Shooting a president

a_edmonds_reaganRon Edmunds, 1981

Now that Donald Trump has been elected, my thoughts naturally turn to the shooting of a Republican president.

The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 came back into the news recently when the perpetrator John Hinckley was released from the mental asylum where he had been ever since since his arrest.

The shooting was a photographic event as much as an attempted murder, and several notable photographers were on hand. They were there to capture the president walking a few steps from a hotel back door across a footpath to his limousine. That fact illustrates two points: the profound triviality of much press photography, and the bizarre luck of the photographers who were there.

Thirty years ago, Ron Edmonds was on his second day as a White House photographer for Associated Press. That day he had photographed the president giving a speech inside the Washington Hilton Hotel, and afterwards rushed outside to get an image of the President waving to the crowd.

Edmonds had the camera to his eye when the President started to wave and as Hinckley fired his gun. He made the famous sequence of images that would be published around the world.

As an AP staff photographer, Edmonds did not own the negatives or the copyright. So unlike freelance photographers at the scene he did not make much extra money from his employers. “I got a $50 a week merit raise,” he says.

Look closely at the photo. It shows staffers looking in the direction of the shots while Reagan himself appears to flinch from the impact of a bullet. It’s a curious slice of photographic time that some may wish is repeated with the new president.

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