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The story behind that picture: "Photographing Bill Clinton"

By: Thorsten Overgaard 


In 2007 I went to the Faroe Islands to get a shot of Bill Clinton. This is a three-part story i wrote on back then and now made into one Story Behind That Picture. Enjoy!

Instead of attending an event nearby my own town where I could get an image of Bill Clinton on a speaker’s chair with bad light, I traveled to the Faroe Islands to get a chance of getting a reasonable shot of Bill Clinton in some great nature.

Five days of travel and work for the slight chance of a better shot. Did it work out?


Bill Clinton


I think it did. Though I didn’t realize before a week later, because I was so into the other photographs I did, I didn’t notice I actually had gotten the shot, I went for.

The story is this:

Right out of the airport the light of Faroe Islands took me. And my enthusiasm for the place just grew and grew on the 45 minutes ride from the airport to my hotel, Hotel Føroya, which happens to lie on a hilltop above Torshavn (the buzzing capitol of Faroe Islands with 17,000 inhabitants).

I dropped my bags in the hotel room and went straight down the hill to Torshavn city to catch the last daylight with my camera. And next morning I went up early with the sun to almost run down the hilltop to get more photos in the changing lights. It’s an amazing place. These 18 islands in the middle of nowhere wake up in a grayish fog which then turns bluish around 06.00 and then the sun starts to break through around 07:30. On sunny days the fog stays around on top of the islands but below the sun, which – as you can imagine – has quite an exotic fairy-tale-dreamland-look to it. On foggy days, and rainy days, its just fog all over the place, wet boots and wet everything. No sunshine.



The call the Faroe Islands “the land of maybe’s” because if you ask, “Should we go fishing tomorrow?” the answer will be “Maybe.” ‘Cause nobody knows how the weather will be. It starts out rainy and foggy in the morning, then 16:00 it clears up and you got summer the rest of the day. Some days airplanes can’t land, and sometimes it goes on for a weeks or so where airplanes simply can’t find the island. Depressing, exotic, exiting, overwhelming. Depends what you had planned.



Anyway, I spend some days like this checking out the place and preparing for Clinton. As he would be staying at my hotel I was allowed to check this space quite thoroughly. Not that it offered a lot of photo ops inside or outside, but it’s nice to know. I know how it usually goes. His airplane lands, he is driven to the venue in cars with tinted windows, does his speech, then leaves. I was quite sure we could end up with the same here, though the locals was expecting him to – as I guess they do in all places, he visit – join the locals, have a coffee and what have you.

The Sunday before Clinton was to arrive, we went on a press tour and picked up my Danish writer Oliver Stilling in the airport. He and three other press people just in then joined in on a trip to the Bøsdalafossur waterfall. You get out of an airplane from Paris, Copenhagen or Canada, and one hour later you are standing here:



It was (of course) raining like in your wildest dreams. I told Oliver, “Funny, you get out of an airplane and right after you are in the middle of this…” at which he replied “Hmm.”

Half an hour later he told me “Funny, you get out of an airplane and right after you are standing in the middle of this … amazing” at which I replied “Hmm.”

It’s unreal.



Anyway. Clinton. That’s what it was about.

Monday at 8.00 on my way to the brunch I noticed somewhat like 30 police and Secret Service guys on the parking lot, checking cars, bags and people with bomb dogs, rolling mirrors and what have you. I went out and took some pictures – the bomb dogs was so enthusiastic about it all.




Clinton was to arrive to the hotel in a couple of hours. The dogs could feel it too. So, Oliver and I were hanging out by the espresso machine by the entrance with clear view out through the window to it all – trying to be casual about it. Watching the enthusiasm, professionalism, excitement and all while trying to maintain our position in the middle of it all.


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As the only press people living in the same hotel as Clinton we were actually allowed to be inside the hotel. We drank more espresso, stayed relaxed, negotiated on and off with the Secret Service and police who got new orders from Clintons personal staff. “You can’t be here,” then “okay, you can of course be here. You are guests. But no photos,” then “You have to get out because the rest of the press is outside. ” As our story was kind of turning into being one about the fuss about Clinton coming, we agreed and Oliver took mental notes while we just followed the flow.

