It would have been hard to miss the iconic photographs of former President Barack Obama, but not many know the man behind the camera. Pete Souza spent eight years as White House photographer documenting history by photographing Obama’s presidency.
The photographer discussed his new book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” and took the audience behind the scenes of Obama’s two terms as commander-in-chief at the Ohio Union Monday night.
Spending eight years in the White House presents itself with some challenges. Souza took no more than three weeks off during Obama’s time in office. In the first five years of the administration, Souza didn’t take any time off — he was there through everything, including Christmas mornings with the Obamas.
“You’re always on call because you never when history is going to happen,” Souza said in an interview with The Lantern.
Souza also photographed Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. He described the differences between photographing the two presidencies as more of a technical difference. During Reagan’s presidency he worked more with film cameras, whereas now he works with digital cameras.
After photographing the White House for two administrations, Souza said he learned about different roles people have in making a government work.
“It’s taught me that there are a lot of really good people in government that are trying to do the right thing, but the only time you hear about them is if they screw up,” he said.
Throughout the event, Souza presented photographs from his time as the White House photographer while explaining the story behind each photograph.
“I enjoyed how the event seemed so personal,” said Jacob Spiegel, a second-year in public affairs. “We got to see a side of Obama that we don’t necessarily see.”
Some of Souza’s most well-known photographs were the ones of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden that became memes after their release.
“I didn’t even know what a meme was,” Souza said. “I wasn’t really aware of the impact of the photos right away, but as I started to see them I thought they were hilarious.”
Surprisingly, photography wasn’t Souza’s intended career path until he took a photography class in his junior year of college. That’s when he realized his passion.
Souza’s advice for anyone pursuing photography: take photos everyday.
“You just have to get out of your basement and get outside in the world and put yourself in situations that may sometimes make you uncomfortable. Just do it,” he said.