PHOTOS: One Photographer's 'Remarkable' Chance To Cover The President Pete Souza estimates he has taken about 2 million images in eight years, covering historic events like Obama's inaugurations and the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
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PHOTOS: One Photographer's 'Remarkable' Chance To Cover The President

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PHOTOS: One Photographer's 'Remarkable' Chance To Cover The President

PHOTOS: One Photographer's 'Remarkable' Chance To Cover The President

PHOTOS: One Photographer's 'Remarkable' Chance To Cover The President

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/499490029/499490030" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

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.

Official White House Photographer Pete Souza photographs President Barack Obama as he signs a bill in the Oval Office at the White House, on Nov. 21, 2013. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Official White House Photographer Pete Souza photographs President Barack Obama as he signs a bill in the Oval Office at the White House, on Nov. 21, 2013.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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.

President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and the first family are joined by former President George W. Bush, former first lady Laura Bush, Rep. John Lewis, activists and other dignitaries cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches. Pete Souza/The White House hide caption

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Pete Souza/The White House

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."

President Obama, Vice President Biden and members of his national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House. A classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. Pete Souza/The White House hide caption

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Pete Souza/The White House

Then there are the smaller moments, like dancing with 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin in the White House, or making faces with an Olympic gold medalist.

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."


Interview Highlights

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.

The president reacts as CIA Director John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. Obama later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his presidency. Pete Souza/The White House hide caption

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Pete Souza/The White House

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.