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Photojournalist Doug Mills discusses his nearly 40 years photographing the last 7 presidents

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Photographer Doug Mills has photographed the last seven presidents, including the current president, Joe Biden. During that time, dating back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s, Mills has photographed many key moments during his four decades on the job. Mills currently works for The New York Times, where he’s been since 2002. Before that, Mills served as chief photographer for The Associated Press in Washington for 15 years. He’s also earned a pair of Pulitzer prizes for his photojournalism, including for photography during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and the Associated Press’ coverage of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998. In addition to many other awards, Mills also recently won ‘Political Photo of the Year’ for an image of then-president Donald Trump in a thunderstorm, seen further below.

Mills recently sat down with the morning show, Today, to discuss his career and the many moments Mills has photographed. ‘When you’re trying to capture that moment, what are you looking for?’ asked interviewer Peter Alexander. ‘I’m looking for any moment of expression with the president, or light around the president, or who else is in the room or who he might be looking at,’ responded Mills. ‘Taking chances and just looking at things differently. Trying to do that every day is what motivates me.’

‘Take me in your mind when you walk into a room,’ probed Alexander in the interview above. ‘Our access around the president is very limited. Extremely limited. I’m always walking into a secret service agent.’ Mills is always looking for an extra inch or, if he’s lucky, an extra few feet to capture the right shot. ‘Looking around the room, you pick up the president’s mood. Every president wears their mood on their sleeves.’ It’s these moments of emotion and intimacy that underscore Mills’ impressive portfolio.

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After photographing the last seven presidents, which one is the most photogenic? ‘President Obama. Hands-down. The guy is like a chameleon. He could fit into any situation,’ replied Mills. What about the most iconic? ‘Donald Trump, by far. By far. Because you could take a picture of him in any situation and show his hands or his hair or his silhouette, and people would recognize it right away.’

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Mills’ career includes much more than political photos. He’s also an accomplished sports photographer. Mills has captured major moments in sports history, too, including Tom Brady winning his sixth Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and famous US Olympians Michael Phelps and Simone Biles earning gold in their respective Olympic events. Mills recently returned from China, where he photographed his 16th Olympic Games.

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After all this time, is Mills still having fun behind the camera? ‘Ah, love it, man. I love going to work every day.’ To stay up to date with Doug Mills, be sure to follow him on Instagram. You can also see his latest work for The New York Times by clicking here.


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