There was also a local guy who had placed a Harley Davidson by the entrance, with a note to Clinton if he would please sign it. He was all over the place as well, negotiating with Clinton’s staff and the lot.

Fuss might be to weak a word on a day like this.



Those who have been around people in power, celebrities and the like, know how things gets messed up and exited all up because a lot of people working on the event think they should protect, damage control, foresee problems, be somebody and all. Definition of problem is two opposing forces or interests: You have lots of people who have spent money and time dressing up, paid VIP tickets and all to be in a certain spot for a certain person, hoping to be seen, eventually discovered, become friends with this person, a handshake and perhaps a photo. And then you have staff and security who have prepared, planned and trained to keep people at a distance, keep things quiet and secure. Hence the fuss.

Clinton is delayed. So we stretch our presence by the espresso machine for another hour. It’s raining outside. Finally it’s time to go out. I photograph the fuss and prepare for Clinton’s arrival.



The press coordinator has been kept telling us this is the Faroe Islands [implied that this is special] and that Clinton no way will just arrive, speak and leave. We will spend time with him. It’s the Faroe Islands!
Clinton arrives and as we already knew an hour ago, he looks relaxed in Levis and knitwear. He comes out the car, takes a look at the press, then head in our direction, shakes hands with kids, mothers and claps a police dog on the head.

Forget it. No matter who you are, this is it, this is the real thing, this spot is THE spot on the planet now. Journalists, kids, mothers, chauffeurs and all take out their mobile camera phones, tape recorders, note pads, books to sign and all to greet Bill Clinton.

He get’s the “How do you like the Faroe Islands?” question and five or ten microphones anticipates his answer. But all that really don’t matter. What matters is the moment. Look at the faces. They don’t care about Hillary, pollution, Putin, global warming, Iraq or any other subject.



They are having a Clinton moment. Just look at their faces. Note an interesting thing. It’s not the television cameras that are in first row. It’s a mix of professional press and happy fans all together. It’s really not a news event.

It’s a Clinton moment.



That’s where I got the shot I was aiming for. A happy Bill Clinton with some Faroe Islands colors in the background.


Bill Clinton


I got plenty more, even better, but this was the one I had envisioned. A happy Clinton in available daylight, with some Faroe colors in the back. Anyway, the moment came to an end, but when you have been up there, it does take a while to cool down again. Hence, the press try to extend the moment by interviewing the hotel director, taking photos of kids and what have you.

Anything out of the strictly ordinary will do.



It’s a natural reaction. You just want more of it. And that we got… Meanwhile Clinton got a nap while local police was watching down in front of his suite. And the sheeps were watching the fuss.



Faroe Islands originally meant “Sheeps Islands” you see.

While the sheeps were watching Clinton’s suite, we hang out by the espresso machine, again. Casual as usual. Something interesting happens in a scene like this. In hours before, the excitement is high and everybody is keeping an eye out for any unusual activity, security-wise.
Yet it is known that the 1) plane with Clinton might not be able to land (due to the always changing and unknown weather situation at Faroe Islands) and 2) two or three backup plans exist which does not include the location we are at. All the preparation, security sweep, bomb dogs, the blue (not red) carpet could turn out to be a waste of time and resources. A great disappointment if it had happened that he had taken another route and another plan. Lots of excitement.

But now, Clinton actually has arrived, he is in his suite doing whatever an ex-president does when he has just landed and needs some time alone. Only thing we can rule out is unpacking his luggage, because he doesn’t carry any. The suite is for crashing purpose only, he will be leaving again in few hours and will not return here to sleep. He will fly to Denmark straight after the speech. To do another one the following day.



