David Lienemann From left: President Barack Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Vice President Joe Biden
David Lienemann, who photographed Joe Biden’s eight years in the White House with President Barack Obama, wants people to learn more about the man now seeking that high office — and has some of his stories to tell about his time with the former vice president.
In his just-released photography book, Biden: The Obama Years and the Battle for the Soul of America, Lienemann shares memories and photos of Biden as a man with empathy informed by loss — and who, yes, really loves ice cream as much as the memes suggest.
It’s a first-hand contrast to a bitter campaign season in which Biden is challenging President Donald Trump, who has assailed Biden as enfeebled and extreme.
Lienemann has a different view of his old boss.
“In meetings, he would say, ‘How is this going to affect people in my old neighborhood in Scranton? How is this policy going to affect them? How are we making their lives better?’ ” the photographer says. “I think he’s much more concerned about those people than the machinations in D.C.”
After spending almost a decade capturing the most intimate and most public moments, Biden’s former official White House photographer also saw how he was changed by the 1972 death of wife Neilia Hunter Biden and their baby daughter, Naomi, and the 2015 death of oldest son Beau.
(Biden raised sons Beau and Hunter with his second wife, former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, with whom he also shares daughter Ashley.)
“He did something that I don’t think I would be able to do, and I haven’t really ever seen anyone else do,” Lienemann tells PEOPLE.
“Instead of wallowing in the tragedy,” Lienemann says, “[Biden] really pushing himself to do more. President [Obama] announced the Cancer Moonshot initiative to drive cancer research and make huge leaps forward in treatment and research. And the vice president and Dr. Biden led that initiative while they were still grieving over their son.”
David Lienemann Joe Biden (second from right) celebrating re-election with President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, in Chicago on Nov. 6, 2012.
David Lienemann Joe Biden (right) made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan in 2011 to meet with Afghan leaders and U.S. service members. The agenda included a side trip to Forward Operating Base Airborne in Wardak Province, just southwest of Kabul, to present the Bronze Star to Staff Sgt. Chad Workman.
During his time in the White House, Lienemann perfected the art of not being seen and captured nearly a million photographs. One of his favorites is a photo he took of the Bidens with Beau, then attorney general of Delaware, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Just before they were supposed to walk on stage, Beau leaned over to fix his dad’s tie.
“It was just such a personal moment and such a loving moment,” says Lienemann. “It’s something that I could see doing to my father.”
Lienemann’s other favorite memory that he captured was when the vice president officiated the wedding between two of his male staffers in his White House residence.
“I think there’s so many different things that happened during the Obama administration — I would call it progress, the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ” Lienemann says. “But support for gay marriage in 2012, and then presiding over this marriage, I think it’s just a huge leap forward in equality.”
He was also moved by Biden’s connection to parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012. He says that the vice president met with the families “multiple times” and would talk to them on the phone both day and night.
“I think he feels other people’s pain and understands the tragedy of losing a spouse and two children,” says Lienemann.
David Lienemann Joe Biden (second from left) attending an interfaith memorial service for families of fallen police officers, with Dr. Jill Biden, former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas on July 12, 2016.
David Lienemann Joe Biden (right) reaching out to touch the flag-draped casket of his older son and former Delaware attorney general, Beau Biden, before Beau’s public wake in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 5, 2015.
David Lienemann Commemorating the Civil Rights movement at the 48th annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with Congresswoman Terri Sewell and Congressman John Lewis, in Selma, Alabama, March 3, 2013.
David Lienemann Joe Biden (right) talking with President Barack Obama after the White House St. Patrick’s Day Reception on March 17, 2011.
But there were also fun moments during the Obama administration. Lienemann says that Biden “wasn’t like a fancy eater at all,” instead preferring “peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pasta and red sauce a lot, or soup and salad.”
His favorite, of course, was ice cream.
“His granddaughters’ joke about him eating ice cream… I’m not going to lie, I went to Dairy Queen quite a bit,” Lienemann says. He remembers the vice president once telling his staff, “I’ll eat ice cream three times a day if I need to.”
Lienemann also saw how closely Biden worked with President Obama: “They had dinner together, and they had lunches once a week. They went to their kids’ basketball games — the president’s kids, the vice president’s grandkids on the weekend.”
David Lienemann Joe Biden (right) ambushed by Dr. Jill Biden during a picnic for White House press and their families at the Naval Observatory Residence on June 5, 2010.
David Lienemann Joe Biden (left) with President Barack Obama, filming a scene for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 27, 2016.
Dr. Jill Biden wrote the foreword to Biden, and her words echo Lienemann’s warm assessment of her husband.
“During times of trouble and strife, as we see so much heartache around us and so much work left to do, I am bolstered by remembering what President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were able to accomplish during those years,” she writes. “I know the hope I see in David’s pictures is not gone.”
She adds: “It is alive, and its power will continue to transform our nation for the better. We did the impossible before, and with courage, grit, and determination, we will do it again.”
Excerpted from BIDEN. All photos by David Lienemann. Used with permission of Voracious, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved.