuck has done portraits of politicians before, from President Clinton in the Oval Office in 1996, Hillary Clinton at the White House in 1998 and Vice President Gore in the 20×24 studio in 2000. Discussions were held with the Obama team in 2008 but nothing ever came of it. As the 2012 campaign went into full gear and the demanding fund raising ratcheted up, the Obama team sought out Chuck, whose previous editions were significant fundraisers. A date was chosen in late June, and of course it conflicted with a previous commitment the day before in New York. The Obama session would be in Washington, D.C. the following afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Unfortunately, the Secret Service wanted the equipment at the Jefferson Hotel in D.C. by 10:00 a.m. for security screening.
As we packed the camera and lighting the day before we had to account for two very different shoots, one for black and white with soft lighting and the other for color with Chuck’s point source lighting. The 20x 24 camera is a 235 pound machine that by brilliant design can compact itself into its 24 by 40 inch frame and reduce to 60 inches in height. It is wrapped in moving pads and tied to its studio stand for stability. It is a bit like moving an upright piano. For lenses we packed a Rodenstock 800mm, a 600mm Fujinon A and a 360mm Fujinon SW. The Rodenstock is a process camera lens and as such does not have a shutter. We have adapted a Sinar shutter to mount in front of the lens, giving us flash sync and shutter speeds up to 1/60th of a second.