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Anyway. Some of us noted that one of the cars had golf equipment in it. So we speculate if he might eventually stay over night and play some golf in the early morning, then leave for Denmark. That plan would have a nice ring to it. Faroe Islands has a 9-hole golf course, which is not famous for anything but the fact that exists at such a distant location as the Faroe Islands.

They have been joking at the Faroe Islands for many years that they plan to build an 18-hole golf course. There are 18 islands that together make up what is called the Faroe Islands. So they joke that they will place one hole on each island.

And you never know with these Faroe guys. When they move, they move in grand style and always very ahead of the rest of us. So why not an 18-hole golf course spread out over 18 islands. You really can’t tell from their expression because they always seem to joke about things, also the actual facts in life.


As they say here.

Anyways, back to the espresso machine. The funny thing is that all the excitement has gone away. Everybody is relaxed and chatting, even the security guys just outside his suite. The Harley has gotten a signature of Clinton. I didn’t see it, but Oliver told me the owner came out the hotel looking like a sun, both thumbs up and smiling from one ear to the other. He planned to sell it.


We chat, Secret Service and police is also hitting the espresso machine (it’s free espressos courtesy of the hotel, reason being that no cares to charge for espressos during a Clinton visit) and the hotel even brings white bread with butter and cheese. A very casual moment, at the center of the known universe, watching the door where the most important person alive is taking a nap. Are we in control or are we not. We are. Drinking coffee and eating bread with cheese while Clinton is doing whatever he is doing behind closed doors with loads of security on all sides of the room.

Oliver and I am planning our next step:

Should we get on the press buss that will be following Clinton to the venue (Nordens Hus) where he will be speaking? Or should we take a cab so we are already there when he arrives, thus getting another Clinton-arrival-scene? We decide for the cab, but destiny makes another choice for us: When we get out, the cab we had ordered is empty. Apparently the driver went to see what the fuss was about. We have a cab but no driver. Not very useful. Clinton anyhow decides to move earlier than expected why we line up outside to get the “Clinton-leaves-the-hotel-moment,” then jumps on the press bus with the other press. We’re already behind when we get onto the main road down to Thorshavn. It’s a three-kilometer drive to the venue but Clintons cars continue and pass by the venue. He’s going for the city!

Faroe Islands have three traffic lights and we happened to jam in one of them (they are all within a radius of 500 meters). So some of us jump out the bus and run across town (1,000 meters I would say) with all gear flying around. We find Clinton bit up a street with a tale of security people after him.

I’ve overtaken all press people but one at this point so I continue my run up that street, overtaking all security people on the way too. I run a big circle around Clinton to be able to be in front, in the direction they are walking. I’m like ruined, I smoke too much but I'm the first in front. All the way running I remember thinking “I can’t do this. I must do it. I can’t. I must.” What a ridiculous thing to do. Anyhow, Clinton is walking with the Prime Minister of Faroe Islands and they are entering the bookstore next to the tourist office and opposite the Town Hall. I was here the day before.



We wait outside and I guess everybody is speculating what’s the deal and what will happen next. It’s quite unexpected; also Clinton should be at the speaking venue in few minutes, according to schedule. I shoot the growing crowd outside.



I shoot the security people and particular like this where a Danish police agent and an American Secret Service agent seem to have a moment. Maybe they just now discovered they have the same tie.



So Clinton finally comes out after a few minutes. It’s a great light but it’s hard to move around because there’s security and a crowd in a relatively small space divided by trees and fences.



Oliver tells me he would like a shot of the whole scene from the other side of the street. I do that, but in retro perspective I was divided in two. I wanted to do a good portrait of Clinton, preferably with the Leica R camera using slide film to obtain the optimum quality. On the other hand I wanted to show the event from an outside perspective, using a digital Leica to shoot many pictures and be able to move them by newswire quickly. I do a lot of running in and out. What starts now is what has become known as the famous “Fellini moment” (that’s Olivers expression).
Oliver told me, and in retro perspective it’s completely true, that during the next 60 meters Clinton walked, there was completely silence. It was like a ballet in slow motion. Secret Service agents used the one arm to keep a crowd back, then turned their head to look up the street and use the other hand to get another crowd to stay there. Security guys doing this, forming a narrow path – almost like a security zone – for Clinton to walk. Meanwhile Faroe people gathered in the street, waiting for Clinton to pass by, stretching out their hands to shake hands with Bill. A Secret Service guy later told that he had never experienced anything like this: "You reach out your arm and people just moved back voluntarily, by them self."



