Photos: Pete Souza
Pete Souza first got to know Barack Obama when he was a photojournalist at the Chicago Tribune, documenting the junior Illinois senator’s first year in office.
Four years later, after leaving the newspaper to teach at Ohio University, Souza was asked to become the official White House photographer –- for the second time in his storied career.
When Souza took the job almost eight years ago, he says the Obama administration promised to grant him complete access to official activities.
“One thing I made clear before accepting was I said I need to have access to everything,” he explained. That doesn’t mean he gets unfettered access to the Obamas personal lives (that comes on a case-by-case basis). But, in terms of official business, Souza says “it’s quite clear I’ll be there for everything … I’m in the room.” He adds that the administration does not vet the photos he takes.
Souza estimates he has taken about 2 million images during this presidency, covering historic events like Obama’s inaugurations and the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
Or the day U.S. forces found Osama bin Laden. Souza was there in the situation room, photographing Obama and his team as they watched the events unfold.
“Obviously we didn’t know how that was going to turn out,” Souza says. “It could have ended badly. And so I think that results in the anxiety that you see in those faces that are watching the mission unfold.”
It’s a grueling schedule and can be creatively challenging when faced with photographing the same people — sometimes in the same room — day after day.
“There’s a certain daily grind to my job,” Souza says, “but I’d say, once, twice, three, four, 10 times a week, you realize that you are an eyewitness to history. And I always try to keep that forefront in my mind.”
On releasing his photos to the public in real time
In previous administrations, some of these photographs you wouldn’t see for 20, 30, 40 years. This administration decided, we want people to see these pictures now. For better or worse.
On how the Newtown elementary school shooting was a difficult moment
I’ve never seen his [Obama’s] body language quite like that. It just took the wind out of his sail that day. I think he could just imagine what it would have been like to be a parent to send your kid off to school, to first grade, and you never see them again.
On his time in the White House
How the heck did I do this with not enough vacation time and not enough sleep? But more seriously. I think this administration will go down in history — he’ll go down in history as a great president. And just to have been there, to watch this from up close with a camera, has just been a remarkable opportunity.
On plans after the end of this presidential term
I will have time after Jan. 20 to figure out what I am going to do. But right now, I’ve got a little less than 90 days to go, so I’m trying to give it my all the last three months.
Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.