Obama’s ‘Intimate Portrait’ comes home

Former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza’s new book shows an insider’s  perspective  on his eight years spent with former President Barack Obama.

By Mackenzie Crosson

Envision one of Chicago’s most prominent political figures body-surfing on vacation in Hawaii; blocking his aide in a basketball game; singing along to Earth, Wind & Fire with his wife; sipping a martini on the Truman Balcony; or coaching his daughter’s basketball game like it is the NBA Finals. 

Barack Obama’s eight years as president come to life in the new book “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” a collection of photographs by the former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza. As part of his book tour, Souza spoke Nov. 15 at the International House at the University of Chicago, 1414 E. 59th St. 

Souza’s book, released Nov. 7, collects about 300 presidential and personal photographs carefully selected by Souza from 1.9 million photos taken during Obama’s presidency.

“They still made time to have fun,” Souza said regarding the Obama family. 

Souza, who told the crowd he “wanted to create the best photographic archive of a president,” had nearly unlimited access to Obama, whom he first met in early 2005 when Obama began serving in the U.S. Senate. This early relationship allowed him to capture Obama’s responses to national and international events, such as the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, and lighter moments, such as playing in the snow on the White House lawn with his daughters Sasha and Malia. 

“It was a refreshing image because you’ve never seen it before,” said Yao Xen, a U of C sophomore, who has yet to declare a major but is focusing on public policy and global studies. 

The audience—comprised mainly of students—smiled, laughed and cried while they looked back on Obama’s two-term presidency through Souza’s lens.

“[The talk] was very focused on telling a narrative of the Obama administration,” Xen said. “You can tell [Souza] was very dedicated to genuine storytelling.” 

Chahat Kapila, a political science sophomore at U of C and intern for the Institute of Politics Speaker Series, introduced Souza and told The Chronicle she has been following Souza’s Instagram account for some time, but his presentation helped her better understand the former president. 

The reference to Instagram highlighted the increased attention Souza has received because of his subtle critiques of the Trump administration on his account.

When Trump makes headlines for a political misstep, Souza displays a photo that suggests Obama handled a comparable situation more appropriately. For example, Souza displayed a photograph of Obama speaking closely and what appeared as somewhat sternly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

“This is how you should talk to the Russians,” Souza said, which received applause from the crowd. 

Kapila said the little, but significant moments that were captured by Souza displaying Obama’s interactions with his staff and daily encounters with his family give the audience a glimpse of how an individual should act as the nation’s leader. 

“These pictures say a lot, and one doesn’t have to spell it out … versus the pictures you’re getting now [in the current administration],” Kapila said.