A Photojournalist’s Star-Studded Archive Spanning 40 Years Lands at the Briscoe Center

President George H.W. Bush and photojournalist Christopher Little at the White House in 1989.

Standing in George H.W. Bush’s bedroom at his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, photographer Christopher Little couldn’t believe it when, right before his eyes, the vice president dropped his trousers.  

Just moments before, Bush and Little had accidentally walked in on second lady Barbara Bush buttoning the last button of her shirt. To lighten the mood, Bush decided it was best to show off his knickers to everyone. “Barbara, you remember Christopher Little!” Bush exclaimed to his wife as she shook her head. 

It was 1988, and Little was there to photograph the then-vice president for People magazine, where he had been on staff for nearly 10 years.  

“At that moment an aide walked in and her quote that ran in the story was, ‘Oh my God, People magazine is in the vice president’s bedroom, and he’s in his underpants!’” Little says, laughing. 

His tale about Bush is just one of hundreds of celebrity anecdotes Little has collected over his 40-year career as a photographer. His work has been published in Life, Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, and Architectural Digest, to name a few. But he is best known for his work at People, where he worked from 1980–2001. In November, UT’s Briscoe Center for American History announced that it had acquired Little’s archive, which includes more than 71,000 slides, 21,500 negatives, 5,000 prints, and almost 10,000 contact sheets. 

“Christopher Little’s collection is a rich and fascinating compendium of public figures and historic moments. We are thrilled he has chosen to donate his life’s work to the center,” Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center, said in a news release. 

Little has photographed just about every major politician, actor, and musician you can imagine. He has photographed every U.S. president since Richard Nixon except for Barack Obama—“a great tragedy for me,” he says. He has traveled to nearly 80 countries and been to every U.S. state. He has toured with Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, and Bob Dylan; shot legends such as Oprah, John Lennon, and Katharine Hepburn; and captured political figures such as Queen Elizabeth II, Coretta Scott King, and Ann Richards. 

If there was anyone who landed their dream job, it’s Little. Born and raised in Manhattan, Little’s father was a newspaperman who wrote about the theatre, and his mother was a playwright. Maybe he was born with the journalism bug, or maybe he picked it up from his dad, but either way, he knew as a young boy he wanted to be a photographer. He’d co-op the janitor’s room in his high school to make a dark room, and later, as an undergraduate at Yale, got involved in capturing the counterculture political movements on campus. After he graduated, his first big gig was to photograph the Watergate hearings for Time magazine. 

“It was really a front row seat,” Little remembers. “It was an incredible time to be there.” 

Little clearly has a way with his subjects—though he’d more likely humbly attribute some of his skills to mentors such as Pulitzer Prize winner Nat Fein. He didn’t just pop into his subjects’ faces and snap a photo—he spent real time with them. And in many cases, like with Bush, he befriended them. 

Even Johnny Cash recognized something in him. In 1994, Cash invited Little to take his portrait at his private cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee—a place Cash had never taken anyone before, not even his daughter, Rosanne. “He said, ‘I’m going to take you here because you look like a nice, young fellow,’” Little remembers. 

These days, Little, 73, lives in Norfolk, Connecticut, with his wife Betsey and his pit bull-mix Ruby, a rescue from Tennessee. He has a daughter and a granddaughter, whom, if the pandemic permits, he plans to take to South Africa in a few months. And for the last 20 years, he has served as an EMT in his little town. He still regularly picks up his cameras, keeping up to date with the latest photography methods. Little mainly shoots for books now and takes landscape and architecture photos. In 2019, he even wrote a mystery-thriller novel called Ever So Silent

Was his star-studded career as glamorous as it all seemed?  

“Perish the thought,” he says, “but yes, it really was so much fun. Like the old saying goes, ‘You’re only as good as your last one.’ And I don’t have a single regret.” 

Credit: Christopher Little, courtesy of the Briscoe Center


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