A President who calls the press an enemy of the people is really dangerous: Former White House photographer

Former chief White House photographer Pete Souza speaks on press freedom and the challenges of documenting a president. 

Remember the picture of an intensely focused US President Barack Obama and his national security team huddled in the White House, receiving live updates from the operation which led to the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan’s Abbottabad? This picture, titled ‘Situation Room’, was one of the nearly two million images captured by the then chief White House photographer Pete Souza to document Obama’s presidency. 

Souza, who served in the White House during the term of two presidents, including Ronald Reagan, will be speaking at a photography convention – the PEP Photo Summit – in Hyderabad on May 5. 

A celebrated photographer, who was also among the first journalists to cover the war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul after the 9/11 attacks, Souza says he’s had a couple of friends killed in war zones and another kidnapped. He says he swears by the mantra ‘photography is the one universal language’.

In an email interview with ET ahead of his Hyderabad trip, Souza said, referring to the current US President Donald Trump, that it is dangerous to have a president who calls the press “the enemy of the people”.

“Freedom of the press is a hallmark of my country and to have the president saying this is really, really alarming and really dangerous,” he said.

PEP was started four years ago by photographers Joseph Radhik, Joshua Karthik and Arjun Rajan as a platform to educate photographers about wedding photography. This is the fourth edition of the convention. 

Souza’s address will touch upon the importance of creating an archive of authentic images for history and the challenges of documenting a president. “Given that I’ve covered war zones, photographing the president was not as difficult as some of the things I’ve done in my life. Barack Obama trusted me and gave me unfettered access to document his presidency which paved the way to make it less difficult. The challenge was really never having any free time off because history happened every day,” Souza said. Asked to mention his one advice to budding photographers, Souza said, “Photograph things that matter. Try to photograph in your own unique way and don’t try to copy others.” 

The photographer, who has garnered much attention for his tweets against Trump on social media that use archival photos to make indirect comments on Trump’s actions, feels it’s important to connect with photographers from across the globe because they look at things in a different way. “I hope I can show the way I approach my photography from my perspective; at the same time, I want to learn how Indian photographers approach their medium,” he said.

While this will not be Souza’s first visit to India – he was part of Barack Obama’s entourage here twice – this will be his first trip to Hyderabad, and he said he was looking forward to soaking in the historical culture here. 

“I’ve been to India twice before with President Obama but didn’t really have the chance to wander around at all. I’ve never been to Hyderabad. I guess I’d like to stroll around the Charminar because it seems that would give me a good sense of what the city is about,” he said.