“It’s not quite like a normal job,” 2005 Cornell College graduate David Lienemann says about being Vice President Joe Biden’s official photographer.
Despite the title, it’s not all that glamorous: long days often involving hours of waiting, working most weekends and holidays and being on-call the rest of the time.
But then there’s the office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, working in the White House, visiting 12 countries in a little more than a year and having the catbird’s seat on the vice presidency, Lienemann said.
“It’s been great. I didn’t really ever think I’d be working in the White House,” Lienemann said after spending a day in Cedar Rapids where Biden campaigned for Gov. Chet Culver.
“Sometimes I forget that because I work here every day. You get to know who to be respectful to and who you have to get out of the way for, but it’s the office I go to work at every day,” he said. “You forget there are a lot of people who have never stood outside the Oval Office.”
Lienemann, 26, stands close enough to Biden that he’s required to have a top security clearance.
As Biden’s official photographer, it is Lienemann’s job to document the vice president “and, to a broader extent, the administration and what’s going on whether (Biden’s) in meetings, working on a speech or meeting with his staff. Most of it is day-to-day in the office.”
It’s challenging “because you’re taking pictures of the same people in the same room every day.”
Lienemann, who described himself as a “business major with a camera,” was a photo intern at The Gazette during the 2004 presidential campaign. He returned to Iowa in 2007 for the precinct caucus campaign as a freelance photographer.
He kept busy shooting for the Associated Press, New York Times, and Agence France-Press, for example, and continued to freelance through the election.
He got to know Biden and his staff, and in March 2009 Lienemann was asked if he was interested in the job. He flew to Washington the next day for what he thought was an audition. Lienemann promptly boarded Air Force Two to accompany Biden to Miami for two days and then spent five days in Brussels.
Lienemann, who grew up in St. Louis, says some of the novelty has worn off, but he still finds his job to be exciting.
“There are a lot of incredibly important decisions made at the White House and I’m there to make pictures of it,” he said.
The travel is “pretty extraordinary,” he said. “I get to go to places I wouldn’t get to go to as a normal citizen or even as a member of the media.”
One highlight for Lienemann is having his pictures on display in a hallway gallery in the White House West Wing.
“It’s not as exciting as when I hung my first picture, but it’s still pretty neat to be hanging a new photo and have the national security adviser walk by and start asking you about it,” Lienemann said. “It’s still special to know it’s there.”
It took a while for Lienemann to adjust to being on the other side of the rope line from news photographers and having virtually unrestricted access to the vice president.
After 15 months on the job, Lienemann has found his “drive to always take pictures has calmed a bit.”“Still things are exciting about the job,” he said. “It’s very fluid and I have to be quick to adapt.”