Donald Trump blocked plans by his chief White House photographer to publish a book of pictures of his time in power – then published a book of such images himself, the New York Times reported.
One former White House photographer told the Times that by using Shealah Craighead’s images for his own profit – with books selling for as much as $230, Trump is reported to have made $20m – the former president had dealt her “a slap in the face” .
Craighead was only the second woman to be White House chief photographer, after Sharon Farmer, who worked under Bill Clinton.
In 2018, Craighead told Marie Claire magazine that she and Trump had “a lovely relationship … very professional, but also … quite humorous at times”, and added that Trump had “a genuine, strong, caring heart”.
She also said she was “always very cautious to make sure I’m not pushing the photos in a manner that are associated with me on a personal level, but rather associated with the president and the administration on a professional level”.
Nevertheless, the Times said, at the end of Trump’s time in power Craighead reached a “tentative deal with a publisher [that] involved an advance in the millions of dollars”.
A Trump spokesperson did not dispute that Craighead was first asked to have Trump write a foreword in return for a cut of that advance. But the spokesperson, Taylor Budowich, told the Times that Trump then decided to use the images and others taken by other official photographers for his own book first.
“President Trump has always had an eye for beautiful and engaging curation, which came alive through the pages of his book,” Budowich said.
Most former presidents sign huge deals with mainstream publishers. Trump, who left office after four years of bitter partisan warfare, two impeachments and the deadly Capitol attack, has not done so.
But he has released a pictorial memoir, Our Journey Together, via Winning Team Publishing, a venture started by his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr, and a Republican operative, Sergio Gor.
An unsigned copy of the coffee table book, for which Trump wrote captions, costs $74.99. Signed copies are $229.99.
CNN recently reported sales amounting to $20m in just two months.
White House photographers’ work is in the public domain, available to all via Flickr. But photographers commonly release books of their own work.
Pete Souza worked for Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama and has released bestselling books of his pictures. He told the Times: “It’s valuable for each chief photographer to do a book just for the historic record and put it together in a way that it tells sort of their story and contextualises images.”
Eric Draper, chief White House photographer under George W Bush, said Trump had been disrespectful to Craighead.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Draper said. “I would be disappointed if I were in her shoes.”
Speaking to the Times, Craighead said only that she was as “apolitical as possible, as I am a neutral historical documentarian. By staying neutral I am able to remain a keen observer.”
But Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s third White House press secretary and the author of her own tell-all memoir, was less restrained.
“Shea’s a very talented photographer,” Grisham said, “and this was really all of her hard work. I just keep thinking: what a shame that he is actually now profiting off of it. But then again, this is the guy who is hawking caps and all kinds of stuff right now to raise money for himself.”
According to the Times, after he contacted Trump for comment, Trump called Craighead for the first time since leaving power.
He reportedly said he was prepared to write his foreword now.