"He's still the same, albeit maybe a little worn out. What's changed is everything around him," writes Photographer Pete Souza, sizing up president-elect Barack Obama's metamorphis in the three years that he's been documenting him.
"And he has taken that in great stride," he adds.
Souza, who once served as President Ronald Reagan's official photographer, was working as a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune when got the assignment of a generation. The Task: Photograph Obama's first year as a senator with behind-the-scenes access.
Yet, he didn't know just how historic his images would become.
However, Souza's coverage would continue on for the next two years after that-taking him on a trajectory around the world and the nation. He documented the senator's trip to seven countries incuding Kenya, South Africa, Russia and Azerbaijan. When the long-shot campaign for the presidency sprouted in 2007, Souza was again backstage. He was with Obama in the exciting but harried early months of the campaign in Iowa, Pennslyvania and Illinois. No stranger to capturing politicians, Souza was impressed by the senator.
"Photographs of politicians in public settings are innumerable, but the images that often become more timeless are the quiet moments captured in more intimate settings," says Souza in the book. "These are also the photographs that, to me, reveal the true character of a person."
Can the essence of Obama's mass apeal be captured in a photograph?
You be the judge.
Q&A with Souza on capturing Sen. Obama
Question: Which photos most represent the character of Obama, in your view, and why?
Pete Souza: The photos of him interacting with his kids tell you a lot about his character as a man and as a father. I especially like the one where he's squatting down to talk to his daughter Malia outside the U.S. Capitol, so he could be at eye level as he talked to her. It's an innocent picture of a six-year-old talking to her dad.
Q: Which photos provided the most surprising result and why?
PS: One of the things that has been fascinating for me to observe during the last three years is how other people react to Obama. Early on, there was a curiosity, where people had heard so much about him but were now checking him out to see if he was for real. You can see that in their faces. Then, in Africa, the response to him was overwhelming. He gave a speech in Nairobi, and they couldn't fit everyone inside the auditorium. So they set up loudspeakers outside, and I decided to stay outside to photograph the people that were listening to the speech on the loudspeakers. There were hundreds gathered and you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone listened in rapt attention. One man took notes on his hand in blue ink.
Q: What was the most challenging photo to capture?
PS: The most challenging photo was the one where he was given the key to open what was Nelson Mandela's prison cell on Robben Island in South Africa. There was quite a crowd of people and the space was so tight. Somehow, I managed to squeeze myself in there, and get the picture of him as he opened the cell door. To me, it's a symbolic photo.
Q: Tell us about Barack's encounter and meeting with Desmond Tutu.
PS: Tutu was joking that Obama would make a good president. This was back in 2006. Obama tried to brush it off.
Q: There's a photo op [of Obama] with John McCain that sets the field for future encounters. Tell us more about the moment.
PS: One of the things I tried to do when I was documenting his early years was to try and think ahead. Yes, I was working for the Chicago Tribune and trying to make a good photograph for the next day's newspaper. But more than that, I was saying to myself, if this guy ever runs for, or becomes president, I want to have photographs that might help put his early years in historic context. So any time he was with Sen. McCain or Sen. Clinton, who everyone was speculating would run for president, I tried to make pictures that would be relevant in the future.
Q: Based on what your camera lens captured, what did it tell you about the growth of Obama as a politician and person during your periods together?
PS: I really don't think he's changed a lot during the last three years. I saw him a couple of months ago, and rode on his campaign bus with him, and I didn't see a big change in him as a person. He's still the same, albeit maybe a little worn out. What's changed is everything around him. And he has taken that in great stride.
Q: Can you explain what is different about Barack Obama than any of the other politicians you've photographed or been around?
PS: He is very obviously comfortable in his own skin. He also can be as inspirational a speaker as anyone I've ever been around. And as a photographic subject, he's what I call a natural. The presence of my camera, even in fairly intimate settings, never really bothered him; I think he just went about his business as I went about mine.
Q: Everyone sees photographs of Barack Obama every day. What makes your photographs unique?
PS: My photographs are unique because they show Sen. Obama in a less guarded way. Most of them were taken before he decided to run for president, and there's a certain genuineness in the pictures compared to what we're seeing today.
The book, The Rise of Barack Obama written and photographed by Pete Souza, is now available online and at major book stores for $27.95.