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First Cameraman

Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time

by Arun Chaudhary


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First Cameraman
Documenting the Obama Presidency in Real Time

by Arun Chaudhary

Review posted July 31, 2013.
Times Books (Henry Holt), New York, 2012. 306 pages.
Starred Review

This book was simply fun reading. A fascinating look at an ordinary guy (or so he seems) who got to look behind the scenes of power, and also had the fun of doing a job that had never been done before.

Arun Chaudhary was the first official White House videographer. He was a film student, and interjects things he knows about filmmaking along the way. He had a different perspective from journalists, and his story of his years with this fascinating job are filled with thoughts about what it all means and how video has changed how we see the world.

Here are some of his thoughts expressed in the Introduction:

I should say that I have more than a passing interest in how political videos work because I spent four years filming Barack Obama pretty much around the clock. As the first Official White House Videographer, I was sort of like President Obama's wedding videographer if every day was a wedding with the same groom but a constantly rotating set of hysterical guests.

If there's one thing I learned over those years, it's that videos don't lie -- on the contrary, they are the most reliable gauge of truth we have. The basic narrative told in a shot is true, despite the ease with which some elements of motion picture can be manipulated. No one can deny the power of editing to influence a viewer....

In our age of media supersaturation, videos have an ever more direct impact on how we judge and elect our politicians. This, at the end of the day, may be a very good thing. Given enough screen time, all candidates reveal who they really are. No matter how carefully scripted and choreographed their media appearances and stump speeches, no matter how skillfully edited their official videos, eventually -- for better or worse -- the camera will catch them out....

So just to let everyone know, the following pages won't be about what my lousy childhood was like or what the president eats for breakfast. I'm not going to complain about getting thrown out of Indian Parliament by my belt, or getting trapped in the White House library bathroom while POTUS conducted a forty-minute YouTube town hall with Steve Grove on the other side of the door. (Curse you, noisy automatic toilets!) I'd rather explore the complex interplay of politics and media, and art and government, and audio and video, in the new millennium, and discuss what I've learned as the first-ever cameraman to train his lens on a president around the clock.

Arun Chaudhary delivers on his promise. Though he does throw in a lot of fun and quirky anecdotes, this book isn't so much about him as it is about the ground-breaking job he had and what it means for American politics and government. I sent a copy to my film-major son because it highlighted a cool job that a film student came up with, and I thought he might find it as fascinating as I did.