It really was quiet. It was elegant, civilized, nothing I’ve ever seen before. The traffic stopped and people stood out their cars and looked at the scenery as in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” They just stood there and watched, silent.



The only real movement was Clinton, the Secret Service and the press. The crowd was just standing there and looking. I ran ahead, jumped up in some flowers to get the scene from above when Clinton would be passing by below me. Fortunately he would stop and talk with people, which enhanced the slow-motion-advantage.



I never understand why people prefer to put their attention into a camera or camera phone to capture an event rather than experiencing it in full (look who’s talking – I know I miss out a lot of stuff to get it on film; you can’t look through a camera and ‘be there’ at the same time).



Clinton actually stops to let this kid get a photo. He’s user-friendly, that’s for sure. I’m moving parallel to Clinton in my flowerbed elevated above him. After 6-8 meters there’s no more flowerbed and the street turn left. I’m at the same level as Clinton now and he’s right in front of me. There’s a guy on the right who just shook hands with Clinton and there’s a guy on my left ready to do the same. Clinton looks at me, I look at him, I look at his hand. I shake hands with Clinton. His handshake is comfortable, professional. It’s not hard. It’s kind of soft but firm. I don’t know why I didn’t use the camera and the wide angle in my left hand and from my left shoulder to capture what would have been a rare picture showing the viewpoint of a person shaking hands with Clinton. I didn’t. I should have. It was truly a moment of unprofessionalism!

Another thing about this was that Oliver and I had discussed earlier in the day how funny it is that when you deal with the level of celebrity as Clinton and Tom Cruise, it’s not a professional event anymore. Journalists want autographs, handshakes and even bring their own digital cameras to take photos. We agreed one had to decide beforehand if one was attending for professional or personal reasons, and then act accordingly. Now, here I was photographing and shaking hands. Hmm… Oliver later commented this with “Yes I saw that. ‘That’s Thorsten shaking hands with Clinton,’ I though. But then again, it was like there was missing a person, so it was good that you were there. It would have been odd if there hadn’t been anybody. He would have felt unwelcome. It felt very natural that you were there to shake his hand. Good of you.”

Thanks Oliver. You have your way with words.



The walk seemed to have come to the cars and I ran a bit away to get out of the crowd and prepare for leaving. The moment we all dream of is the "Clinton-coffee-moment" because that was what he did when he visited Copenhagen years ago as a president. In a totally packed city square he delivered a real Clinton speech, amongst other good things crediting Denmark for being so right: “When we the Americans are in doubt about a situation in the world, on which side to choose, we look to Denmark. If we choose the same as Denmark, we usually come out right.” Big applause.

After that speech, moving back to his limo in an overcrowded square, he suddenly changes direction and walks toward a coffee bar to get a cup of coffee. That was the story of that year. So anytime you say Clinton, I dream about him making an unexpected turn and follow a basic humanoid instinct such as wanting a cup of coffee, stop the limo and look at a lake, walk in a stranger’s house by the road … or something.



Anyhow, here I am in the middle of cars and a crowd, trying to locate a way out when I see a sign 20 meters away saying “coffee.” You know, I don’t know. I haven’t gotten the faintest idea how. But I just move myself towards that thing in warp speed, get in, even have time to measure the light manually and find a good spot – still not really knowing anything – looks out the glass and then I see Security Service in front of the door. Bingo! If there’s anything worth calling intuition, that was it. Coffee is Clinton. Clinton is Coffee. Then Clinton comes in.

I’m already in. What a great spot to be in.



