He saw the group of buffed men and women enter. One of that group recognized him from previous dealings.
"What are you doing here?" the man asked
"Just waiting for someone," Dharapak responded.
The man left, joining the group which was carefully surveiling all parts of the store.
A short time later, Dharapak saw a woman entering. She was wearing a fashionable, brightly colored blouse. Her eyes were concealed by sunglasses and she wore a grey, Nike baseball cap. She was the reason why he was there.
Dharapak remained seated; he did not follow the woman as she shopped. He looked at the checkout lines, making sure he could see all of them clearly. He knew he would have to act quickly. Finally, the woman finished her shopping. She checked out and headed toward the exit.. Dharapak moved into position. As unobtrusively as he could, he aimed his camera and began clicking. He followed the woman out of the store, his camera at the ready. He watched as she and the entourage loaded up her possessions in a pair of SUVs and drove off. Finally, Dharapak smiled. He knew he had an exclusive. He alone had captured pictures of First Lady Michelle Obama shopping at a DC-area Target.
But how had Dharapak, the Associated Press pool photographer for the White House, know to be at that Target at that time? Ask that question and he responds, "I like to think of myself as a journalist before I am a photographer. And journalists have sources."
Dharapak, who has been named this year's Still Photographer of the Year, appeared at an Inside Media program at the Newseum to describe in detail what it is like recording the official comings and goings of President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle on a daily basis.
As one of a group of about a dozen photographers who are assigned regularly to the White House, Dharapak travels with the President in motocades and on Air Force One. Those doing the job have a name for their situation - they call it life in "the bubble."
While the photographers relish their duty of capturing photos to document history, they are always looking for something a little more. "Sometimes, you'll get some real moments when you just don't get the president or the candidate, you get a glimpse of a real person," Dharapak said.
How would Dharapak describe his work in the simplest terms? "You have to keep your eyes on the president at all times. My job is to keep my eyes on the president," Dharpak says.
Of course, while there is a sense of comraderie among the news photographers assigned to the White House, there is a sense of competition, too. "You have to be respectful of your colleagues, but you have to be mindful of the game. We have our favorite spots to shoot from. We say it's a game of inches. You don't want to be the guy that at the end of the day is the one who didn't get the photograph," he added.
While there are great perks to working as a White House photographer, such as flying on Air Force One (and no, taxpayers don't pay that tab; news organizations pick up the costs), there are some down sides. Of course, there is the pressure to accurately record history daily. Then there is the actual press room in the White House. "If I had to describe it, it's like working in a submarine," Dharapak said. "We coined the phrase Still Country for our space." Then there is the constant need to keep abreast of the news and the people who make it. "We're not just taking pictures," he noted. "You have to learn the players and you have to keep up with the news."
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Dharapak's talk served as an official kickoff to the Newseum's new exhibition entitled The Eyes of History 2012 which opened Sept. 28. Many of Dharaback's pictures are included. It will remain on view until March 29.