Men in dark suits stand in strange places—still, emotionless and focused against a backdrop of an urban garage, an airfield, a tall splash of dead marsh grass. The U.S. Secret Service agents of Christopher Morris’ photographs seem like ethereal beings—possibly of the vengeful variety—fallen to earth.
“I call them ‘men in black,'” said Morris, a contract photographer for TIME since 1990 (focused on politics since 2000) whose career has included everything from capturing the war in Chechnya and the designs of Chanel.
“If you’re assigned to the President, to me it’s one man in a suit and if you do this very long, it gets a little old. So it’s nice to turn away your camera from the President and look at what’s around him. And the Secret Service detail, it’s quite intriguing actually,” Morris said.
The intrigue around these agents tasked with protecting the nation’s leaders has grown in recent weeks to include a major sex scandal. More than half a dozen officers have been pushed out of the agency since the news broke over 12 agents allegedly hiring prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, during a mission to prepare the Caribbean city for a visit from President Barack Obama.
Morris said such behavior would be unimaginable for the elite cadre of agents he has encountered among the presidents’ immediate security detail, whose nearly every moment is consumed by the job.
For Morris and other White House photographers, there’s also a distinct advantage to this group of agents’ singular devotion to security. They make good subjects to photograph.
In slide nine, an agent traveling with President George W. Bush in 2004 mutely stares ahead sweating in a hot room, zeroed in on his task, unable to acknowledge Morris and the multiple clicks of his shutter.
“If I see a business man on the street, I can’t approach him with a camera and start photographing him without causing him to react a certain way, ” Morris said. “With the Secret Service they maintain their posture, they maintain their pose.”