Intuition is a great thing

We may find it weird how we know something is wrong the moment we step in a room, or know that somebody is on the other side of a wall, or how we know who’s the person calling our cell phone in the pocket. Intuition is seldom wrong. In this case, I spotted a “coffee” sign 20 meters away when I was about to leave the scene. And I don’t know – I just did. So I get inside this coffee bar instantly, like flying, because I know Clinton won’t let a coffee bar go unvisited. Right here I am. I’m already in when Clinton enters.

Here we are. The four girls serving coffee, Clinton, a local photographer and I.

Jesus, it’s just us. It’s a perfect scene; I even have the guts to think the other photographer is local so I will be solo with this on international wire. The local photographer will only cover local papers. This is not only unique; I will also make it the most aesthetic picture the world has ever seen of an ex-president drinking coffee. It’s not that I’m ignorant as to how much money a solo picture of Clinton drinking coffee can earn, or the possibility a picture that could potentially be historic will actually be happening here within the next few minutes. Mainly I’m already speculating how to earn me the right to the greatest shot ever taken of Clinton drinking coffee.


My ideal of presidential photography is in the great Leica tradition of the White House photographers, and Robert McNeely is right up there amongst the best with his book The Clinton Years. Here’s a shot of Robert McNeely from his book. It’s Clinton and Powell having a crack about some comics.

I know, the photo of Britney without underwear probably has been seen by more people in one day than the entire lifelong production of Robert McNeely. But it’s the quality of the communication that counts. His pictures have created a unique impact that is worth much more. There’s this policy about only taking pictures that will do good things for the people. I read that in Ron the Photographer and it’s kind of a great policy in guiding you as to which photos to take and which not when you are around people of fame. If it’s not doing anything good for them, don’t do it.

Anyway. It’s along the lines of Robert McNeely I’m thinking. I am alone with Clinton in a coffee bar. Except there’s now four Secret Service guys inside too as well. They look at me. Clinton tell them “It’s all right” .
I already plan angles, light and everything for Clinton and I doing one-on-one photos of him enjoying a peaceful coffee while the crowd is waiting outside. Coffee is good. While I plan, I shoot what happens. Rather automatically. I haven’t made a plan yet. I haven’t “seen” the shot I will be doing. Yet.



But we will be having a great time. He might recognize, probably even enjoy, the silence of the Leica snapping perfect frames. If there’s a camera that has been around, and continues to be around, presidents in the White House, it’s Leica. All White House photographers use Leica till the moment Obama stepped into the Oval Office. A Leica must be like a family member to him. He will enjoy being alone with it. Now. The Secret Service guy say something which translates to “Get the fuck out now.” Clinton repeats, “It’s all right” with his distinctive hoarse voice, in an almost tired way. It reminds me of Godfather. I tell the Secret Service guy “It’s all right. He said so.”

He repeats his “please, out” both oral and with a hand. He’s both in my ears and in my viewfinder and it’s really not him I want to see. Ah, fuck. I’m a decent guy, I’m not a paparazzi or something. They say go, I go. Can’t request Clinton to back it up in the middle of a coffee bar. I get out. Maybe I got something anyways. This thing had already come too far. No chance I could have changed the mind of Secret Service at that point. I see, I retro perspective I should have gone hang back. I should have gone to the counter and just hang there and wait peacefully for the scene to fall to rest. I should have done that from the first instant I entered the place. Order an espresso, be worthy, get into the ‘I belong in this scene’ character. Instead of moving around. If there’s one thing that consistently work, it’s not being pushy but just be in the corner like a fly on the wall. Not doing anything but wait to get some peaceful time with the subject. What then usually happens is that an assistant or the celebrity approaches you to hear what you want to do. Because you look like one who has a special appointment to be there. Which is then what you might get. Either that, or they fear you are a weirdo, which means you are escorted out.

