COLLEGE STATION Ask any photographer access is everything.

'A lot of people call this the 'George Bush Presidential Library.' In my family, we call it the 'David Valdez photo gallery,'' Valdez, 64, explained with a chuckle.

History sees the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush through Valdez's eyes.

'With President Bush, we would be going in to meet the Pope or King Hussein or somebody and somewhere around the world, and he would kind of hit me with his elbow and say, 'Can you believe this? Us two guys from Texas here doing this?'' he said.

Few people got as close to the commander in chief than David Valdez.

'One day I got called to the Oval Office,' he recalled. 'I go in and I realize immediately it's the start of the Gulf War. So I took some photos. Well, when I finished taking the photos, I thought I'd leave. This is going to evolve and take quite a while. They wouldn't let me leave the Oval Office because it was so highly classified.'

Valdez was born outside Corpus Christi, learned to use a camera in the Air Force, and went to work for Bush in 1983.

His resume is astounding. Valdez has visited all 50 states, 75 countries and flown two million miles on Air Force One with 65,000 rolls of film to prove it.

All of this was before the days of digital photography.

'We've taken the contact sheet out, so it's just the negatives,' said Mary Finch, the library's archivist.

Two-million images are being preserved in a 36-degree environment.

'It keeps the negatives from degrading,' Finch explained. 'Some libraries freeze them. That keeps them the best. But it's very difficult to maintain a freezing room in Texas.'

Valdez's most iconic image of George Bush happened on August 22, 1987 when Bush was still Vice President.

'I was offered up to take photos for Life magazine,' he said. 'So I talked to Barbara Bush, and I said, 'We're doing this stuff for Life magazine,' and Mrs. Bush told me, 'You oughta just come over to the house at six in the morning and see what happens.' There's George and Barbara Bush in bed having coffee. They said, 'Oh, come on in.' So I sat on the edge of the bed. Within a few minutes, the grandchildren started coming in.'

It's one of the most published images of the elder Bush showing him, Barbara Bush and their grandchildren wearing pajamas and in bed in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Valdez spent almost a decade with President Bush. When George W. Bush got elected in 2000, Valdez briefly considered a return to the White House. But now, at age 64, the presidential photographer is coming out of retirement for another member of the Bush family.

'I'm technically retired, but I do some photography for the George P. Bush campaign. He's running for Texas Land Commissioner,' Valdez said.

He returned to the road earlier this year to document part of George P.'s campaign when he took a bus tour through Texas this year.

'You know, this was a great experience. I have fun doing it. As long as I can hobble along, I'll do it,' he said.

A presidential photographer is a trusted position since it's so close to power. He doesn't just take pictures; David Valdez preserves a part of the American experience.


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