See President Franklin D Roosevelt at work in the White House (1935)

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Franklin D Roosevelt at work

The President at work

Harbingers of Ceremony, six photographers were ushered into Franklin D Roosevelt’s office on the afternoon that the Brazilian Trade Agreement was to be signed.

Five of them carried the usual equipment which they proceeded to set up in anticipation of the occasion. The sixth, Thomas D McAvoy, had a tiny camera containing film specially sensitized in an ammonia bath.

The President, ignoring the cameramen, continued with his work. He glanced at letters and orders. He squiggled his signature, doing his duty and eager to get it done (above) while Gus Gennerich stood ready with a blotter. Secretary Marvin McIntyre hovered helpfully in the background. The Presidential package of Camels lay open on the desk. All this time, Thomas McAvoy was snapping…

President Franklin D Roosevelt at work

Mr McIntyre handed the President a document that amused him; he shot back a question; perused the paper; pursed his lips; stopped to slake his thirst with a drink of water; wiped his mouth with a handkerchief from his side pocket; finished reading; squiggled a signature. His desk was clear. Then, he straightened up and turned on his charm to greet Ambassador Oswaldo Aranha (a great Roosevelt admirer) who arrived accompanied by Brazil’s Minister of Finance, Arthur Souza Costa.

The President smiled his most charming smile as he took Senhor Souza Costa’s hand. Then the agreement was spread on the desk in duplicate. Senhor Aranha, sitting on the President’s right, and Secretary Hull, sitting at his left, put their signatures to it in the presence of a solemn gathering of diplomatic assistants. Last of all, the President turned to Ambassador Aranha with a parting quip.

As the photographers carted away their equipment they looked disgustedly at Cameraman McAvoy.

“In that light and in that box,” said one of them, “Boy, you could not get anything.”

He had snapped 20 pictures for Time. Thirteen of them, appearing herewith, were successful.

Although informal photographs of Franklin D Roosevelt are common, unposed shots showing the natural play of his expression are rare.

When Dr Erich Salomon, inaugurator of candid camera technique and brilliant practitioner of it abroad, was introduced to the US by Fortune, many a cameraman promised himself to carry on where the German left off. It was two years later, however, when Cameraman McAvoy by smart thinking and long preparation succeeded in making the first adequate candid camera study of Franklin Roosevelt.

President Franklin D Roosevelt at work

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