I noticed earlier this day, at the hotel, that Cinton’s personal staff was almost comfortable about me being there as long as I just had a small Leica over the shoulder. The instant I picked up a camera bag, she got an expression of panic in her eyes. Photographers with large cameras has unfortunately become synonymous with danger and unfriendly exposure. Being inside a coffee bar with Clinton with four Secret Service guys I definitely fell into that category of photographers. I should have hung back, asked for an espresso. I really should. Coffee is good.

Anyways. I’m out at the packed parking lot in front of the coffee bar and Oliver and I decide to hit swim through the masses and hit the road to the venue where Clinton will be speaking.



This got to be the last stop before he jumps in the car and head to the venue. He’s already late as it is. He’s driving a Volvo, not a limo. As one security guy reportedly said at the airport: “I see the limo has shrunken into a Volvo!”
The venue, Nordens Hus, is covered in security. All the place is taped in with “police – don’t enter” and a guard for every 10 meters around the building.



A Secret Service guard enters the press bus to check us out. He seems to be comforted by out smiling faces. We’re on a field trip and it’s like kindergarten. We look happy and friendly. We’re let inside. Me and a local photographer shooting for all the local medias are the only two photographers allowed during the actual speech. No others are allowed to bring cameras, recorders, laptops or even mobile phones into the venue. Maybe because of the scarce amount of equipment allowed in general, I decided to bring my full camera bag with five cameras and monopod. Just to be different. I’m only using one. A hilarious scene plays out as we try to enter the venue. We have to wait behind the line because the local police lady has been told no one was allowed to enter or exit the building after a certain time. Which was 90 minutes ago.



So we spend 10 minutes or so before the head of it all comes by, laughs about it all and then read the names of those allowed in.



The chance of a great Clinton shot inside is remote. So many pictures of Clinton delivering a speech exist and this will be another one in that series. I shall be relaxing because I’m anyway not in need of any shots from the actual speech. Our story is about the stuff outside, before and after the speech. I catch the audience as they enter the hall after the VIP reception which was the buffer Clinton used to visit Torshavn and have coffee. The VIP’s might have felt lonely doing a reception without him.



Actually, he went to another shop after the coffee bar and bought two blouses from Gudrun & Gudrun in dark grey knitwear, for his wife and daughter. I visited the shop the day after and got this photo of Gudrun knitting blouses:



Gudrun & Gudrun is super-trendy, some have probably already heard about them. Or will be hearing about them soon. Clinton bought two scarfs like the ones hanging left in the picture as well. Those go well to the dark grey knitwear (he’s got taste, you got to admit).

It’s a small audience of 500 people and makes up the who’s who of the Faroe Islands though I have no idea who’s who. I try to listen while I photograph. Oliver has noticed an old man in seat 8C who has fallen asleep. A quite expensive seat to take a nap in. It’s too dark to get a photo of it. But there’s an interesting detail which most of my photos center around. The spotlight creates a shadow of Clinton on the red carpet on the sidewall. I use the monopod to take similar angle shots at 1/1 second, ¼ and 1/8 second and later managed to put together one shot:



I like this composition with the audience rather than Clinton alone. And the two Secret Service guys by the wall. Can you feel it? It’s another Clinton moment. For 500 persons at one time. Different, requiring VIP seating and more well planned months in advance than him suddenly standing next to you on a parking lot or the streets of Torshavn. Or in a coffee bar. Those speeches ‘a bit artificial. You can tell some audiences feel they bought Clinton to come speak for them. And feel mighty about it. But a Clinton moment it is. Though I like his unscheduled ones better. I got literarily 759 shots, variations, of this. Doing the same photo for one hour. Hmm. I exit the place 10 minutes before Clinton is done with the question and answer period after his speech.



I want to be outside when he leaves. Also I need to know if he leaves for the airport or the hotel. If he leaves for the hotel, that would mean he will be staying and play golf or something. Which would be a completely new ballgame in terms of photo opportunities. And why not? So I miss to see the latter part of the question and answer period with the Faroe journalist and princess-looking Tórun Ellingsgaard who deliberately does not take notice of the Secret Service guys giving stronger and stronger hand-signs to get done with the interview. She continued 20 minutes or so over time.

