Photographer Pete Souza on capturing two White House presidencies

The former Chief Official White House Photographer, known for his iconic images of the Obama presidency, is in Hyderabad for a photography summit

If you follow Pete Souza – the American photojournalist who served as the Chief Official White House Photographer for US Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan – you will know that he is not shy about his disdain for Donald Trump.

Souza, currently in Hyderabad as keynote speaker and masterclass host for the PEP Photo Summit, is quick to clarify that his outspoken views do not stem from partisan politics. “I worked for both a Republican and a Democrat,” he points out. “I just think Trump disrespects the office of the Presidency and I feel it is my civic duty to speak out in my own small way.”

During his eight-year-tenure chronicling Obama, Souza and his team captured around 20,000 pictures a week. This includes the now-viral shot taken in the White House’s situation room during the raid on Osama bin Laden, and the President playing with a security advisor’s daughter in the Oval Office.

The approach towards chronicling Reagan and Obama, says the photographer, was the same. But social media and digital photography meant that the latter’s images reached a larger audience, making Souza well known across the world. “I would have made the same pictures regardless of whether they were for immediate consumption or just for the archive,” he clarifies.

But eight years, he points out, “is a long time in terms of having no personal life”, given that the job was an ‘around-the-clock’ one. “So I was relieved and happy when we walked out the door on the last day. The most difficult adjustment is my entire work family all went their separate ways all at once. These are people I interacted with every day, and suddenly January 20, 2017, comes along and it’s over.”

Even though his background is as a journalist, Souza sees his role as a visual historian. As he correctly points out, “Since I was working for the government, it’s difficult to call it journalism.” But he drew from his early experience to take authentic photographs, which, with their depictions of intimate moments of the president and his family, helped endear the Obamas to the world.

Since leaving the White House, Souza has published two books. The first, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, is self-explanatory. The second, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, places photographs of the former president next to tweets from Donald Trump. When asked if he would be interested in chronicling another White House presidency, he responds with an emphatic “No!”.