Pete Souza, American photojournalist and former Chief Official White House Photographer for U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, takes us through his illustrious career.
From capturing Reagan's reaction to Space Shuttle Challenger's explosion to photographing President Obama's Cabinet in the situation room during the raid on Bin Laden, Pete breaks down some of his most iconic images.
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- I think the pridethat I take is that someof the images that I made are gonna havean effect for years to come.The photographs of himinteracting with peoplefrom all different walks of life,different races and different vendors.Not just a white man.I think those imagesare a powerful testamentto the kind of Presidentthat Barrock Obama was.I hope my images play a small partin the realization forthe next generation.This is America.These photographs are America.Hey, Vanity Fair.This is Pete Souza.I was the chief officialWhite House photographerfor President Obamaand an official White House photographerfor President Reagan.This is the timeline of my career.My photography careerbegan at Boston University.In my junior yearI took a photography classin the journalism school.I knew that's what I wanted to dofor the rest of my life.I think the first timethat I got paid for aphotograph was in 1976.We had the tall ships cometo Newport, Rhode Island.And my dad took me out on his boat,and I made this photograph that ended upon the cover of sailing magazine.After I graduated from B UI wasn't professional enoughto get a photography job at a newspaper.So I worked for my uncle'sbusiness for a year,then ended up going to graduate schoolat Kansas State University.When I left Kansas State ended up workingat two small daily newspapers in Kansas,then went to the Chicago Sun-Times.While I was at the ChicagoSun-Times I got a callone day from the WhiteHouse photo editor asking meto apply for a positionin the Reagan White House.And that's how I ended upin the reagan White House.When I first got to the White House,I was extremely nervous.I was in my 20s.I had never met a president before.And all of a sudden I'm being usheredinto the Oval Office to meet him.And I think for the first six months,it was just trying toget over the enormityof being an inside personat the White House.It took me several monthsbefore I was felt actuallycomfortable in the job.[soft music]Then January 20 1985,the inauguration fell on a Sunday.They did not have the public swearing inbecause it was a Sunday.They were gonna do itthe next day on Monday.But in order for him to be president,'cause he'd just been re elected,he did have to take the oath of office,but he did it at a privateevent at the White House.And this is the reception afterwards.Nancy is trying to get his attention.And she's pullingtugging on his suit code.And she's got Elizabeth Taylor and Tow.He also see if you look in the topright hand corner, Tom Selleck.As I'm looking at this picture, well,I think they were eachother's best friend.I think there was a genuine loveand respect for each other.It wasn't something thatonly happened in public.I saw it all the time in private,I think, it was it was actually true love.And I think you can sort ofsee that in this photograph.There were these playful moments.But Nancy was also lookingout for his backside.I think President Reaganhad this tendency to thinkthat no one would ever do him wrong.And I think Nancy was much more on alert.Unlike with President Obama,I did not have the same kind of access.So I wasn't always in the roomwhen things were happening.In this particular case,it was January of 86 I think.He was about to give theState of the Union addressthat night to a joint session of Congress.And I remember I was gatheredin the Roosevelt Roomwith all the network anchorsbecause they were gonna have a lunchwith President Reagan.This is back in thedays before cell phones.They were all getting pagesabout the challenger explosion.And so I left the Roosevelt Room and I rantowards the Oval Office, whichwas just across the hall.And I remember sayingto his secretary Kathy Osmond,"where is theY?"And she said,"There in theback, watching a little TV"those little black andwhite TV in those times.And someone while I wasn't there come inand tell them that TheChallenger exploded.They weren't watching it live.And instead they moved to the dining roomto watch a replay of "The Challenger".I remember later that day,President Reagan said to me'cause I was the only one in the room.Something like, "The fellows"are telling me I should cancel my State"of the Union address."Which he ended up doingand then he he gave oneof his probably best speeches,that was an address to thenation from the oval officeabout the Challenger explosion.so a lot to unpack on that one photograph.But this is them watchingthe replay for the first timeof the explosion.This sort of skips the firstthree summits between Reaganand Gorbachev was kind of up and downwhere it had a big fallingout and rake effect in 1986.Gorbachev was the head ofthe Soviet Union, came to DC,and I think in 1987 and then in 1988he invited President Reagan to Moscow.And now here we are in Red Square.You see the Kremlin in the background.And I remember during this tour,there are these fivegroups of quote unquote,"tourists" set up indifferent parts of the square,and Gorbachev would walkReagan over to each group.And they would ask him thesereally pointed questionsabout, human rights in the USand homelessness and things like that.And I remember