The Faroe audience saw it and thought it was hilarious. They like to break rules. A bit like the Danes and the Irish for whom authorities are some you have to play mouse and cat with. She later told me, Clinton had told her, “I have plenty of time. I don’t have to be anywhere.” So in a way Clinton and her had agreed to run the show themselves. For 20 minutes extra. I like that guy. Outside I check the back entrance which he will be using but don’t like the dull look of it. So I find a nice spot on the corner by the exit to the main road. The cars will have to pass that corner and turn right. So if I place me on that spot, I will be elevated to above the windows of the cars, being nothing more than 2 meters from Clinton.

That’s a good plan.



I sit and wait. My knee hurt a bit. I have my Leica SLR with the 80mm on my left shoulder, which I want to use to photograph the caravan of cars as they approach the exit. I can probably shoot 6-8 pictures of them approaching before I have to grab the next camera: Around my neck I have my Leica M4 with the 21mm Super-Angulon with which I want to take a 90° wide-angle photo of the whole scenery, hopefully with Clinton in the center, and visible.

On my right shoulder I have a digital Leica in case there would be time to shoot with that as well. It’ very much the way I like to work. The main shot has to be taken with an old manual camera without lightmeter and motordrive. Thus only one shot will be possible. But what a shot. It’s risky but it’s a great game. Either it all works out with a razor-sharp slide film scan, a 90° wide-angle shot with Clinton in the middle, with all sorts of razor-sharp details as security guys, fans and press standing on the street, security guys in the car behind Clinton, probably pointing towards me, thinking “what is that guy doing there – is that a Luger he is pointing?” I’m sitting so close to where the car will have to slow down to turn the corner, I could get a book signed.

It has the potential of becoming a great shot. And made with a camera from 1974 that’s build to resist Veitnam war, not a modern dSLR built to shoot 10 frames a second of an ex-president passing by. I like disadvantage. It’s fun. I also like not knowing immediately right after, if I got it or not. I particularly like that while sitting there waiting, the sun comes out! I have it from behind and usually prefer shooting against the light (another disadvantage).

In this case the sun is perfect because it lit the scenery and bring out nice colors. Suits the scene. As the cars finally approach, I see the sun is bright enough to beam through the tinted glass of the cars and lit up the faces of the people inside. I use an external 21mm viewfinder on top of the Leica to frame. I see Clinton approaching; he’s on the phone in a big black telephone. He waves his hand to the audience in a sort of distracted way. He’s concentrating on the phone call. Click. I got it. I don’t know. The beauty of this disadvantage is that it will take me days to get the slide film to a lab and get it back again. There’s only one frame. No time for more than one click. The post between the doors of the Volvo might have been in the middle of his face. Maybe the 1/125 was too slow. Maybe he was looking straight into the camera the instant I pressed the shutter. Don’t know. I can just wait and hope.



In the bus I tell Oliver all this while he’s looking at the newspaper they made locally in English, with the enthusiastic “Welcome President Clinton” on the front page. I tell him about the potential photo I’m hoping for. One with Clinton in the center, lots of sharp details of security people, police dogs, fans, flags, the wind and the sun. Every detail will represent its own moment for a person, all over the photo, from left to right. But I also tell him the chances that I actually hit the shutter the right instant … well, they’re remote. But what a picture it will be if I have. Oliver understands this. He thinks alike, but in words. Moments and details.

After having thought about it for some hours, Oliver comes back to me, asking “This picture. What if you didn’t get it? Will you be talking about this picture you never got, the rest of your life?”

