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Pete Souza spent eight years in the White House, photographing President Barack Obama.
“He was so comfortable in front of the camera,” Souza says. “Meaning that he didn’t really change how he did anything. The presence of my camera didn’t affect him in one way so I was able to make these really intimate pictures even on his first day.”
From the fun to the solemn to the iconic (see below for examples), Souza’s photographs defined an administration. He joins us to offer a glimpse inside Obama’s White House.
- Pete Souza Former chief official White House Photographer for President Barack Obama; former director, White House Photo Office; former official White House Photographer for President Ronald Reagan; @petesouza
Photos And Interview Highlights
“He had gotten to know me when I was photographing for the Tribune and he saw how I worked,” Souza says of the president. “I think he respected what I did, I think he saw that I took my job seriously, and a few weeks before the inauguration I got a phone call from Robert Gibbs, who was serving as his emissary, and said ‘the president elect would like you to be his photographer.’”
“My approach was to make authentic pictures. Like, I didn’t think flattering and unflattering. I thought of authenticity.”
“One of my goals was to not just photograph the official events but look for these moments that tell you something about him as a person, as a human being. And I think that’s the power of still photography. Is finding these moments, the way he interacts with other people.”
“Oftentimes Mrs. Obama would alert me to some private family function they were having and ask me to photograph it. I wasn’t even aware of it,” Souza says.
“You’ve got the most powerful people in the government in that room and yet really they’re powerless at this moment,” Souza says of this photo. “All they can do is essentially hope that things go okay on the ground but there’s nothing they can do. I think that helps create the look that you see in all their faces.”
“I used to take the initiative when he was having a one on one meeting with one person where I would get my pictures and then I would just quietly back out of the room because I knew that he wanted to have a private conversation,” Souza says.
“I began to realize. You know, photography is a subjective medium and it means different things to different people but I started to realize how important it was to this community,” Souza says.
“I think that was one of the things I had going in my favor at the White house is that I had had so many experiences in my career that I was totally confident and had no real nervousness about anything that I was photographing during the eight years,” Souza says.
“The President called me over to pose for a photo with a young boy who had fallen asleep during the Father’s Day ice cream social in the State Dining Room of the White House,” Souza says of this lighthearted shot.
“I try to work with a small footprint and I think part of my success in being able to navigate in some of these situations is not to use a motor drive not to use a flash. To be quiet, as quiet as possible.”
“They’d say ‘what’s your favorite picture’ and I’d always say well hopefully it’ll be the one that I make tomorrow because that’s what keeps you going you know as a photographer you are always trying to not think about yesterday but you are thinking about making that great picture tomorrow,” Souza says.
Your Political Photos
Not being on the White House staff hasn’t stopped anyone from snapping a picture of a president. We asked you to send us your photos of presidents, or any other politicians you encountered. Here’s what you sent us:
— MelanieBerryMcCraney (@MelanieMcCraney) November 16, 2017
President Bill Clinton campaigning for Jim Himes for Congress,
at the SONO Field House, Norwalk, CT, November 1, 2010. pic.twitter.com/b1Rlmmx2vW
— Jeffrey A. Tauscher (@JeffTauscher) November 16, 2017
@1a My father took this photo of JFK on September 25, 1963, in Billings, Montana, where the president spoke to 17,000 at the fairgrounds. It was part of his “Conservation Tour” of Western states. The photo is up on the wall. pic.twitter.com/BGDQLz9skS
— Louise Fenner (@BingleyKitty) November 15, 2017
At the Tax Reform announcement in Indianapolis this year… had the opportunity to be in the audience pic.twitter.com/Jer62eXuEK
— Jim Sullivan MSM (@sully0827_jim) November 16, 2017
Absolutely. One talent by a White House photographer in the Rose Garden and me with the President during the primary in 2007 in South Carolina. pic.twitter.com/HQvvuX55Ao
— Matthew G. Lawrence (@mattlawrence) November 15, 2017
My grandfather and Richard Nixon. He was a sports journo and met him while on an assignment. pic.twitter.com/X5RYqEgLEn
— Colin O’Hara (@Mr_Colin_O) November 15, 2017
@1a These all show Pete Souza following his subject. The first was in Concord, NH, the second at Manchester Airport and third was in Nashua, NH. All in 2012.
If Pete would sign my copy of his book that would be fantastic. pic.twitter.com/ono49F8Vhb
— mikemunhallphotos (@mikemunhall) November 16, 2017
In Sept. 1972 I was a journalism student at The City College Of New York. I photographed presidential candidate Senator George McGovern at his NYC Campaign Headquarters. I sent him a copy and he returned it, signed: “With deepest appreciation to Jeffrey, from George McGovern. pic.twitter.com/SqqxSJ3EYz
— Jeffrey A. Tauscher (@JeffTauscher) November 16, 2017
— W. D. Orkoskey (@WDOrkoskey) November 15, 2017
— Ita J B (@ita50jb) November 15, 2017
— T (@stpye523) November 15, 2017
It was a lovely day in Golden, CO on 9/13/2012 when the president came for a campaign speech. My friend and I were asked if we would like to stand behind #PresidentObama. We didn’t hesitate to say yes! #solucky pic.twitter.com/KrkSAaoNUf
— ßƦΐȺɲɳɄ⚧⚥⚢ (@BCTDenver) November 15, 2017
President Obama came to my home town of Fort Myers, FL within a month of taking office in 2009! I caught him as he was leaving town in front of my church with fellow staff members and teachers and children from the Preschool. pic.twitter.com/6oIZBbHuVD
— Judy Weaver (@jedijudy) November 15, 2017
— Erik Shelley (@EWShelley) November 15, 2017
— Soozielu (@Soozielu) November 15, 2017
I met President Jimmy Carter at his church in Plains, GA in 2005. I was with family and friends and asked them if I could stand next to the President so I could cut them out of the picture. It proudly hung in my classroom for 11 years. Julie Smithers, Retired Technology Teacher pic.twitter.com/jXenF8ZEjE
— Jess Smithers (@jessmithers) November 15, 2017
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