Pete Souza reflects on presidential photography career ahead of Hall of Fame induction
President Barack Obama and photojournalist Pete Souza go way back — to a time before Obama even set foot in the Oval Office. Souza documented then-Sen. Obama’s rapid ascent to the presidency while he worked as a Washington-based photographer for the Chicago Tribune.
Souza did such a good job that Obama asked him to become his official White House photographer in 2008. It was his second time in that role, having previously served in the same position for President Ronald Reagan.
Millions of iconic pictures later, Souza will be inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame in St. Louis on Oct. 29 — an honor Obama congratulated him on personally.
“I spent almost every working hour in the guy's space. I was there for every emotion he went through as president, so there's that kind of a bond between us that is never going to be broken,” Souza said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.
He joined host Sarah Fenske to reflect on his career as a presidential photographer for multiple administrations.
“The way I went about my job was the same — still trying to document history as it unfolded. I would say the one thing that was especially different was the access [with Reagan] wasn't nearly as good as it was later with President Obama. And I think that's because I didn't really have an established relationship with President Reagan coming in … but I still am proud of a lot of the pictures I made during the Reagan administration,” he said.
He added that the photos he took of Reagan weren’t published as widely since social media didn’t exist at the time. One example includes a picture of Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta during a formal dinner at the White House in 1985, which Souza just shared on his Instagram three months ago.
Instagram is one of Souza’s preferred places to post his pictures — and make political statements, most notably, his criticism of the Trump administration.
Souza used his images of Obama and contrasted them with tweets by President Donald Trump. He later published these posts in his book, “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.”
“I felt that I had no choice. I felt that Trump was disrespecting the office of the presidency; this isn't wasn't a partisan thing. I mean, I've worked for both a Republican and a Democrat,” Souza explained. “I felt that I was in a unique position to provide our visual contrast between a normal presidency and what I considered an abnormal presidency.
“I was no longer a working photojournalist and felt that I had a unique voice. It's as simple as that.”
These days, Souza is focused on photographing his almost 2-year-old granddaughter in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I don't think I'm up to 2 million photos of her yet,” he joked, “but she's well documented.” Souza is also working on another book of the pictures he took in the White House, only this time, not a single photo will include Obama.
“It’s more about life inside the presidential bubble,” he said, describing what it's like to be aboard Air Force One or walk around the rooms of the White House.
What: 2021 Hall Of Fame Induction And Awards Exhibition
When: Oct. 30
Where: 3415 Olive St., St. Louis, MO 63103
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.