Close up with Callie Shell


Callie Shell is well-practiced at recognizing a telling moment, at intuiting the precise expression and gesture that reveals something essential, at being in the right place at the right time.

The 49-year-old award-winning photographer, who graduated with a BA in political science from the College of Charleston, works as a contract photographer for Time magazine, and spent eight years at the White House as the official photographer for Vice President Al Gore. She covered five presidential campaigns, and has her work published in newspapers, books, major news magazines around the world, and shows including the photographic exhibit, The Way Home: Ending Homelessness in America.

And on Sunday, Callie Shell’s photos of President Obama on the campaign trail will be displayed at the Simon Gallery, 54 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. An opening reception begins at 5 pm.

In the fall of 1992, Ms. Shell was summoned by Tipper Gore to photograph the last weeks of the Clinton/Gore presidential campaign. She was then asked back to cover the inauguration and the first hundred days. Those six weeks turned into eight years at the White House as Vice President Al Gore’s official photographer.

In January 2001, Ms. Shell was invited to become a Time magazine contract photographer, assigned to cover the White House and President Bush. She met Barack Obama in 2004, while covering John Kerry’s presidential campaign for Time magazine.

Ms. Shell is quoted, saying, “I just have a feeling about him. I think he will be important down the road.”

Her first photo essay on Obama appeared in Time magazine in 2006. Ms. Shell has been with him nearly every step of the way ever since. More than any other photographer, Ms. Shell has been able to capture the private side of the candidate, behind the scenes and unguarded, in places where almost no one gets to see him, or any presidential candidate. It is estimated that to date she has captured nearly 400,000 images of the Obama campaign and the events that surround it.

She claims there were no constraints imposed on her; whether she was taking a photo of the First Lady napping on her husband’s shoulder, the President in a candid moment with a well-wisher, or readying himself for a speech.

On the website,, she is quoted, saying, “I have no problem standing and waiting for as long as it needs for the moment to happen. I don’t talk a lot. I try to just become part of the scene. I try to just ingratiate myself to the person and their staff. I quietly take pictures and try to make sure they trust me and know that I’m not there to photograph every time they trip. I always tell my subject that if they need a break, if they need no photographs for a while, they’re always allowed to tell me… Also, Obama is easy to get along with. We just clicked.”

Ms. Shell’s book, “President Obama: The Path to The White House,” (Time Books) was on the New York Times Bestseller List. She lives in South Carolina with her husband, Vincent Musi, a National Geographic photographer, and their son, Hunter.

Sunday, August 22, Callie Shell’s photos of President Obama on the campaign trail will be displayed at the Simon Gallery, 54 Main Street, Vineyard Haven. Opening reception, 5 pm. 508-693-1701.