DPP Home Profiles Pete Souza: Master Of The White house

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Pete Souza: Master Of The White house

Pete Souza has been official photographer to two U.S. presidents. His access and an ability to catch intimate moments enable him to create images that illustrate history.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

President Obama and Vice President Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011.
DPP: When the president goes on vacation, do you go, as well?

Souza: I do. I'm not photographing him there every minute of every day, but there are certain family activities and the working part of the vacation I photograph. I try to balance documenting the presidency with giving him some privacy. As my friend PF Bentley said to me, "People don't realize that when he's on, you're on, and when he's off, you're still on."

DPP: Going back to the time when you were photographing Senator Obama, there's a shot of him running up the steps to the Capitol with the dome in the background. It's a masterful shot
in terms of composition and symbolism.

Souza: Having been a presidential photographer before, I was thinking to myself at the time, if this guy ever becomes president, I want to create images of him as senator that people will go back to and say, "Wow, look at this!" For instance, there's a shot of him walking along in Red Square in Moscow, and nobody is paying attention to him. I was thinking about that while I was taking the photo.

DPP: It has become important not to delete photos too quickly—Dirck Halstead's shot of Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton hugging, for instance. He had shot film at the time while most other photographers covering the president were already shooting digital. They probably had similar shots, but deleted them long before the news broke about the scandal.

Taken when he was the junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama climbs the steps to the Capitol.
Souza: I asked Dirck what he thought when he saw that slide. He said, "Ka-ching, ka-ching." Anything my staff and I shoot is part of the presidential record so we don't delete anything. We shoot all RAW files. Eric Draper, by the second term of Bush 43, was the first to shoot 100% digital.

DPP: In a given day, how much do you shoot?

Souza: Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 images. I use 8-gigabyte cards. If I'm at the White House, I drop cards off at my office every couple of hours. Once they're downloaded, we reformat and use them again. There's a photo archivist at the White House who's been there 25 years.

DPP: Is it an extremely stressful job?

Souza: First of all, I feel so privileged to be doing this job. I try to never lose sight of that. That said, the job is also a grind. Working pretty much every day, I don't take vacations. Is it stressful? There are no bullets flying over my head. I'm not putting my life on the line for a photo. So compared to the James Nachtweys, those guys have stressful jobs. Look what happened to Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya.

To see more of Pete Souza's images, go to www.petesouza.com. You can see the White House photostream on Flickr at flickr.com/photos/whitehouse.


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