As Leahy retires, Capitol will lose its unofficial photographer

Democratic senator took thousands of photos over the years

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, here in 2011, shows off a Hopalong Cassidy box camera he received as a Christmas present circa 1951.   (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, here in 2011, shows off a Hopalong Cassidy box camera he received as a Christmas present circa 1951. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 15, 2021 at 4:39pm

As Patrick J. Leahy goes about his day on Capitol Hill, he often brings a guest — a camera, either tucked into his pocket or hanging from a strap.

When the Senate loses its current longest-serving member to retirement next term, it will also lose one of its most enthusiastic chroniclers. Leahy has taken pictures everywhere, from the busy tunnels of the Senate subway to private meetings with dignitaries. Through 12 inaugurations, his lens has become a force, scoring access to private moments.

Born blind in one eye, the self-taught photographer likes to joke that it’s a good thing his hobby requires only one. The Vermont Democrat has captured thousands of images over his nearly 50 years on the Hill, even using the dais of his committee rooms as a perch. 

When Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich came to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2000 to rail against file sharing service Napster, Leahy was in the ranking member’s seat. But he also seized the moment to take out his Nikon, one of more than a dozen cameras in his collection, to get a shot of the heavy metal icon sitting at the witness table.

He likes to turn the tables on the press corps too, pointing his camera at the scrum of journalists who follow him around. “He loved to talk with us and ask us about our gear,” says CQ Roll Call photojournalist Tom Williams. If Leahy doesn’t have his camera on him, he might “mess with” the press by lifting his hands in the air and clicking an imaginary shutter.

Leahy has always had the upper hand when it comes to access. During inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol, he mingled in the crowd of invited guests, his camera inches from John Kerry’s disappointed face in 2005, or former President Barack Obama’s relieved one in 2021.

“His seat was way better than mine,” Williams says.

Leahy takes a picture of journalists in the Capitol in 2017. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy poses with his wife, Marcelle, at a White House barbecue for members of Congress in 1991. (CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy is seen in April with his son-in-law, Lawrence Jackson, chief photographer for Vice President Kamala Harris. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy points his camera at witnesses Lars Ulrich of Metallica and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds during a 2000 Senate Judiciary hearing on file sharing services. Also pictured, Chairman Orrin G. Hatch. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy is reflected in a photo he took of Pope John Paul II when some of the senator’s work was exhibited in the Russell Rotunda in 2008. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy views the crowd through his camera at a 2008 ceremony at the Capitol to mark the anniversary of 9/11. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Leahy takes a picture of former President Barack Obama at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)