Former chief official White House photographer visits U.Va.

Pete Souza shared details, anecdotes from his new book ‘Obama: An Intimate Portrait’

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Pete Souza also served as a White House photographer for former President Ronald Reagan. 

Anchita Khullar | Cavalier Daily

The Miller Center held a free, public presentation titled “Eyewitness to History: Former Chief White House Photographer Pete Souza” in Newcomb Hall Theater Monday afternoon. Souza’s presentation was part of the University’s Community Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. 

Although the event was free, wristbands were distributed on a limited-availability first-come, first-serve basis. 

At the event, Souza offered an insider’s view into iconic photographs taken of former President Barack Obama during his time in office and answered questions for audience members. 

“I loved the backstory behind Souza’s photo of Obama playing basketball with a Secret Service member,” first-year College student Annabelle Swift said. “Souza referenced Obama’s competitive nature in a couple photos and showed that it was never at the expense of anyone else.”

Souza also served as a White House photographer for former President Ronald Reagan. 

He prefaced his presentation on Obama with photos from Reagan’s term. He presented a photo of Reagan in the Oval Office and then flipped to more personal photos of Reagan with First Lady Nancy Reagan. 

“I want to capture not just who they are as a president, but also as a person,” Souza said. 

Souza shared photos of Obama, detailing what he considered the best day of his presidency — the day the Affordable Care Act was passed — and the worst day of his presidency — the day of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. 

Souza also prompted audience members to laugh and cheer as he shared comedic anecdotes of Obama, accompanied by photos. 

“Souza had the audience laughing at some points and tearing up at others,” Swift said. “I thought his speech and his photographs showed a very human side of President Obama and the White House.”

Maggie Sullivan, a second-year College student, attended the presentation with her mother, who had driven up to Charlottesville from Virginia Beach. 

“[My mother] follows his Instagram and loves how he points out the difference between Trump and Obama,” said Sullivan. 

Souza said he was originally more focused on the narrative of the story in his book, but a conversation with Obama pushed him to include photos for both narrative and aesthetic purposes. 

“I got to Newcomb at 8:45 this morning because I saw that over a thousand people were interested on the Facebook event,” Sullivan said. “It was amazing. My mom and I both loved his insight on the Obama administration, but also his approach to photography.” 

At the end of the presentation, audience members lined up outside Newcomb Hall Theater to get their copies of “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” signed. 

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