Pete Souza shares memories, priceless historical photos from time as White House photographer

Marianna Kistler Beach Museum will featured White House photohhrapher, Pete Souza’s work through April 27. (Alanud Alanazi | Collegian Media Group)

Former White House photographer and K-State alumnus Pete Souza shared his photographs and memories with a full house Tuesday night at McCain Auditorium.

Following an introduction by Beach Museum of Art director Linda Duke and Nikhil Moro, director of the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Souza opened his lecture by sharing some humorous screenshots from his personal Instagram account, which were posted shortly after the 2017 presidential inauguration.

Souza shared the process behind creating his photography exhibition, “Pete Souza: Two Presidents One Photographer,” which is currently on display at the Beach Museum.

“I kind of had this idea of doing a two presidents exhibit leading up to the 2020 election,” he said.

Souza said that the idea was prompted by the realization that he had taken many similar pictures throughout both the Reagan and Obama administrations.

He said that the juxtaposition of similar pictures was crucial in making the exhibit truly work, but he also included separate galleries for each president.

He clicked through some photographs from the exhibit, showing first one of Ronald Reagan, then a similar one of Barack Obama.

“Both presidents had empathy,” Souza said, adding that his goal as a photographer was to show that through the pictures he took.

Next, Souza showed images from his time working for the Reagan administration. These included everything from Reagan meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union, to some more intimate shots of Reagan with his wife Nancy.

One photo he showed from Reagan’s time in the Soviet Union had a man who resembled Vladimir Putin in the background. Although Souza had claimed it was Putin, it was ultimately disproven after stirring up a modest amount of controversy.

“You never want to make news when you’re working at the White House,” Souza quipped.

Souza was a photographer with the Chicago Tribune in Washington D.C. when Obama became a senator. He was assigned to document Obama’s first year as a senator, beginning their professional relationship.

After Obama’s election in 2008 when he was offered the job of chief photographer, he said, “My goal was to create the best photographs that had ever been done on a president.”

Souza had a different, more personal relationship with Obama compared to Reagan, which is evident in the photos he shared. He worked to capture things from Obama’s perspective, aiming to use the quietest, least intrusive cameras to do so.

He then showed a slideshow of iconic photos he took during Obama’s administration, including high points such as his inauguration and time with his family, as well as the more grim moments during the Bin Laden raid and the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Souza ended his presentation with a Q&A session, during which he was asked if he missed his job. His short answer was no, but he went on to elaborate.

“What I do miss is photographing a family every day,” Souza said. “That family was very large and included more than just the Obamas. The family broke up on January 20, 2017, and that’s been the hardest part, is not having those people in my life.”