Private Project

Yoichi's White House

The son of a Samurai with unprecedented access to the President; and the man who preserved his legacy.

  • Eric Elofson
  • Lia Johnson
  • Gino Click
  • James Edward Mills
    Associate Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short
  • Genres:
    Political, Bio, Biographical, Photography, Photographer, documentary
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes 15 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    October 4, 2023
  • Production Budget:
    0 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Eric Elofson

Eric Elofson is an Emmy award winning filmmaker and founding partner of Rope Line Media, based in Washington, DC. He has produced, directed, and edited a number of short films which have won awards at Sundance, Cannes Cinefondation, and the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as many others.

Eric got his start working on feature films in LA and Hong Kong before moving to DC where he got involved in television with National Geographic, until finally entering the world of progressive political filmmaking. Eric spent over a year travelling the country with Senator Bernie Sanders running his video team for the 2016 presidential campaign. Now, as a partner at Rope Line Media, Eric produces digital content for President Biden and Vice President Harris, among many other clients.

Eric earned his Masters in Film and Television at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts in Singapore and his Bachelors in Cinema as Literature from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is also an avid rock climber, back-country hiker, and world traveler - having visited, hiked, or climbed in about 40 countries.

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Director Statement

Three years ago, I was in an art museum in DC when I saw an incredible photo of President Johnson with Martin Luther King Jr. that I recognized from my high school history books, and then another, and another. All taken by the same man - Yoichi Okamoto considered by many to be the first official White House photographer.

Who was he and why had I never heard of him before? How did a Japanese American man come to have such unprecedented access to the President so shortly after Pearl Harbor, particularly in a period where the White House was almost exclusively White? And why would someone so successful take his own life? And how come there was no information about this accomplished artist besides a brief obituary in the Washington Post? These are just a few of the questions that prompted me to Facebook Message nearly any stranger who shared his last name across the country.

To my surprise, one of the strangers I had contacted got back to me. He claimed to have a father who had been Yoichi’s only living son, and who was apparently very excited to speak with me. This is how I came to meet Skip Okamoto, a faithful conservator of his father’s work, though not before waiting months for him to recover at the age of 72 from a terrible vehicular accident.

When Skip was ready to speak, my producer Lia Johnson and I drove down to Greenville, South Carolina, where we met the man and interviewed him for a straight 3+ hours. He’d kept meticulous records, photo prints, notes and artifacts from his father’s amazing life, and to our delight he was thrilled to share it all with our cameras.

This story is personal to me, in part because I too am a Presidential photographer of sorts. My 9-to-5 is filming and photographing Presidential campaigns. I worked on Bernie 2016, Kamala 2020, and I now photograph President Biden on his re-election campaign. And I too, have suffered from the depression and insecurity that comes along with the job. Long hours, high stress days, the pressure of responsibility, and feelings of inadequacy creep in from time to time.

I’ll never fully be able to understand why Yoichi eventually took his life, or how exactly he felt about his own work. But I do know he was an incredible and groundbreaking photographer, and he was also deeply loved by his family.

Eric Elofson