Lateef Mangum has learned a thing or two about Anthony Williams. Having taken the mayor’s picture nearly every day for the past five years, the official administration photographer knows that the Bow-Tied One looks best when shot from below. The angle has a way of making the mayor look dignified and commanding. It hides his bald spot nicely, too.
The only people who usually see Mangum’s photos, however, are government employees. His shots end up in municipal reports, daily briefing documents, and city brochures; occasionally, they find their way to newspapers and magazines. But given his prolific output, his work has gained relatively little exposure otherwise. There were a couple of exhibitions of his nongovernment work in the ’80s, says the 53-year-old Mangum, but nothing in the past 13 yearsnot least because he simply hasn’t had time to mount a show. “I have rolls of unprocessed film [from the 2002 campaign] in my refrigerator right now,” he says. Last week, though, Mangum brought out a dozen or so pieces from his vast archives for a two-week exhibition at Middle C, a music store in Tenleytown. In them, the famously uncharismatic mayor often makes for a riveting subject.
One photo, for instance, shows Williams sitting in a Chevy Chase deli, looking perturbed, staring out the window. The photo has no caption, but it takes on resonance when Mangum explains that he shot it in October 2001, just seconds after Williams learned that a postal worker from D.C.’s Brentwood facility had been hospitalized with anthrax symptoms.
With Williams, Mangum says, “the challenge is to create an image that conveys feelings…because he doesn’t necessarily show emotion.” But years of proximity have helped Mangum become attuned to the mayor’s moods. He points to another image, taken from behind, of the mayor riding a Segway as the futuristic scooter’s inventor, Dean Kamen, runs alongside. Williams’ shoulders are hunched forward: “You can see his enthusiasm,” says Mangum, pointing to the mayor’s stance.
Williams has former Mayor Sharon Pratt to thank for making him photogenic. She hired Mangum in 1994; he’s pulled the rare political hat trick of surviving three administrations. He says he’s often asked to compare former Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. with Williams. “Barry was more spontaneous,” he says. He recalls that once, at a formal cocktail party, Barry busted out dancing for a moment, then went back to politely sipping his coffee.
Mangum began working as a professional photographer after graduate school at Howard University, where he studied educational technologies. Before Howard, he’d spent a couple of years living in Nigeria, where he worked for the minister of education, visiting remote villages to evaluate distance-learning project prospects. A couple of the images on display at Middle C are from his many trips around West Africa during that time.
If the audience at the show is anything to go by, Mangum might want to find ways to put more of his pictures before the public; on her way out, one Middle C patron complained to the owner: “I wish there had been more.”
But only D.C. political insiders can truly relish some of the moments Mangum has captured. One classic from his archives: Ward 8 activist Sandra Seegars wearing an “Impeach Barry” T-shirt, snapped just as she was about to bite into a hot dogat a barbecue in Barry’s backyard. Annys Shin