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Time Magazine White House Photographer Diana Walker On The Stories Behind Iconic Political Images

Willy and Diana Walker on the Walker Webcast

Walker & Dunlop CEO Willy Walker has met with Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — an impressive feat for any American businessman — but his mother, Diana Walker, has spent even more time exploring the inner workings of U.S. politics. 

From 1984 to 2004, Walker worked as a White House photographer for Time Magazine, covering major events during three decades’ worth of presidential administrations. Some iconic images she captured for Time include then-President Reagan laughing at a joke Queen Elizabeth II made during a state dinner in 1984 and a viral photo of Hillary Clinton checking her blackberry on a jet to Tripoli in 2011. 

Throughout it all, she always searched for the true character of her subjects, she told her son on this week’s Walker Webcast. During the discussion, Willy Walker displayed several of his mother’s most famous images and asked about the stories behind them and her professional journey along the way. 

Diana Walker started her photography career covering weddings and other small events before moving on to photographing politics for The Washington Monthly in the 1970s. When she moved over to Time, the magazine sent her to the border of Thailand, near Cambodia, with then-first lady Rosalynn Carter. There, she photographed Carter meeting with refugees from the reign of the Khmer Rouge. 

She began covering the White House for Time in an official capacity in 1980 during the Reagan administration and took the image of him laughing with the queen. Capturing this moment, as with all photography, was all about timing. Walker had access to Elizabeth’s speech before the dinner and was able to spot where the laugh line was, so she knew exactly when to have her camera ready. 

“The queen said, ‘I knew that the puritans had brought to this country many of our customs, but I had no idea they brought the rotten weather with them,’” she recalled. 

Walker became close with former first lady Nancy Reagan’s press secretary, Elaine Crispen, and she spoke fondly of the time she spent with both of them. She told a story about bringing a sick child she knew to the White House, and Nancy Reagan arranged for Ronald Reagan to meet him. 

“A lot of people don’t know really how kind Nancy Reagan was because her persona was so sophisticated,” Walker said. “Behind the scenes, she was extremely warm.” 

In 1998, during the Clinton administration, Walker captured a private moment between the then-president and his wife where he brushed a stray hair off of her head on a boat during a trip in Africa. This was during the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Walker said that she was amazed to be present for such an intimate show of affection during a difficult time. 

“It was very affectionate and it was very normal and it was very sweet,” Walker said. “And I just couldn't believe that it happened right in front of me. And then I quietly got up, I walked to the other side of the boat, and I knew I had exceptional pictures.” 

Willy Walker asked his mother whether she thought her gender had anything to do with her being granted behind-the-scenes access to so many remarkable moments. She said that as a woman, she was much less heavy-handed than many of the male photographers, and people trusted that she wouldn’t walk into the Oval Office and disrupt the setting. 

“I think they thought that I knew how to behave,” Diana Walker said. “I think they thought that I had good manners, and I think all of that played in my favor. I really do.” 

The mother-son duo also talked about this photo of former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. 

The elder Walker said she had always heard that Bush did not like Clinton and couldn't believe that he had beaten him in the election and even possibly questioned his character. However, she heard that the two men were meeting with each other in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and had begun getting along well. She was photographing an interview with the two of them and captured a moment where Clinton said something funny, and Bush put his hand on his shoulder. 

“And I said, ‘I got it, that's it, and they really do like each other,’” Walker said. “It was just the nicest thing, just that one little gesture told my writer and told the magazine that this was legitimate, that they did care for each other.” 

The next Walker Webcast will be on Oct. 26 with Admiral James Stavridis. Register here. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Walker & Dunlop and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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