Former official White House photographer Pete Souza spoke at International House last Wednesday.
Souza, who worked for president’s Reagan and Obama, took 1.9 million photos in the Obama White House. 300 of them are included in his newly released book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait. His book was for sale and available for signing at the event. When curating photos for the book, Souza was advised by Obama “to choose the aesthetic over narrative.”
Souza presented photos showing Obama’s rise to the presidency and years in office. He began the night with one of his first photos of then-Senator Obama reclined in his seat with his feet atop his newly acquired senatorial desk. He said he was “fortunate to have taken such an intimate photo on day one,” and how “it was telling of my future as Obama’s photographer.”
Obama’s early years in office were dominated by the Great Recession, and Souza was tasked with photographing the trying times. He explained that to do so, “I would use a telephoto lens to capture [Obama’s] emotion. I thought it important to show things from his point of view—over his shoulder and behind him.”
Learning to balance family life with the weight of the presidency is a theme interwoven throughout many of Souza’s photos.
“I’ve always admired that [Obama] would still spend quality time with the girls. When he was with them, he was all there. I wanted to grasp that,” Souza said.
Souza ended the night describing the final months of the administration. One of the last photos he took was one of Obama and Hillary smiling the night before the election. “The feeling was that Hillary was going to be the next president,” Souza said.
After the election, when Trump met with Obama for the conventional post-election meeting, Souza was tasked with capturing the moment.
“My job is to document history. Others may not have liked that photo, but I decided to take it anyways. However, in my book, I ended up choosing this photo [of Trump on his way out of the Oval Office],” Souza said.
He concluded “it has to end” with a heartfelt, high-angled photo of Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time. This was coupled with a photo from the window of Mariner One looking out onto the White House. “We used to live there,” Obama told Michelle as Souza snapped the final shot.