Eric Draper has had one of the best seats in history.
As the longest-serving chief White House photographer, he documented both terms of George W. Bush’s administration and has given the world a view into the public and private lives of the former president, his family and his top aides.
Draper spanned the globe with the president; his role took him from the West Wing to Crawford, Texas, covering the events of 9/11 and visiting orphans in Africa.
And now, as Bush dedicates his presidential library on Thursday at Southern Methodist University, Draper has his moment to emerge from behind the lens and speak.
In “Front Row Seat,” a newly released book with more than 100 pictures from his time in the White House, Draper showcases his work and some never-before-seen photos of the administration, up close and personal. Draper curated these photographs from more than 1 million taken during his eight years in the White House, some of which will be familiar to readers. An entire chapter is dedicated to the harrowing aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, spanning the time Bush first learns the news, departs on Air Force One, watches the World Trade Center towers fall on television and visits the site.
Before joining the White House, Draper worked as a West regional enterprise photographer for The Associated Press and also as a staff photographer for The Seattle Times, Pasadena Star-News and The Albuquerque Tribune before being assigned by the AP to cover Bush’s presidential campaign in the spring of 1999.
After nearly two years on the road, the soft-spoken Draper approached the president-elect at the Texas governor’s mansion in Austin during a Christmas party. Draper shook Bush’s hand, looked him straight in the eye and said, “I want to be your personal photographer.”
After what he described as “the longest handshake of my life,” Bush said he appreciated the request and would get back to him. Draper left behind a portfolio of photos and went home to Albuquerque. A week later, he was offered the job.
Published by the University of Texas Press, “Front Row Seat” is an impressive, coffee-table-ready book of photos. Many of the images give personal glimpses into the life of Bush and his top aides, several members of the Bush family and poignant scenes from 9/11. Bush authored the forward, writing, “not only is Eric an excellent photographer; he is a fine person. I came to trust his judgment.”
Here, Draper shares in his own words the setting and story behind several of his favorite images.