saying to oneof my secret service friends at the time,I said, "Boy, it's reallyodd that these tourists"are being so brazen and the questioning."And the Secret Servicesaid to answer to me,"These aren't tourists theseare KGB in their families."And I was like, "Oh dah,how did I not know that?"This would be January 20 1989,George H W Bush had just been sworn inas President Reagan's successor.There's this tradition thatthe Marine One helicopter comesinto the east side of the Capitol.And after the new president is sworn in,the outgoing president boardsthe helicopter and is takento Joint Base Andrewsand gets to use US AirForce One One last time.So this is us leaving the Capitolright after the the swearing in ceremony.And you see the Capitolbuilding out the window.One of the things about President Reaganwas he had this prettyeven keeled disposition.So it was part of thepresidency to as he said,turn the keys over.Now, it helped that hissuccessor was his vice president.So I that was a smoothtransition for sure.And it wasn't there was likethere's need for him to hold on to power.I mean, I think probably in some ways,he was excited to begoing back to California.What he always considered was his home.This is January 20th 2009,20 years after the previous photograph.The President Elect is at the US Capitolwaiting to get the word to come outto the west front of the Capitol.And he's looking in the mirror to checkto see that his flat pen is straightand that his tie is straight.But I think the photographevokes a different mood.I think say nervousnessbut trepidation maybeand confidence in some ways.A new generation, being in his 40staking over the presidency.So I think a lot is readinto this photograph,mood wise and symbolically,and yet it's a pictureof him just looking to see ifhis tie straight essentially.This is inside a big freight elevatorat the Washington Convention Center.And we were going from one inaugural ballto another I think theymight have had threeor four balls at the convention center.And it was cold in the elevator.So he took his coat off[mumbles].Mitchelle shoulders and they're sharingthis little private moment.And you can sort of see thestaff and the Secret Service,trying not to try not to look.The thing that I loved about Michelleis she would sort ofneedle him in funny waysthat I found amusing.I know the president[mumbles]make fun of him foralways having seven homesor whatever it was.It was very genuine relationship.And, they love each other,they respected each other,more so than Nancy Reagan.I think Michelle had herown poses to promote.And she was very involvedwith military families.I think as we're seeing now,she's such an impressive person.The book that she wrote,and the speech that she gaveat the recent convention,maybe we really saw who she is.So this is Jacob Philadelphia,who was five or six at the time.His dad worked for the former Service.His father's name was Carlton,as I believe had worked duringthe Bush administration,and part of his tenure carried overto the Obama administration.And when he was getting ready to leave,President Obama invited him and his familyfor kind of a picturetaking in front of the desk.And Jacob kind of mumbled the questionabout that his friends hadtold him that his haircutwas just like President Obama's.Upon hearing thatPresident Obama bent overand Jacob touched his head.Not the perfect composition on my part'cause it was Such a fleeting moment.I have one frame.It happen so quick, one frame of this.But fortunately, I was in positionwhere you can clearly see Jacobs eyesand you can clearly see his handtouching President Obama's head.And I think it resonates with peoplefor a couple of reasons,for one, you've got a five or six year oldAfrican American kid touching the headof the president UnitedStates that looks like him.But also I think it revealssomething about President Obamathat at the behest of ayoung kid, you would go aheadand bend over and let that kidtouch, your head like that.We were at the UN forthe first time in 2009was in September of 2009.He had a break one afternoon,asked if there was abasketball court nearby.There happened to be one acrossthe street from the hotel.So he and Reggie went over therefor about an hour to playone on one basketball.Now Reggie love was personally was 26was six six had been the captainof the Duke University basketball teamwhen they won the national championship.Barrack Obama was 20 years older,was at least four inches shorter,didn't start for his highschool basketball team.But Barrack Obama is also oneof the most competitivepeople I've ever met.And so he and Reggie were over therefor an hour playing basketball.At one point, there's aboutone up and block revenue shot.And I remember when they finished playing,there was a lot of sweatdripping down his facemade a beeline over to me.And he comes up to me and hegoes, "did you get that block?"You just wanted to make sure"that I had gotten this picture."That was pretty funny.Put yourself in Reggie shoes.Reggie is also very competitive guy.But he also knew, "I can't play"against the president ofthe United States a fat lip."I mean, I can't knock him down"and break an arm or twist an ankle.So Reggie is in a very difficult positionand being very competitive,'cause that's just his nature,but also doing it in a waywhere he's not gonna physically hurtthe president of theUnited States.