Hell no. That’s the whole idea of the disadvantage. You might get it, and then it’s great. But if not, thats just statistics. Like lottery. Anyone can take a wide-angle photo with a dSLR that will be ok. But to take a perfect 21 mm wide-angle shot on slide film with a manual camera – now, that’s something. Or take portraits of Clinton on the street with 80mm f/1.4 on slide film, well knowing the 80mm f/1.4 has so narrow focus that half the shots will be out of focus. But the ones in focus, circumstances being right… that’s photography! Anyway, a week later I get the slide films back from the lab. The first frame I check is of course that one. And here’s what I see.



It’s a lousy photo, except that you see the potential.

1/125 was clearly too slow. I almost knew that when they had passed, but then again they had to slow down but I couldn’t remember how much. Could have worked. But what really ruined the photo is how people in it look. There’s too few of them and they are not paying attention. They are already relaxing. The security guys behind the car in the picture is clearly discussing where the coffee will be served when Clinton has gone, and if there will be one or two kinds of cheese to the bred. And the police by the entrance has turned their backs. Some said later he was on the phone with Hillary. I said I had a feeling he was on the phone with a statesman. It looked like a statesman the way he was on the phone. Clinton went straight to the airport. It was over.

We head back to our hotel and Oliver is now using his notebook to get the facts straight. We look at the Harley and what Clinton wrote exactly. He wrote his name and the date, October 1, 2007. The owner comes by. We ask what pen was used, how he plan to preserve it on the bike, what the price of the bike is and stuff. The guys hearth is still beating overtime. He looks very determined. He has a look of a guy with the only Harley in the world, Clinton has signed. But what to do with it, how do you celebrate having a Clinton signature on your Harley..?

We pass by Clinton’s suite. They are cleaning up and preparing it for another visitor. There’s 20 Coca Colas lined up, 20 bottles of water and 20 coffee cups. That is standard equipment in this suite, the maid tells me. Next door is the bedroom, it has a bathroom with Jacuzzi, framed in tinted glass walls so you can look through it from the bed and vice versa. It’s a funny feeling being in his suite. So significant two hours ago, now left by Clinton, his staff and the Secret Service. It’s a mixed feeling of invading his private sphere, yet a unique opportunity we just couldn’t resist doing a candid photo in:



Later we head downtown to run through the route again to get the details straight. I’m the kind of guy who would revisit a place to learn how things could be done differently another time in a similar situation. With Oliver it’s a thing to do because he’s into details. The color of the wooden window frames on a certain house, the name of the coffee house, the number of parking spaces. What kind of threes are those, he asks me, pointing at the oak threes in front of the bookstore, Clinton visited.

Stuff like that.



Then we head back to he venue where they are editing the video. They are doing a clip for each television station that wants one. They are allowed a maximum of 23 seconds of the speech. So in a van behind the venue they are editing right now. Oliver needs to get a certain part of the speech noted correct.



There’s four or five security guys staying overnight at our hotel, but aside for that, it’s over. Next morning I find one of the security guys looking out the window in the restaurant. He’s gone astray in the view of Torshavn:



Oliver left early as he just got a son three weeks ago. I’ll be staying for another four days to do photos of the Faroe Islands. The story on Clinton will later appear in Samvirke, a Danish magazine being read by about a million people.

I might get back to Faroe Islands in the coming blogs. It’s a remarkable place, even when there are no presidents around. For example I met this guy who’s the 17th generation farmer on the family farm. That is a lot of time and the fathers told their sons the stories from the past, who then told their sons those stories.

Jóhannes Patursson can speak for hours about it, about the kings, fishers and sailors in year 700, year 1100 and year 1896, as if it was someone telling you about what happened in the mall last week.



Also, there is the island of Nólsoy where only 260 people live and which is like traveling 20 years back in time, though only a 10 minutes sail trip from Torshavn. This is their post office:



Any questions?






Thorsten Overgaard, October 2007
Reposted as "The Story Behind that Picture" on April 27, 2012 and january 8, 2016.




Above: Bill Clinton speaking for an audience of 500 people in the Faroe Islands. Leica Digilux 2.









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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish writer and photographer, specializing in portrait photography and documentary photography, known for writings about photography and as an educator. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via e-mail.

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