|James K Polk by Brady|
February 14, 1849
|Polk and his cabinet minus James Bucanan by John Plumbe|
Brady's photo was not in New York where Brady had his Studio at the time, it was in the White House, and it was not the first photo of a serving President.
After repeated requests Matthew Brady was finally granted a sitting with our 11th President on Feb, 14 1849. Brady dragged his camera into the White house and asked what room had the best natural light.1 It was decided that the dinning room would be the best,1 but it was from experience. On June 16, 1846, painter turned photographer, George P A Healy made three failed attempts at getting a shot of Polk and his cabinet. He neglected to take into account how dimly lit the White House was before electric lights.2 In frustration, Healy pulled the men and many of their wives outside on the portico and was able to get an image.2 But his wasn't the first either. Earlier that summer, John Plumbe photographed Polk and his whole cabinet minus James Buchanan. That photo was taken in the dinning room which was Thomas Jefferson's former office.2 That does seem to be the first photographic image of a sitting president and the first interior photo of the White House.
|John Quincy Adams, photographed after his presidency.|
Taken about a month before Polk was to leave office, Brady later remarked, "His face was lined on both sides of his nose and his mouth (was) drawn in a tight line".1 These were makes of the pressure of the office. Both referencing the wear on the men's faces and the rigidness that more then a minute of sitting still for the exposure required, Bennett quipped, "Why man, do the Washington and his cabinet look like that? Alas they are dead before my time."1
Polk in fact would be dead in Bennett's time. In President Polk's list of presidential distinctions, including being the first sitting president to have his photo taken while President, he holds the less glamorous distinction of having the shortest retirement. He died of Cholera 103 days after leaving the office at the age of 53.3
|John Quincy Adams after his presidency|
John Quincy Adams was the first president to be photographed but it was after his time in office. The best date I can find is 1828 but that seems very early. Let me know if anyone has a date.
1. Mathew Brady: The Camera Is the Eye of History By Don Nardo
2.The White House: actors and observers By William Seale, White House Historical Association
4. The diary of James K. Polk during his presidency, 1845 to 1849