George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg.
While only two of these three men have been president of the United States, all three have something in common: they’ve spent a lot of time with Charles Ommanney.
For the past year, Ommanney has been the personal photographer for Facebook’s CEO, following and documenting the life of the world’s sixth richest man nearly everywhere he travels. That includes the trips to roughly 30 US states that Zuckerberg is making this year, as part of a personal goal to have visited every state in the country.
Every stop along Zuckerberg’s barnstorming tour of the US has been publicized with the meticulous orchestration of a presidential campaign, thanks in large part to Ommanney’s steady stream of photos that are shared with Zuckerberg’s 92 million followers on Facebook.
The photos portray the 33-year-old Zuckerberg in a way that’s uncharacteristic of most Silicon Valley tech CEOs, and more like a seasoned statesman. Ommanney has photographed a gray t-shirt-clad Zuckerberg meeting with members of the military, helping assemble a pickup truck at a Ford plant, and feeding a baby cow on a farm in Wisconsin.
While Zuckerberg has repeatedly denied that he plans to run for president of the US, if he does ever decide to run, there is perhaps no one in his inner circle more intimately familiar with life on an actual campaign trail than Ommanney.
Before he became a Facebook employee in February 2016, Ommanney spent time embedded with former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama during their first-term presidential campaigns. He was also assigned to the White House as a contractor for Newsweek magazine during both of Bush’s terms.
A photo I took of former president George W. Bush in Texas 10 years ago. At this stage the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were taking their toll not only on him but on the country as a whole. Photography and access like this are important for history and for generations to come. I hope that at some stage in the near future the new administration will realize of importance of granting independent photojournalists real access.
Keeping with the secrecy that surrounds Zuckerberg’s inner circle, Ommanney has never publicly confirmed that he’s the CEO’s photographer. But people Business Insider spoke to who have met Zuckerberg during his ongoing US tour recounted being introduced to Ommanney among the roughly one dozen members of the CEO’s staff and security.
Ommanney didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed and a Facebook spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
On the road with Zuck
Charles Ommanney appears in his own Instagram account.
Before joining Facebook, Ommanney spent decades as a photo journalist covering war-torn corners of the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia, for a wide range of publications, collecting a long list of accolades in the process.
A soft-spoken native of London, England with wavy locks that earned him the nickname “Lion King” from President Bush, Ommanney appears most comfortable behind the camera. While living in Washington D.C., he appeared in Bravo’s now-cancelled “The Real Housewives of D.C..” He later called going on the show one of the few regrets in his life.
“I kind of fell into this political scene,” Ommanney said in a 2011 interview about his decision to photograph the Bush campaign and presidency. “I wanted to really see into their world.”
Like a shadow, Ommanney now travels with Zuckerberg nearly everywhere he goes, whether it’s to meet the Pope at the Vatican or a business trip to Lagos, Nigeria. A look at Ommanney’s Instagram profile shows that he’s often in the same locations at the same time as Zuckerberg’s publicized stops throughout the US and the rest of the world.
Ommanney isn’t the only person with experience in the political world to join Zuckerberg’s inner circle.
Amy Dudley, the chief spokeswoman for his philanthropic fund, The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, was previously the communications director for Hillary Clinton’s running mate and Virginia senator Tim Kaine, for example. The person responsible for coordinating many of Zuckerberg’s trips, James Eby, previously served in a similar role for the Department of Defense.
Zuckerberg’s journey through America’s heartland comes at a time when his company is facing increased scrutiny for its role in helping the spread of fake news and misinformation among its 2 billion users. Facebook’s policy team briefs Zuckerberg on the specific privacy and regulatory concerns the company faces before he visits a state, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Besides advancing Facebook’s corporate interests, President Donald Trump’s election also served as a catalyst for Zuckerberg personally wanting to understand the increasing disparity between Silicon Valley and the rest of the country, according to multiple people familiar with the matter. He has since spoken with Trump multiple times by phone but has never publicly acknowledged the conversations.
While people close to Facebook don’t expect Zuckerberg to run for president, he’s surrounded himself with people like Ommanney who have what it takes to pull off a campaign of presidential proportions.
Whatever Zuckerberg does, there will be plenty of pictures.