Robert McNeely got his start photographing in the political sphere while following George McGovern’s unsuccessful 1972 presidential bid and then Jimmy Carter’s win, which led to a White House job covering the vice president. He had traded photojournalism for editorial and corporate work when Bill Clinton’s staff got in touch in 1992, and offered McNeely the job of campaign photographer. The photographs he made on and off over the next eight years are the subject of The Making of Hillary Clinton: The White House Years, published by the University of Texas Press. (McNeely’s photographs are in the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.) While McNeely was there to record Bill Clinton’s Presidency, as his images make clear, “McNeely’s revealing photographs document Hillary Clinton’s central participation in areas of politics and policy, ranging from health care reform and other domestic issues to international conflicts, far beyond that of any previous presidential spouse,” Don Carlton writes in the book’s preface.
Arranged chronologically, the images trace Hillary Clinton’s transformation from supportive spouse in a headband, warming up the crowd before her husband speaks or holding a baby at a rally, to ambitious and game First Lady, leading meetings in the West Wing or rearranging ornaments on White House Christmas tree, to, eventually, candidate for U.S. Senate. Wearing a white pantsuit, she leads a crowd of children holding Hillary2000 signs, or holds a cup of coffee on a campaign bus, looking calm and reflective among the chaos. As McNeely writes, “In observing Hillary Clinton all those years, I was struck by how often she would pull back from being part of an event or just stand alone watching what was going on… As a photographer standing to the side observing, waiting to make a photo, I would see her doing the same thing—just without a camera in her hand.”
McNeely hopes his images will provide insight into the woman who has been in the spotlight for so long and changed the face of American politics, but sometimes remains misunderstood. “Despite having been in the public eye for so long, Hillary Clinton is often described as the least-known, least-understood famous person in America,” he writes. “I hope that in taking readers behind the scenes and showing her from new angles, these photographs might provide greater insight into the making of this extraordinary woman.”