‘Dean of the Hill’ Ray Lustig Set to Retire

Posted December 12, 2003 at 2:41pm

Ray Lustig has been around Capitol Hill so long that he describes State of the Union addresses as “routine” and remembers the Watergate hearings as “a fun time.”

Lustig, 65, is a veteran Washington Post staff photographer who has spent most of his adult life capturing the images of daily democracy while stalking the halls of the Capitol and covering the floor of Congressional press conferences. But, after a career spanning more than four decades, Lustig has decided to give up his Capitol press pass at the end of this month.

After 22 years of covering Capitol Hill full time for the Washington Post and 16 years as a photographer at the now-defunct Washington Star, Lustig said it’s time for him to make his exit from covering the Capitol.

As the longest-serving photographer on the Capitol Hill beat, according to Jeff Kent, director of the Press Photo Gallery, Lustig has claimed numerous photography awards and amassed a portfolio with pictures appearing in Life, Time, Newsweek, People and National Geographic. He is also an enthusiast for motor sports photography with pictures appearing in Automobile, Stock Car Racing, Open Wheel, Cycle and Cycle World magazines.

The soft-spoken man with bright blue eyes has become known as the “Dean of the Hill” by fellow photographers who see him as a sort of quarterback of the Hill photography corps. It is his presence and leadership that his colleagues say will be dearly missed.

“He knows where the story is and he knows where to go,” Kent said. “When new photographers are sent to the Hill they are told to follow Ray.”

Dennis Cook, a staff photographer for The Associated Press who has known Lustig since the ’70s, described him as “a kind of mediator and spokesman for the photographers — not that anybody put him in that position.” But when a confrontation breaks out between police or Congressional staffers and Capitol photographers, Cook said Lustig is the one whom his colleagues look to to either calm the situation or speak up for the photographers’ rights.

And examples of that can easily be found in Lustig’s stories from his time on the Hill.

During the kickoff of the Whitewater investigation, then-Sen. Fred Thompson’s (R-Tenn.) press secretary once tried to pool a press conference where Lustig and about 25 other photographers had gathered for an announcement. “He said that only the AP photographer would be allowed in the room,” Lustig recalled.

The move did not sit well with the photographers who had gathered, and Lustig led a walkout that included the AP photographer.

“About 10 minutes later Thompson’s press person came chasing up looking for us to invite us all back in,” Lustig said. “He said to us, ‘You know, you photographers sure wield a lot of power.’”

Lustig said one thing he will miss is the daily excitement that comes with the job of a Hill photographer.

“When you watch the decisions made it’s absolutely fascinating because you see it first-hand, you see it on the inside,” Lustig said.

“The thing that Capitol Hill has given me is that a photographer covers every committee, every aspect of the Hill, and you see it all and you hear it all, and it has been an enormous learning experience.”