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Obama: An Intimate Portrait


Obama: An Intimate Portrait

This isn’t fair. For sanity’s sake, you try not to think about this guy. For sanity’s sake, if you’re like everybody I know and pretty much everybody you know, you throw yourself into personal pursuits, counting down the days to 2020 like a prisoner marking the days on a wall calendar.

And now there’s a book with 319 photos of Barack Obama, culled from millions of images taken from before you heard of him to the final day of his presidency.

If you’re one of the 1.5 million people who follow the Instagram account of Pete Souza, who was Obama’s official photographer, you’ve seen some of these photos.

"Obama gave Souza advice about culling a few hundred images from the millions he took. Another president might say, 'Make me look good.' Obama said, 'Sometimes you’ve got to choose the aesthetic over the narrative.'"

If you don’t follow Pete Souza, you’re now likely to see these pictures often, for this is a book that friends will give to people who are nostalgic for a President with a solid marriage, role-model children, and an ability to write and speak and console and inspire --- you know: do the job. It will be a gift that snarky citizens will give --- anonymously --- to Hannity-watching relatives impatient for their tax cut. And it will be a gift that many will buy for themselves, like an artifact to be saved for their grandchildren, so they’ll know that, once, America had leaders who weren’t defective. [To buy OBAMA: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

When Souza met Obama in 2005, he was working for the Chicago Tribune and Obama wasn’t a name to conjure with. Obama ignored him: “All the while, it was as if he didn’t even notice there was this photographer with him, capturing those moments throughout the day.” By the time he got to the White House, Obama was a master of the photographic moment. David Remnick has noted, “Obama has learned what works for him in pictures: a broad, toothy smile. A millisecond after the flash, the sash releases, the smile drops, a curtain falling.”

Here’s a portfolio of Souza’s pictures.

Of course there’s the photo of the little boy who wanted to feel Obama’s hair. “Jacob [the son of a White House staffer] in his shy voice said, ‘My friends tell me that my hair is just like yours.’ And at that moment President Obama bent over and Jacob touched his head. The president said, ‘Go ahead and touch it.’ And I snapped that one picture. I see two things in that picture. One is, here’s this African-American kid who is touching the head of the president of the United States, who looks like him. And I think a lot of young African-American kids probably could identify with that moment. But it also says something about President Obama that at the behest of this innocent question from this kid, that he was fine bending over to let this kid touch his head.”

And Obama speaking to soldiers.

And working as he’s riding to an airport.

To get early morning shots, Souza sometimes slept in his office. That’s how he got a picture of Obama playing with his daughters in the snow. For his photo of Obama leaving the Oval Office for the last time, he got a ladder, “so I could get up high, high angle, and with a very wide angle lens try to show as much of the Oval Office as possible as he’s walking out the door.”

The picture of Obama and his national-security staff watching the bin Laden raid required C.I.A. clearance: “We showed it to the deputy director, Mike Morell. And we’re like, ‘Is this document on the table classified?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I thought about it for two seconds and said, ‘Can we declassify it?’ He said, ‘No.’ So I said, ‘What if we pixelize it?’ He said, ‘I’d be O.K. with that.’ So that’s what we did…on Adobe Photoshop.”

Of course Obama gave Souza advice about culling a few hundred images from the millions he took. Another president might say, “Make me look good.” Obama said, “Sometimes you’ve got to choose the aesthetic over the narrative.”

Yeah. It’s not fair.

Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth for on November 17, 2017

Obama: An Intimate Portrait
by Pete Souza

  • Publication Date: November 7, 2017
  • Genres: History, Nonfiction, Photography
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • ISBN-10: 0316512583
  • ISBN-13: 9780316512589