Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Obama hangs Kelly Morris picture on the White House wall

The photograph that captivated Barack Obama

When photographer Kelly Morris took a picture of a little boy, his head bent and hands clasped as if in prayer, it put her in mind of American President Barack Obama when he was a child.

Kelly, who was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, but who now lives in Belfast, was delighted with the off-the-cuff portrait of the three-year-old boy, and decided it would make an ideal gift for America’s first black President.

After a few emails to and from the American Embassy in Dublin, she hand-delivered her framed picture to the US Ambassador in the hope it might be passed on.

When she was told the black and white print had winged its way to the White House in Washington, she was thrilled.

But she got even better news this week when she received a personal letter from Obama, thanking her for her ‘thoughtful gesture'.

Kelly, a freelance photographer who has lived in Northern Ireland for 14 years, said she couldn't believe it when she saw the White House postcode on a large brown envelope that arrived this week.

And she said Obama's letter will now take pride of place in her Belfast home.

Explaining the background to the picture Kelly said: “I took a photograph of a little South African boy, who was living in Northern Ireland at the time. He was the son of a friend and it was one of those off-guard moments when I captured him. He was clasping his hands and looked like he was praying. It was a very spiritual picture and I was pleased with the results.

“There was such a look of sincerity and focus on his face and I fell in love with the picture.”

With some poetry written by her friend Bill McKnight, she emailed the picture to the US Ambassador in Dublin, and asked if it could be sent to Obama. Then an invite arrived from the Embassy.

Kelly said: “I brought the photograph down and the staff at the Embassy asked me to write a letter to Mr Obama, which I did. I told him my background, how I'd come to live in Northern Ireland and how proud I was that he was my President.

“Some time later the Embassy rang me to say he'd got the photograph and it was hanging in the White House. I was so proud.”

Kelly was on her way to pick up her four-year-old son Cormac from nursery when the letter from President Obama arrived.

“My hands were shaking as I opened it. The letter, which was written on official White House stationery, said: ‘Dear Kelly, this is just a quick note to thank you for your gift. Your kindness and generosity are much appreciated and I am touched by your thoughtful gesture. Thank you again and I wish you all the best, sincerely, Barack Obama'.”

The 35-year-old, who is exhibiting her black and white prints at Molly's Yard restaurant in Botanic Avenue, Belfast, said she would treasure the letter forever.

“I can't tell you how pleased I am that he took the time to write and that one of my photographs is now hanging in the White House.”

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