I arranged with the Treasury Public Affairs folks to show up about 7:15am the next morning, giving me time to put up a portable backdrop, and even set a light or two if needed. Paulsen was leaving a live Today show interview in his office, was en route to the Oval to see President Bush, and I would have about a minute or three on the West end of the Treasury building, on a small veranda of grey marble, as he left one building headed for the next.
I had probably two, maybe three minutes with him. In those pressure-packed moments where you realize it’s quite easy to blow it, you become surprisingly unaware of the passage of time, other than it always goes too quickly. In your head you want to slow everything down, have a minute to ponder, engage the subject, come away with something remarkable. But it almost never works like that. So you shoot a few this way, a couple that way, maybe a third something of some kind, and by then the press secretaries are chomping at the bit, trying to get their boss to the White House without getting yelled at (which is, by the way, the main reason anyone does anything in Washington.)
I shot furiously with my 5D, and did manage to make a couple of frames of Paulsen with my Speed Graphic. In 2008 I tried to shoot a few large format pictures on every job. The old camera usually was self-supporting: that is, most subjects would find it curious enough as an artifact to actually let me stretch another minute or two of their time, to make a picture. But here is what I really remember from that morning: Paulsen, the boss of the Treasury, the lion of the FInancial industry, a man who made more million dollar phone calls in his life than probably anyone I’d ever photographed, was scared shitless. Positively Scared Shitless. He knew what had broken, he knew what was about to break, he understood the depths to which the waves of catastrophic collapse were about to occur. That is what frightened me. I’d been listening to the news of that week with increasing worry, like most people. But it was what I saw in Hank Paulsen’s face that scared the shit out of me.
It’s rare as a photographer you are in the position where time, space, and circumstance intersect, and that you can make a picture which reflects it all. I’m not really sure my Type 55 of Hank Paulsen rises to that level, it probably doesn’t. But what I do know is that whatever one’s personal view is of the Obama 8 years, it’s simply unimaginable to hear people say that things are worse now than they were in 2008. We have a helluva lot of problems to deal with, both at home and in the world at large. But the demeanor of Hank Paulsen, as he saw the world he intimately knew starting to crumble before his eyes, is a reminder that we were perilously close to a ruin far beyond anything any of us have ever known. We're just sayin'... David