Sharon Farmer is the first woman and first African American named Chief White House Photographer.
Sharon Farmer was a White House photographer during both terms of the Clinton presidency. She was the first woman and first African-American to direct the office charged with chronicling nearly every second—from the mundane to the monumental—of the nation’s highest office.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1951, Farmer was interested in photography from a young age. She discovered the power of the
medium looking at pictures in her family’s encyclopedia. She attended Ohio State University, intending to study bassoon, but quickly switched her major to photography and honed her skills on the yearbook staff.
The Associated Press hired Farmer for a photojournalism internship during her senior year in college. After graduation, she returned to her hometown, where she became a freelancer and a photographer of album covers.
In 1993, she was hired as a White House photographer, a fast-paced job in which she used approximately 3,000 rolls of film per year and traveled the globe on a moment’s notice. In 1999, she was promoted to director of White House photography.
During her stint at the White House, Farmer captured many prominent events, including the handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and the swearing in of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa.
Farmer also chronicled many political races, from local to national. In 2004, she served as the head photographer for Senator John Kerry’s presidential campaign. In addition to being featured in individual shows and group exhibitions nationwide, Farmer has lectured for National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution and has taught at American University. She resides in Washington, D.C.
Speaking about her most exciting job while a White House photographer, Farmer is quoted as saying:
“In 1998, I accompanied the President and Mrs. Clinton to Ghana. There was a huge rally in the stadium in Accra. There must have been over 250,000 people cheering the President and First Lady. They were given the kente cloth of the Africans and, wearing them, proudly stood next to President and Mrs. Rawlings of Ghana. What a moment in time! Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that an American President would visit an African country and be received so wonderfully. That moment, to me, is only second to watching and photographing Nelson Mandela being sworn in as President of South Africa. I attended the event with Mrs. Clinton and the delegation that Vice President Gore led. Every day I pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming that I have this job here, in this time, in this world.”
During her time at the White House, Farmer earned the affectionate title of “the sister with the great smile who photographs the President.”