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History through the lens

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House, with Vice President Joe Biden, following the House of Representatives passage of the Affordable Care Act, March 21, 2010. (Official White House Photo By David Lienemann)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pressure. David Lienemann doesn’t necessarily enjoy it, yet he thrives in it.

As a photojournalist, it’s a mode he’s used to.

The stakes got extremely high when Lienemann was hired as an official photographer for former Vice President Joe Biden, during the eight years of the Obama administration.

President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction to Vice President Joe Biden during a tribute in the State Dining Room of the White House, Jan. 12, 2017.

“I actually missed the first six weeks of the administration,” Lienemann says. “I started on March 5 (2009).”

Stepping foot onto the White House grounds, the Albuquerque-based photographer didn’t know what to expect. He had been at newspapers before, including a photography internship at the Albuquerque Journal in 2006.

Vice President Joe Biden awards a Bronze Star to Staff Sgt. Joseph Workman, at Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.

One thing was for certain – he was going to treat it like a journalism assignment.

“You are telling a story through photographs,” he explains. “You are looking for moments throughout the day that is showing something different and unique. Of course, I took ordinary photos. Once in awhile, there was something special.”

Vice President Joe Biden visits Section 60 at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 11, 2010.

Though Lienemann’s journey as an official White House photographer ended in 2016, for the last five months, he’s been in overdrive mode.

The task at hand – put together a book chronicling the eight years with Biden.

“It’s been really a fascinating process,” he says. “I went from reaching out to some folks about a book at the end of April to a having a book on the shelf in September.”

The book is called, “Biden: The Obama Years and the Battle for the Soul of America.”

Vice President Joe Biden kneels in front of the casket of his son, former Attorney General Beau Biden, before the public wake, in Wilmington, Delaware, June 5, 2015.

During his tenure at the White House, Lienemann took about 900,000 images.

He and (photo editor) Shelby Leeman went through and whittled it down to 100,000.

Alas, still too many.

The process continued until about 400 photos were picked and the book designer began to lay out the pages.

The result – 215 images through 256 pages.

Mongolian Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold looks on as Vice President Joe Biden fires a bow and arrow, outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, Aug. 22, 2011.

“It’s still very novel to me,” he says of having a book available to the world. “I see it on a bookstore window. It’s still surreal.”

Americans watched tragedies and triumphs during that time.

David Lienemann

Lienemann was there.

Many of those moments stick out in his mind.

He recalls the night that the Affordable Care Act passed on March 21, 2010.

“It was 10 or 11 at night and we’re still at work,” he recalls. “Once it passed, the president scheduled a statement in the East Room. They invited a handful of staff to the Truman Balcony. It faced out over the (National) Mall where you see the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument. They took a moment to thank people for all the hard work. It seemed very special.”

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden walk across the colonnade from the White House to the West Wing, Nov. 11, 2015.

Of course, tragedy would rear its head from time to time.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 both took a toll on Lienemann.

“I was not at a parent at the time, nor was I married,” he says of the school shooting. “You think about families who sent their kids off to school and aren’t going to pick them up. It hit me then and now as a parent, I can’t fathom it.”

The most difficult day came in May 2015, when Beau Biden died.

Covering the funeral in the days following Beau Biden’s death was the most difficult for the photographer.

“That was painful for me personally,” he says. “Beau was a wonderful person to the staff. I went on a couple family trips with the Bidens and Beau always tried to include me as part of the family. I was there to work and give them some space. He tried to pull me in.”

Lienemann isn’t surprised at Biden’s run for president.

Book by David Linemann

“Many of my colleagues thought he would go into private life teaching,” he says. “Last year, there was chatter about his run. I ended up spending a couple days with him right after he announced. I went to Philadelphia to photograph the big campaign kick off. He and Dr. (Jill) Biden really have a commitment to service.”

Lienemann saw a renewed passion from Biden after Beau Biden’s death in 2015.

“The president started this cancer initiative and he asked Dr. Biden to be in charge of it,” he says. “They took it over a month after their son died. They wanted to make things better.”

Jill Biden wrote the foreword for the book. In it she says:

“Looking back at David’s photography, I am filled with deep pride. He captured it all: the hours of work, the questions and negotiations, the emotions that spanned from such incredible heights to such heartbreaking lows, every hard-fought battle … I know the hope I see in David’s pictures is not gone. It is alive, and its power will continue to transform our nation for the better … These photographs invigorate me for the challenges ahead, and I hope they do the same for you.”

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