Tawny Emperor & the Nixon White House Photographers

Tawny hackberry butterfly photographed at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

Hannah and David gave me Dennis Brack’s Presidential Picture Stories – Behind the Cameras at the White House (2013)David Kleber was an NBC White House Photographer, and had alot to do with the book design and production of this fascinating book. One of those hard to put down reads. Inside recollections of their work and terrific anecdotes with so many U.S. Presidents of the 20th century.

So I get to page 98 … and there it is. Acknowledgment of a dilemma that I have experienced so many times in the field. The same tense drama that accompanied the taking of this photo of Asterocampa clyton. Sitting there having dinner, page 98 was the first time that I had ever seen anyone else moan about this game changer of a moment.

Brack writes of the day that Richard Nixon relinquished his job as President, his final day in the job…”…Nixon walked up the ramp to the helicopter and turned to face the crowd on the lawn. First, there was a wave, almost a salute-better get that, it might be all there is. Then he continued with his right arm, bringing it across his face and holding his hand high above-certainly want that. The photographers’ prayers started: “Lord, please let me be on frame thirty-one and not frame thirty-five.” Finally, the classic Nixon Double Whammy, his arms straight out and both hands making the “V” sign….Some photographers got the picture and were happy, some did not and were not so happy.”

Yes, I still shoot film (Fuji slide). I happened upon this Tawny Emperor (its other name) in the most unlikely place, and I had just done a no-no. I had left the roll from the day before, with more than ⅔ of the 36 exposures used,  in the camera. This butterfly was spectacular and in a priceless pose, on the horizontal member of a wooden trail sign at the trailhead of the Wetland trail in Raccoon Creek State Park, in southwestern Pennsylvania.

When I am impressed by a butterfly, very impressed, I like to shoot 40 to 50 exposures of it, hoping that 1 or 2 will be winners. The risk? The risk is that after 2  0r 3 camera clicks, the butterfly is goooooone! Now how could I do that with less than 10 unexposed shots in the camera? Like the White House cameramen (all men back then), I asked G-d’s help, shot the roll…held my breath while I removed the roll and reloaded a roll of ASA 100, and … it was still there, still posing. Was it injured, sick? I shot out the entire new roll, and again reloaded. At about the 5th or 6th shot of this 3rd roll, our Tawny Hackberry disappeared like a rocket, straight out of sight.

Here’s the best of those exposures. Thanks to Dennis Brack, David Kleber and Hannah Kleber.

Jeff

One thought on “Tawny Emperor & the Nixon White House Photographers

  1. Beautiful butterfly, Jeff. The advantage of digital photography is that you can view instant results. I usually always take multiple shots of butterflies, then download them on my computer and use Photoshop Elements to enhance the contrast and adjust lighting to show off the subject to the best possible way before printing it or posting it on Facebook. You ought to buy at least one digital camera and try it.

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