The 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient – Diana Walker
The native of Washington, D.C., was introduced to the world of politics at an early age. At the same time, she grew up taking pictures and developed what would become a lifelong love of photography. Her first camera was purchased in Georgetown at Morgan’s Pharmacy, a Brownie Hawkeye later replaced by a Kodak Pony 135. She was hooked.
Her first brush with political photography, thanks to friends of her parents, came in 1956 with a one-day pass to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second Republican National Convention, at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. She was 14 years old.
In the family’s Georgetown home, Diana set up a darkroom in the basement and would process her film and make prints on top of the washing machine. “When my father would walk across the living room floor above me,” she recalled, “all the dirt and dust would come down into my trays of developer and fix. So that wasn’t too successful.”
Her earliest portfolio included photographs from the March on Washington and the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, both in 1963. Soon she was photographing everything she could: bar mitzvahs, book jackets and weddings. By 1975, Diana was working regularly as a freelancer for The Village Voice and other publications.
Charlie Peters, founder and editor of the Washington Monthly, provided her with her first White House pass and Hill credentials, invaluable for a freelance photographer in Washington. She then put together a portfolio and looked up photo editors in New York City before jumping on a train. She met with New York magazine and Businessweek, and on one memorable trip saw editors at Fortune, People and Time in a single day.
In 1979, Diana became a contract photographer for Time and later covered first lady Rosalynn Carter’s travels and Walter Mondale’s presidential campaign. In 1985, Time appointed her to serve as one of its White House photographers, a role shared with colleague Dirck Halstead. She traveled widely, photographing summit meetings, diplomatic missions and international crises. In her months off the White House beat she chose a variety of assignments including shooting the productions of actress Anna Deveare Smith, Total Oil Co., author portraits and the Kennedy Center Honors.
It was during the second Reagan administration that Time began to focus on getting exclusive content at the White House. Diana soon found herself slipping behind the scenes to photograph politicians, public figures and, of course, presidents. Diana and Time were particularly successful during the Bush and Clinton years, and later in the presidential campaigns of Al Gore, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
Her last day working for Time was election night in 2016 at New York’s Peninsula Hotel, where Hillary Clinton and her husband watched the returns. She was in a room down the hall, waiting for an exclusive. She never saw the Clintons that night.
One highlight of Diana’s career stemmed from her relationship with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. She photographed Jobs early in his career, they got on, and Jobs continued to allow Walker to photograph him for Time for the rest of his life and career. Fittingly, Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson chose to illustrate his book solely with her photographs.
In the foreword for Diana’s 2002 book, “Public & Private: Twenty Years Photographing the White House,” presidential historian Michael Beschloss described her photographs as having had “a distinctive influence on the way we have viewed the presidents during the last quarter of the 20th century.” He added: “Looking through her body of work, it is startling to recognize how many of Walker’s photographs have become iconic images in our national memory.”
Diana spent the last years of her career photographing the plaintiffs in the California Proposition 8 case, who were instrumental in lifting the ban on gay marriage in the state. Upon the request of the lawsuit’s mastermind, political consultant and former Clinton administration press aide Chad Griffin, she followed the case for three years.
Diana and her husband, Mallory, enjoy travel and sharing their retirement with family and friends. She is collaborating on a retrospective of her work scheduled for the fall, working with the curatorial team at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas, where her archive is held.
About the Award
Sixty years after the WHNPA was formed in 1981, the executive board created a Lifetime Achievement recognition that would be presented each year at the annual ‘Eyes of History®’ awards gala. The award was created to honor the career and achievements of both still and video photographers. Andrew J. “Buck” May of Harris & Ewing received the first Lifetime Achievement Award. May was a founding member of the WHNPA and a four-time president of the association. He served on the inaugural and multiple exhibit committees.
The list of Lifetime Achievement Award recipients throughout the years reads like a who’s-who of visual journalists in Washington.
2022 – Joni Mazer Field
2019 – Margaret Thomas
2016 – Rodney Batten
2013 – Ron Edmonds
2010 – Pege Gilgannon
2007 – Frank Johnston
2004 – Sheldon Fielman
2001 – Arnie Sachs
1998 – Robert Gilka
1995 – Joe Bailey
1992 – George Tames
1989 – Ken Blaylock
1986 – Arthur Lodovichetti
1983 – Byron Rollins
2017 – J. Scott Applewhite
2014 – Doug Wilkes
2011 – Dennis Brack
2008 – Holly and Paul Fine
2005 – Chick Harrity
2002 – George Fridrich
1999 – Steve Affens
1996 – Charles Tasnadi
1993 – Henry Burroughs
1990 – Paul Lyons
1987 – Larry Krebs
1984 – Murray Alvey
1981 – Andrew “Buck” May