Jason Reed, Witness to History
Jason Reed doesn’t have one thing most photographers have: his own Web site. He has no need for one. We see his images every day. Jason Reed has one thing most photographers would trade all their gear for, even for one day. Reed is a seven year veteran of the White House Traveling Pool, and has been shooting for Reuters for twenty years.
News photography fans and much of the public will recall some of Reed’s memorable images, such as George W. Bush bumping chests with a new graduate at the Merchant Marine Academy, or Karl Rove rapping at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner, or Barack Obama shedding a tear over the death of his grandmother on the eve of the election he was to win. What really got the attention of photography fans was his “White House Moments: A Time-lapse View,” created after a video editing course got him interested in time-lapse movies. In it, he documents a day at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, from the West Wing to the East Room to the Rose Garden to the South Lawn. This is the White House as you’ve never seen it before. 8000 exposures later, PocketWizards proved critical to the project.
“The PocketWizard is something we’ve been using at the White House since they’ve been around,” says Jason. “I use the MultiMAX Transceivers. I can’t imagine working without them. They’re so easy to use. I can put multiple cameras at different angles all on the same frequency and trigger them as either motor drive sequences or using the intervalometer, which are really easy to set up from the menu. You can shoot a picture every three seconds, five seconds, ten seconds, and you can change those settings pretty quickly.”
Australian-born Reed began a Bachelor’s degree in Photography in Sydney. The first day he showed up to discover just one class was unavailable: his photography class. This unfortunate event was the loss of higher education and the gain of the news photography industry. Soon he was able to get a job at Reuters hand-printing color film to 8 x 10 format and loading prints onto analog drum transmitters. That led to some photographer-mentors encouraging his talent, supplementing a two-year technical course in Photography at a local college. Then began Reed’s Forrest Gump-like professional life of being present at world events as they unfolded. In 1994 at age 23, he moved to Hong Kong, which was the Reuters regional headquarters at that time. He served there as an editor and photographer until the handover to China in 1997. Moving on to the new headquarters in Singapore, Reed was dispatched around the region to cover earthquakes, plane crashes, and civil unrest in Asia. From 1999 until 2002 he used Bangkok, Thailand as a base from where he travelled to Pakistan to cover the 2001 war against the Taliban and Indian natural disasters, among other news stories.
Presidential visits to the region drew his interest. President Clinton went to Vietnam, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Reed lent support to Reuters White House photographers who travelled with the President wherever he went. The young photographer found himself caught up in the energy of being in the entourage of the Leader of the Free World, as the old cliché goes. He dreamed of doing it full-time, and in 2003 a position opened up, and Jason Reed became a Reuters photographer at the White House.
Although situated at the White House, the road didn’t stop calling him. Reed covered the 2004 Bush campaign and he spent the last two years on the road following the Obama campaign to victory from before the Illinois junior Senator’s announcement to run in February of 2007. He finds what he’s learned in the capital is applicable outside it. “Shooting every day at the White House is challenging. You constantly try to find something new. Those skills you take away to any other assignment and look for something new, something you wouldn’t be looking for if you hadn’t worked at the White House. Trying to make things subtly new day after day for years and years teaches you to be a better photographer. The PocketWizard is an extension of that. When I travel to events I see where I can put multiple cameras. I’m always looking for a key moment of a historical event, such as the signing of an important act of Congress, or a bilateral meeting with a foreign head of state. As a photographer you try to find multiple angles of everything. You’re working harder, but the reward is you’re getting more angles, better pictures and better moments. The PocketWizard frees me up to look at different things and execute them really easily.”
Although shooting at the same address, Reed isn’t about to get bored. “History shows us anything can happen at any time,” he says. Occasionally he’ll be photographing the President at a graduation ceremony, looking through the viewfinder for hours at a time, careful to never miss a moment. “If there’s anything this job teaches you, it’s about being ready.”
Reed also has to be ready for other assignments. He covered the last Academy Awards ceremony, and was full of quips pointing out the difference between photographing politicians and celebrities. “They say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, and Hollywood is Washington for beautiful people,” jokes Reed. “I like to do different events like the Olympics or Formula One races — something different to mix it up.”
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, however, remains the location of his dream job, as it would be for countless photographers around the world. “At the White House, it’s full HMI (hydrargyrum medium-arc iodide) light. There’s a whole group of television lighting technicians dedicated to lighting every event. We’re really blessed with the ability to walk in and shoot an indoor event at 400 ISO at 250ths of a second at f/2.8 or 320ths at f/2.8. It’s fantastic. This is the center of the universe of making things look good.” For this, our leaders and candidates are grateful, and viewers around the world wait for the next click of Jason Reed’s shutter while working at his dream job.