Remarks at the Opening of the Michael Evans Portrait Exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art
January 14, 1985
Thank you very much. And thank you, Michael, and good evening, everyone. It's a pleasure for Nancy and me to join all of you here at the Corcoran for the opening of an exhibition of portraits by our good friend, Michael Evans.
And by the way, Mike, I was relieved to see that the exhibition's title is ``Portraits of Power.'' Last time we talked it over, he was thinking of naming it ``The Michael Evans Gallery of Rogues.'' [Laughter]
For the past 4 years Michael Evans has been our official White House photographer, snapping the parade of events at the Executive Mansion and traveling with us around the world. Mike has captured everything from Cabinet meetings to Easter egg rolls, and his thousands of pictures provide a full and fascinating record of the hard work, exhilaration, and pageantry of American government.
And yet, in the course of his duties, Mike saw the need for another kind of record -- one that would focus entirely on individuals. In these pictures there would be no seals of office, no shots of executives behind their desks or journalists at their typewriters. There would be no flags, no gardens, no tall, white pillars. Each subject would simply stand before a backdrop of plain gray. Michael would snap, and in the picture that resulted, nothing would matter but the individual -- the way he or she stood, the way they held their hands, the look on his or her face.
Mike worked on this project for 3 years, and tonight we celebrate the results -- 600 portraits of Washington character and characters.
Taken together, these portraits say something fundamental about the greatness or openness of American democracy, for they show men and women of all backgrounds and walks of life. And although these people are helping to govern the most prosperous and powerful nation in history, you can examine all 600 pictures without once finding an arrogant or imperial gaze.
In the words of George Will, ``Representative governments are, well, awfully representative, at least in this sense: They are made up of folks who look like and are like most other folks. The portraits testify, I think, to democracies' pleasantness.'' End of George Will quote.
Consider, for example, the portrait of the senior Senator from Mississippi. John Stennis first came to the Congress when the family that lived in the White House was named Truman and before half the Americans now alive were even born. For almost four decades he has played a central role in all the great events of our national life. Yet his portrait shows, despite all those years of exercising power, John Stennis has remained what he was at the outset -- a man of gentleness, courage, and conviction.
The Senator has many friends here tonight. And I know that we all wish him well as he continues to recover from his surgery.
Look, if you will, at the portrait of Helen Thomas. For 24 years Helen has been a member of the White House press corps, keeping six Presidents and scores of fellow reporters on their toes by putting in some hours -- or more hours, writing more dispatches, and asking more questions than just about anybody else. Helen's portrait suggests that she's a woman of great charm, and that's true. It also suggests that she's a woman of immense determination, and believe me that, too, is true. [Laughter]
Pause for a moment before the portrait of Barbara Bush. During the first 4 years of our administration Barbara traveled with her husband some 600,000 miles. She's been a staunch supporter of a great Vice President and our administration, and in her portrait we see Barbara Bush as she always is -- intelligent, charming, gracious.
Consider, finally, the portraits of two skilled and dedicated government servants. Although they have hectic schedules, both are nevertheless looking into the camera calmly, even perhaps with a twinkle in their eyes. Secretary of the Treasury Donald Regan and Chief of Staff James Baker -- or is it the other way around? [Laughter]
So, there we have it -- a comprehensive portrait of the men and women involved in the government of our great Republic during this fleeting but crucial moment in our history. Tonight we will enjoy these pictures; future generations will treasure them.
Michael Evans, well done. Congratulations, and God bless you.
And now it is my honor to declare this exhibit officially open. Thank you.
Note: The President spoke at 7:30 p.m. The exhibit was entitled "People and Power: Portraits From the Federal Village."