Photographer Offers Window Into Obama's Life

Seven-year-old Sasha Obama stops by the Oval Office to say hi to her dad. i i

Sasha Obama, 7, stops by the Oval Office to say hi to her dad. It was only a couple of weeks after the family had moved into the White House, and the president was impressed with Sasha's ability to find her way around. Callie Shell/Aurora for Time hide caption

itoggle caption Callie Shell/Aurora for Time
Seven-year-old Sasha Obama stops by the Oval Office to say hi to her dad.

Sasha Obama, 7, stops by the Oval Office to say hi to her dad. It was only a couple of weeks after the family had moved into the White House, and the president was impressed with Sasha's ability to find her way around.

Callie Shell/Aurora for Time
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama share a moment in the Red Room of the White House along with adviser Valerie Jarrett and other staffers. "They had just a second together to say hi," says Shell, "and they have an amazing ability to tune the world out for just two seconds." i i

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama share a moment in the Red Room of the White House along with adviser Valerie Jarrett and other staffers. "They had just a second together to say hi," says Shell, "and they have an amazing ability to tune the world out for just two seconds." Callie Shell/Aurora for Time hide caption

itoggle caption Callie Shell/Aurora for Time
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama share a moment in the Red Room of the White House along with adviser Valerie Jarrett and other staffers. "They had just a second together to say hi," says Shell, "and they have an amazing ability to tune the world out for just two seconds."

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama share a moment in the Red Room of the White House along with adviser Valerie Jarrett and other staffers. "They had just a second together to say hi," says Shell, "and they have an amazing ability to tune the world out for just two seconds."

Callie Shell/Aurora for Time
Obama, Chief of Staff Emanuel, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Christina Romer i i

Obama participates in a Roosevelt Room budget discussion on a Sunday. Callie Shell/Aurora for Time hide caption

itoggle caption Callie Shell/Aurora for Time
Obama, Chief of Staff Emanuel, Treasury Secretary Geithner and Christina Romer

Obama participates in a Roosevelt Room budget discussion on a Sunday with, among others, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (left) and Christina Romer, head of the Countil of Economic Advisers.

Callie Shell/Aurora for Time

Callie Shell has spent much of the past 100 days working behind the scenes to capture what life is like at the White House.

Shell, who works on contract for Time magazine, has been one of a very few photographers with personal access to the Obama family since Barack Obama announced his candidacy.

Shell offers a unique perspective as she views the president's meetings, travel and family life through her lens — and she has seen Obama evolve from senator to president.

To document Obama's first 100 days, Shell's work was collected in a slideshow for Time. Shell tells NPR's Michele Norris that one of the first pictures in that collection — which shows Obama in a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner — says a lot about the president's meeting-packed schedule and how he handles it. In the picture, Obama is sitting in a leather-backed chair.

"This photograph was taken in the Cabinet Room, and that night the president was going to have his second national press conference at the White House," Shell says. "So he went through a series of briefings with his staff, which is what he does every single day — is sit and listen to the issues and then he contemplates them. And so here, he was listening to the various budget proposals, the state of the country. And he just leaned back to take it in."

Shell says she had been waiting for quite a while to capture something more than Obama just sitting at the table.

"I find that this is how he listens to a lot of options," she says. "Some may not think he's listening, but he's actually listening to every word."

In another photo, Obama is playing with a football. Shell says he was using it to wind down.

"Some people when they're thinking and working play with worry beads or they might doodle. Barack Obama was waiting for senior staff and there was a football, so he was just winding down with it," she says. "He doesn't seem to be someone who likes to sit still very much. He actually threw the football to [White House photographer] Pete Souza, and Pete caught it with one hand. It's a way to release pressure, to go on to the next meeting. He is the first to put some humor into the day."

When presidents move into the White House, they often put their own mark on the space with photos on the wall and various personal knickknacks. Shell says that Obama hasn't done much to the Oval Office.

"To me, he appeared to go in the first day and just start working," she says. "He wants the room to look good and make people feel welcome. And I've heard him say that, 'This is the people's Oval Office.' "

As a photographer, Shell is often around Obama to capture his intimate moments. She says he finds that his family provides a "mental break" for him.

"If he needs to just get two minutes, he can pop upstairs and see his family," Shell says.

And Shell has seen Obama and his wife, Michelle, carve out a private moment amid a busy day just by putting their foreheads together.

"They have an amazing ability just to tune the world out for just two seconds," Shell says. "That's all they get."

As for how Obama has changed in his first 100 days as president, Shell says she's not sure he has.

"Here's a person that at one time did civil organization duties, so you had to worry about your town. And then you become senator and worry about your constituents. And then you walk into the White House, and you go from a campaign, and everything you say or do doesn't just affect your constituents anymore, it affects an entire country — and in our case, I believe, an entire world," Shell says. "I'm not sure I think that he's changed; I just think that you can tell that he feels deep responsibility for what this White House is doing."

But Shell says that what "seems to be harder" for Obama is staying in confined spaces.

"On the campaign, I think he and his staff really enjoyed going from city to city and meeting different people," she says. "And now a lot of it's confined to the Oval Office. I think at times, I haven't asked, but you know, we'll be somewhere, and he'll look out the window and he'll say, 'Oh, I'd love to be there. Let's just go walk down there.' "

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