Girls in the White House: Malia Obama and Courtenay Valenti

Malia Obama capturing another moment with her camera (image courtesy of

This morning I’ve been thinking about photography, girls in the White House, and last year’s Inauguration of Barack Obama. Tonight I’m attending an event at the LBJ Library and Museum (where I work) titled, “Behind the Lens: White House Photography from LBJ to Obama.” The following White House photographers will be in attendance: Frank Wolfe (LBJ), David Hume Kennerly (Gerald Ford), David Valdez (George H. W. Bush), Robert McNeely (Bill Clinton), and Eric Draper (George W. Bush). Kennerly and McNeely will also be showcasing their photographs from the Inauguration Ceremony of President Barack Obama, as well as signing copies of their book Barack Obama: The Official Inaugural Book.

This reminded me of the celebratory stir caused by images of Malia Obama capturing the Inauguration from behind the scenes and on stage with her own digital camera. In her article “Malia Obama: Girl Photographer” Prof. Mary Celeste Kearney discusses why the idea of Malia as a young photographer garnered so much attention from the press. Kearney notes that current technology has made photography readily available to a significant portion of girls in the US, and that networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as sites such as Flicker and Photobucket, have provided girls with numerous options for distributing their photos. Therefore, according to Kearney, what is striking about Malia’s use of a camera is less about a girl using this type of technology and more about the fact that Malia is a “black First Daughter who takes pictures” and many in the US are “simply not used to seeing a black girl in a position of such agency.” I would love it if Malia’s images were exhibited in the showcase tonight. Hell I would love it if in the future I could work at the Obama Presidential Library and archive Malia’s photographs. Some day perhaps . . .

Courtenay Valenti attending a meeting with President Johnson and staff (image courtesy of the LBJ Library and Museum, photo by Yoichi Okamoto)

Moving from behind the camera to in front of it – and from the present day to the 1960s – I want to share one of my favorite photograph subjects archived at the LBJ Library: Courtenay Valenti. Courtenay is the daughter of Jack Valenti, who worked as a “special assistant” to President Lyndon Johnson prior to becoming the President of the Motion Picture Association of America in 1966. From 63 – 66 Jack Valenti was a fixture at the White House and toddler-aged Courtenay often tagged along on meetings and errands. Moreover, President Johnson adored Courtenay and treated her like his own granddaughter, hanging out with her and surprising her with baskets of puppies:

Courtenay admiring a basket of beagle puppies (image courtesy of the LBJ Library and Museum, photo by Yoichi Okamoto)

As a result the LBJ Library has a fair amount of photos of Miss Valenti hanging out in the White House and in one case pulling her tights out of her rear while coloring in the Oval Office during a meeting. As an adult Courtenay has gone on in her father’s footsteps and currently works as a studio executive for Warner Bros. I keep hoping one day she’ll make an appearance at the Library and talk about what it was like hanging out at the White House and with the President at such a young age.

~ by actyourage09 on January 20, 2010.

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