Renowned photojournalists discuss history through photographs


Chelsea Purgahn

Lucian Perkins discusses a photograph with fellow photojournalist Diana Walker and moderater Neal Spelce at an event sponsored by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Presidential Library on Thursday evening.

Jeremy Thomas

A photojournalist whose work became a pop culture phenomenon joined with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and UT alumnus to discuss iconic photographs from the past 80 years of U.S. history on Thursday.

Renowned photojournalists Diana Walker and Lucian Perkins discussed their favorite photographs, journalistic topics and their own experiences covering presidents and their staff members from the Carter administration to the Obama presidency in the Lyndon B. Johnson Auditorium. More than 500 people attended the event sponsored by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and the LBJ Presidential Library.

Perkins and Walker selected their favorite photographs from each other’s work and images taken by other photojournalists, providing commentary on the still images. Moderator Neal Spelce picked his favorite two photographs each from Perkins and Walker.  

One of Walker’s recently known photographs includes then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wearing black shades with her phone in hand. That photo sparked widespread praise and even inspired countless memes. Walker said she was not happy when her photograph was not credited to her and turned into a meme.

“The secretary of state, on the other hand, her staff thought it was great,” said Walker. “She handled it so well … That was her way of dealing with it and I said, ‘Diana get a life. Relax about this and enjoy it.’ Time [magazine] finally got my credit on it and the picture went viral, as they say, and went all over the world. It’s still out there somewhere.”  

Photographic work by Perkins and Walker is on display at a Briscoe Center exhibit titled “News to History: Photojournalism and the Presidency”. The exhibit presents a collection of photographs from the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to the current administration. “News to History” is the inaugural exhibit in the new temporary exhibition space added during the renovation of the LBJ Library.

Even as the two featured photojournalists discussed a variety of historical and iconic photographs, they covered journalistic topics within the context of present-day issues. Perkins said each presidential administration, regardless of party affiliation, learns from the other how to manage the press and get their message out.

“When I first came to Washington in 1979 under Carter and then Reagan and look at it today, the control that the White House has — it’s a successive step each administration,” Perkins said. “They seem to manage to curtail us a little bit more each time. I think a lot of it is that the press is underrun in many ways.”

Photojournalist David Valdez just recently donated his life’s work to the Briscoe Center. He said for aspiring members of the press, and photojournalists especially, it is important to pursue your passion for photography.

“Shoot, shoot, shoot,” Valdez said. “I really embrace the new media — Flickr and Instagram — I put stuff up there and that can generate following and assignments. Some people see it as passive but if you really put up real pictures, it’s a way to promote yourself. You never know where life takes you. It is fun to be part of history.” 

Published on March 8, 2013 as "Photographs bring history to life".