By Judy Kurtz
The tail-wagging tale is just one of the many memories Draper has during the eight years he spent capturing Bush’s every move. He’s catalogued a handful of his most prized images, which he culled from the nearly one million photos he snapped through the years, in his new book, Front Row Seat: A Photographic Portrait of the Presidency of George W. Bush.
A former “very happy” Associated Press photog, Draper said he was inspired by Bush to make a personal pitch for the White House job after he was invited to a Christmas party in Austin.
“I took a page out of his political playbook,” the camera pro remembers. “He would say in his stump speech, ‘I’m going to look you in the eye and ask you for the job. I want to be your president.’ So that’s what I did at the party. I said, ‘I want to be your personal photographer.’”
Two presidential terms later, “It got to the point where, I studied him for so long, I could literally study his micro-expression and know what his moods were. Even from the tone of his voice, I’d know what he was thinking and what he was going through.”
Says Draper, “The beauty of my job is that I wasn’t a participant, I was a trained observer. So I just made the pictures and stayed out of the way. And I loved it.”
The time he spent with the president changed his own political views. While working in news, he says he “didn’t have a political side.” But during “a kind of an evolution,” constantly seeing the personal side of the presidency, he says he became a Republican.
“I became political after the job,” Draper said.
But the job wasn’t all politics. Draper looks back fondly on some of the lighter moments, such as the time his boss hopped on a bicycle in the Oval Office after meeting with the president of Singapore. “He gets on the bike and starts riding the bike, goes out in the hallway and rides through the West Wing hallway.”
Draper chuckles as he recalls, “He actually rode into the vice president’s office first. And Cheney’s secretary, she never looked up.”
The photo of the 43rd president maneuvering his way through the White House on bike is one of the images included in the glossy, coffee-table-sized book.
The shutterbug says he considers Bush, 66, “like an old friend,” and will be on hand for the Thursday dedication of the former West Wing resident’s presidential library in Texas.
While he doesn’t miss the daily grind of life at the White House, he says he does miss the Bush family.
Draper, who now works as a New Mexico-based freelance photographer, saw the former president a few months ago. During a visit to Bush’s Dallas office, he noticed the space was lined with images he had captured during his White House days.
He says Bush told him, “You know, Eric, we think about you every day because all your photos are still around.”
Photos: Images from Eric Draper's book.