The paparazzo responsible for the infamous 2008 barechested Obama photo tells us there's no special effort to get one this year — one, because of ramped-up security, and two, because the president is no longer the celebrity he was was.
Two years ago, a photographer working in Hawaii for Frank Griffin of Bauer Griffin snapped the photo that landed on the cover of the Washingtonian and helped burnish our president's reputation for being, well, hot. This year, the White House press corps, traveling with Obama to Hawaii, got express instructions not to try to get any shirtless shots. Of course, the photo agencies make their own rules, but even so, Griffin isn't making it a priority.
Back then, he told the AP that the president was "now the world's biggest celebrity, just after Angelina and Brad. I guess they're neck and neck right now." But now, not only is the security far greater than it was then — at the time, Obama was president-elect but had yet to be sworn in — but fewer people care. "I still support him, I still think he's a great president," said Griffin, "But he doesn't have the glitz and glamour surrounding him that he once did."
The same half-Hawaiian photographer is in Honolulu, just in case, but no one is getting their hopes up. At the time the photograph was taken, the Secret Service actually drew a line in the sand for the photographer and told him he could stand there for his shot. Was the president aware he was being photographed? "I believe he probably was aware," Griffin said. He still relishes the annoyance of the White House press corps that they got that shot, and then went on a rant about how there are "no real journalists left in DC, or anywhere anymore."
The photo didn't fetch the money it could have, because the profitable weekly tabloids publish double issues around this time, and because he wasn't yet a sitting president. A shirtless shot of the sitting president at the beginning of 2009, Griffin estimated, would have netted $1 million. That said, this photograph was no disappointment; the photographer bought "a small apartment and a car" from the proceeds, Griffin said, though he wouldn't say how much they got for it in total.
And the Secret Service even contacted him about a month later, asking for all of his shots for what sounded like training purposes. "I think people are afraid that where a camera can go, a gun can go," Griffin speculated.
Right now, a similar shot might go for $100,000, he said.
By the way, they also got photos of the Obama daughters in swimsuits — bikinis, he said — that they kept to themselves.
"I can't start to publish those. You can't stop a photographer from taking pictures, but you can't publish that here," said Griffin, who is English. "In the United States and Middle America people think if you take a picture of a little girl wearing her Sunday best it's perverted. Perversion is in the eye of the beholder." He paused. "Did you like that soundbite? I just made it up."
Incidentally, we contacted other paparazzi agencies and also heard back from Kelly Davis at X17. "If someone is to get one, assuming it were exclusive and good quality, it could go for thousands of dollars to a single mag -(thousands x the number of mags that publish it)," she wrote in an email. "On the other hand, if the white house asks certain outlets NOT to publish it, they may comply which means you're left with a few pithy website sales."
Then again, they don't even have a photographer in Honolulu.