By: Siobhan Stewart
WASHINGTON – Pete Souza, former Chief Official White House Photographer for U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama, took the stage in Heritage Hall of the National African American History and Culture Museum on Nov. 20. Souza was promoting his new book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” filled with never before seen pictures of President Obama.
The hall was filled with hundreds of people awaiting Souza, some even sporting Obama t-shirts. The crowd erupted with a loud applause as Souza began his presentation. With a jumbo screen behind him, photos of Obama came into view.
Souza began his presentation with a picture of President Obama, then a senator, sitting at his desk. “There’s like no windows, fluorescent windows, the computer is on the floor. Even then, I was thinking ‘okay if this guy ever becomes president of the United States, this will be a good contrast photo if he ever makes it to the oval office,” Souza said. A picture of President Obama in the oval office soon appeared, causing the audience to laugh.
When beginning his journey with President Obama in the White House, Souza had a vision. “My goal was to create the best photographic archive that had ever been done of a president. I wanted to cover the ceremonial things, all the meetings he had, and show a glimpse into what he was like as a person.”
While his book is in chronological order, his presentations are broken up into sections such as Family Time, Best Day of his Presidency, Worst Day of his Presidency, #ObamaWithKids, and Symbolic Legacy.
Souza displayed photos of Obama with his daughters Malia and Sasha in the residence, playing in the snow, and sitting on the playground. Photos of sweet moments between the President and First Lady, Michelle, filled the screen as well.
The audience became somber during the Worst Day of his Presidency section. Photos of Obama throughout the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting began to appear on the screen. “He was looking at this as a fellow parent, thinking like what the horror of putting your six-year-old kid on the school bus, kissing them goodbye and sending them to a safety zone, and then never seeing them again.” Souza said.
The mood lightened as Souza began showing pictures of a very happy Obama. Photos such as Obama holding smiling babies, joking around with staff, standing at the Martin Luther Kind Jr. memorial, speaking with Ruby Bridges, and meeting with a wounded warrior, Cory Remsburg.
As Souza finished his presentation with pictures of Obama leaving the white house, he received a standing ovation.
Jennifer Tyre, a photographer, shared her thoughts on the evening. “I really enjoyed it. It’s kind of bittersweet, I lived here the entire time Obama was in office and it was historic to be around during that time. To see a recollection of photos during this presentation took me back but also made me sad he’s no longer in office,” she said.
Sheel Patel, a student, commented on how personal the photos were. “I was super impressed. It was a really cool glimpse into the president’s life, things that we don’t see; it kind of pulled back the curtain. It showed him not as a politician but more of him as a person, as a father, as a friend,” he said.
Souza finished the night with a quote from President Obama, “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”
With over 4 million pictures in the archive, the book (in stores now) is comprised of Souza’s personal hand picked selection.