[laughing]And I think Reggie probablyis like somewhat embarrassedthat President Obama blocked his shot.This is Steped Laundring.They're in the situation roomwhere it happens,and monitoring what'staking place on the ground.When we first went into that little room,I had to make a decisionon which side to be on.Brigadier General, Brad Webb that you seeseated at the head of the table.When he saw President Obama walked in,he stood up to give up that chair.And President Obama saidsomething to him like,"No, you just stay right where you're at."Because General Webb was on a laptop.And he was sending messagescommunicating somehowwith either Bill Mcraven,who was running away from Afghanistan,or Leon Panetta, the CIA director,who was at CIA headquarters.So I think President Obama saw, okay,this guy's got a job to do,I'm just going to pulla picture next to me.The thing that's interestingabout the photographis you've got the most powerful peoplefrom the executive branchall gathered in this room.And they're essentiallypowerless in this moment,because they had made theirdecision to launch this raid.And now it's totally up tothose guys on the ground.And so in many ways, they're powerless.We were in this room for about 40 minutes,while the raid took place.And it says, tense a situationI've probably ever been in it.And when you talk to people today,Mullen, Joe Biden, Hillary,they all use the same word.They say it was tense.There was just tension.You could feel it in that room.And I think, sort offeel that this photographconveys the tension thateverybody's feeling.Because we didn't knowhow that's gonna turn out.So I sort of see that in all our faces.You sort of slice of life moments.You're in the moment, you're worriedabout composition and lighting,exposure and focus, and allthose sorts of technical things.And this was, he had gone to Sasha schoolfor end of the year celebration.And as he was walkingback to the motorcade,there was a daycare center next door,and he saw these little kidson a hot June day hangingout of the window.And of course, they're tooyoung to know who he is.But they saw all thiscommotion now there's like,lots of cars and guys in suits,so they're curious, justfrom a kid standpoint,and they're hanging out the window.And he said," Oh, I'm gonna,go say hi to these kids."And that's how the moment came about.What's interesting is this picturewas actually made in 2011.At the end of the year,we included it in our year and photos.But it didn't really get much attentionuntil post presidency.I mean, in 2017, formerPresident Obama tweetedthis photograph outafter the awful events in Charlottesvillewith a quote from Nelson Mandelaabout respecting others, no mattertheir color, religion, and so on.That's when I got a lot of attention.It was like the most like tweet history.My photograph was attached to it.So that's, it was five yearslater or six years later,when I really got a lot of interest.It is by the way, the only...The way I'm looking at it right nowit's the only photographof President Obamathat I have hanging in my house.He loves little kids andhis kids names is Nick.He was the son of oneof his longtime aides.I mean, when I say a long time,I mean, an aide that had worked for himwhen he was in the statesenate named Cameron.And this is his son.There had been a Halloween celebrationfor the staffers kids and theExecutive Office Building,President Obama's assistantcalled Nick and said,"Why don't you bring Nick by?"And he said, "I'm not the President."And they had a little partyand as they're about to leave,President Obama's walkingback into the Oval Office,and he turns to young Nick, and he's like,"Zap me into your web one last night."And that's what's happening here.Now, I got lucky with themirror, I have to say.I think probably subconsciously,I was trying to frame himin the mirror as well.But it's one of those luckymoments that you can'tever expect to happen.And when it when it does happen,you hope you're ready, andyou hope you get it and focusand that you've captured the moment.I had gone with him when he was Senator.When he visited Nelson Mandela's cell.But his family wasn't there.And I remember the theguy that was leading tourwas somebody that had beenin prison with with Mandela.And when we came to Mandela'scell, which was locked,he gave President Obama the keys and said,"go ahead and you can open the cell."And then here we are sevenyears later or six years later,when got to the cell secondtime when he was president,he handed the keys to Sasha,and he let Sasha open the cell door.And they're inside the cell.And the same tour guide thathad showed him the cell beforeis giving the tour again.The girls are hearing firsthand storyof what it was like to beimprisoned in this cell.And I sort of love this momentof him just holding Sasha that way.So this was at the 50thanniversary on the month of Selma,when John Lewis wasnearly beaten to death.They were up on stage tocommemorate the anniversarybefore later marching acrossthe Edmund Pettus Bridge,which hopefully will berenamed for John Lewis.And John Lewis had just made his remarksended his remarks byintroducing President Obama.Fortunately, I was in aposition there infrontwhere I was able to get this home.To me it's a symbolicphotograph in so many ways,because the guy on the rightwould probably not be presidentif not for the actionsof John Lewis throughout his career.Shortly after Obama had become US Senator,and the Congressional Black Caucushad a meeting at the WhiteHouse with President Bush.And at the end of the meeting,they all the entire caucus,came out for the press conference,says, "how are these microphones set up?"And Senator Obama being thefreshman senator was waywas way in the back.Just didn't