Pete Souza: photographing the real Barack Obama

Pete Souza: photographing the real Barack Obama

The Guardian

Jonathan Jones

President Barack Obama fist-bumps custodian Lawrence Lipscomb in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Photograph: Pete Souza/The White House

Over two historic terms, official White House photographer Pete Souza has chronicled the most intimate, candid and comical moments of Barack Obama’s presidency

It was a tale of two Americas. In Las Vegas the casinos were humming with a hell-yes tide that was about to sweep the manic Donald Trump to his most pumped-up victory yet. In Washington DC, civilisation still existed. In the week Trump’s xenophobic bid to be the Republican presidential candidate began to look unstoppable, the man whose Americanness he has questioned was meeting 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin. In Pete Souza’s official White House photograph of their get-together, President Barack Obama cracks a delicious smile as the first lady dances with McLaurin, who was invited to visit the White House in recognition of community work she has done for decades in the US capital. The meeting was also a celebration of Black History Month – and Souza’s picture manages to be both intimate and historic. Here are three African Americans in the White House. The room they are in – the Blue Room – is opulently decorated with gold stars, Empire-style furniture, and a portrait of some grand national father who holds a white handkerchief in his white hand…

Nov 2009 – Obama jokes with staff before the Summit of the Americas in Singapore Photograph: Pete Sousa/The White House

…What made Souza such an ideal day-to-day chronicler of Obama’s presidency? The answer is surprising. Before he recorded the White House life of America’s first black president, Souza did the same job for the first Hollywood actor to rule from the Oval Office. From 1983 to 1989, he was Ronald Reagan’s official photographer. Perhaps his most famous picture of that era shows Ronald and Nancy Reagan meeting Michael Jackson, who is wearing a spangly military-style jacket. Reagan looks understandably confused – is this the king of pop or the commander of the Star Wars defence programme?…

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