The White House and Beyond: The Storytelling and Photography of Pete Souza

Pete Souza, widely known for his work as the former Chief Official White House Photographer for Presidents Obama and Reagan, will be the guest of honor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on August 3rd, 2017 for a conversation hosted by Adobe. Souza will share behind-the-scenes photographs from the White House, anecdotes, advice, and inspiration gleaned from his time as a professional photographer covering the national political scene and stories from around the world. He will also be participating in a discussion on the evolving role of images as a form of communication in our lives. 

While he was a late-comer to the world of photography, once he discovered his passion for photography, Souza strived to create images that captured not only moments, but personalities, emotions, and perhaps most importantly, a story.


On His Passion

In his junior year of university, Pete took his first photography course. He says, “I became hooked as soon as I watched a print magically appear in the print tray developer. Even though I’m now using almost exclusively digital cameras, I still have the same passion to create images every day.” And his passion certainly paid off, seeing as in 1983, Pete kicked off a new chapter in his career after being invited to photograph President Ronald Reagan as the Chief Official White House Photographer. Over two decades later, Pete revisited his role at the White House under the Obama Administration, following Barack Obama from his rise to Senate in 2005 and through his two terms in office as president.

While his White House subjects changed over the years, his photography consistently captured important moments – whether emotional, inspiring, moving, or even funny. Looking back on decades of photography, he is unable to choose a favorite photo. He says, “It is important to not dwell on the favorite photos you may have made in the past but rather keep striving to make new favorite photographs.” However, he identifies a couple from the White House that were an incredible combination of intuition, experience, trust, and luck.


Situation Room. “This photo was all due to the access and trust I had developed with not just the President, but with his national security staff. Without that trust, I never would have been allowed in the room to make that photograph.” 


Jacob Philadelphia and President Barack Obama. “This photo was so spontaneous that I have only one frame of that moment. Jacob Philadelphia, the young African-American boy, had told the President that his friends told him they had the same type of haircut. The President leaned over and told Jacob to go ahead and feel his head to see if it was true.” 


On Photography and Storytelling

Pete Souza always manages to go beyond capturing a moment with his photography; he conveys personalities and stories with his images. On capturing personalities, he says, “How you interact with your subject is extremely important. The most intimate photographs are usually those where you can tell the photographer and their subject(s) have become comfortable with each other. It’s possible to achieve that comfortability in a few minutes, but most of the time it may take hours or days.”

On capturing stories, Pete recalls, “For the one-year anniversary of 9/11, I was doing a profile of several people who had lost loved ones. I attended a support group meeting with many of the survivors, but I didn’t even bring a camera with me. I spoke about why we were doing this story and that I hoped some of them would be willing to be photographed. After I had answered all their questions, my recollection is that all of them agreed to let me later photograph some aspect of their life.”

The evolution of photography has also influenced the way Pete approaches his craft. He says, “The iPhone in particular has made everyone a photographer. Even if I don’t have my DSLR with me, I always feel that I have a useful camera in my pocket (that also happens to be my phone). People always ask me which camera I use, and I always respond whatever one I have with me. It’s not the camera that makes the magical moment, it’s the person behind the camera.”


Beyond the White House

Since Pete wrapped up his time with the Obama administration, he has remained a prominent figure in the photography community. On his most recent projects, he says, “I am just finishing up the production of my Obama photo book that will be released in early November. I’m headed to Italy in July to oversee the printing. Otherwise, I’ve done a few assignments here and there but I will likely be doing more new photography next year after my book responsibilities are done.”


Keep an eye out for new photography from Pete Souza on his website and follow him on social media to check out his latest work: Instagram | Twitter

Pete will also be speaking at Adobe MAX—The Creativity Conference this year. Learn more about MAX.