feel that washis place to make remarks.After that meeting, John lewis I thinkhad just finished speakingat the microphone,he came over, I saw use of a chastise.It was somewhat a jest.but kind of like imploringthe freshman senator,"You need to get up to themicrophone and say a few words."And I think Senator Obama was at the pointwhere he did'nt feelthat that was his role,that he wanted to leaveit to the more seasonedmembers of the Congressional Black Caucusto take the lead in speaking to the press.It was one of those picturesthat I sort of forgot aboutin so many ways 'causemaybe it didn't quite meanas much maybe at that timebut now in certain respectIt says a lot says a lot.It says so much, I thinkabout way both of themand trying to maintain, racial equality.This was quite an emotional daybecause the Supreme Courthad made the decisionor issued their position in the morning.Same sex marriage wasnow the law of the land.But then we have to refer to Charlestonwhere he delivered a eulogyfor Reverent Kirkmanwho was one of the nine AfricanAmerican shot and killedat a church and inCharleston, South Carolina.And that was such an emotionalservice and President Obamasaying Amazing Grace andit was sad but uplifting.And then we flew back to DC.It was on Friday, AyannaPresley Jeff Taylorcome up with the light to the White Houseand rainbow colors.And turned into thecelebration for the staff.And I think it helpedit was a Friday night.And I think it helped it wasthis gorgeous summer night.As the sky began to get darker,and rainbow colors become brighterAnd you see everybody out herejust staff people just taking it all in.Later that night, unbeknownstto me at the time,but later that night, Michelle and Mariasnuck out of the White Housewithout kind of tellingthe Secret Service,just to have a look.To see the story thatMichelle recounts in her book.So one of the time she saysthat I remember callingmy wife and I said to her,I said, "I don't care what you're doing,"just get a taxi andcome to the White House"'cause you got to be here to see this."President Obama had just awardeda series of Presidential Medals of Freedoma few weeks before this.It was very unusual for him to doa single Medal of Freedom ceremony.It was always a groupof people every year.And so a few weeks later, this is a lotI think this was the last weekwe were at the White House.He engineered the reception for Joe Biden,with Biden's family and friends.So Joe knew that this wasa reception to honor himbut that's all he thought it was.I'm getting emotional Just name that.So President Obama is notsaying about Joe Biden,he asks the military aide to step forwardwith citation.And if you look at the video,Biden is finally realizingwhat was about to happenand he had to turn away'cause he started to cry.Well, let's just say thetransition was a little different.He wasn't turning the keysover to his vice president,or to his former Secretary of State.He's turning the keys over to someonethat many of us, myself included,didn't think was capable of doing the jobin a different way.For me, it was emotionalin that I had spentliterally almost like every waking momentof my life for the pasteight years on the job.So I was like worn outmentally, physically.And there was a sense ofrelief that it was over.And yet there's this trepidationabout what was in store for the country,because even you and I I'm worriedwhether the new guy was gonna be capableof doing the job in an effective way.So that was sort of allswirling in my head.In terms of photography, I wasthinking I had made a pictureof President Reagan looking at the Capitolas we lifted off from the Capitol.And for whatever reason,I couldn't really geta good picture of theCapitol outside the window.And I don't remember whenI was on the helicopterwith President Reaganthat we got this closeto the White House as weflew over the White House.Before I could see the White House,President Obama was saying, "Michelle,"we used to live there."And then all of a sudden came the viewand it was like right there.So compositionally, it really worked out.And I think in many ways, itwas probably more symbolicto have a glance at the window.I remember I posted thisphotograph later that day,on my now personal Instagram account.Actually I posted it from Air force oneas we were flying to California.I posted it with the captionand it just said farewell.And it was it's the picturethat ends my my book,the book I did on his eight years.I thought it was appropriatephotographed[mumbles]I'm hopeful because of theyoung generation I meanto see the number of peoplewho have been out in the streets.To see the number of womenthat came out to march,the day of inauguration on 2017.To see the Parkland kids,what they did after theshootings at their schoolwhen there was no leadershipfrom President Trump afterwards.The day just took the bull by its hornsand led this nationwideprotest against gun violence.To see people from all ages coming outto support Black Lives Matter.I think that young peopleare gonna be fired up to votebecause they knowprotesting is not enough.It must be protesting and voting.Because if you really want toinvoke institutional change,you need to elect leadersthat are gonna help makethat change and pass lawsthat will will write some of the wrongs.And it's not just at thelevel of the presidency.It's at the local level.And I think young peopleneed to be engagedin local electionsand making sure theyhave the right leadersand their own community.And hopefully, we're gonnajust see this enormous turnouton November 3rd.