What It Takes To Be A White House Photographer

Pete Souza served as the official White House photographer for both President Barack Obama and President Ronald Reagan. Souza said for both administrations he put his personal life on hold for eight years to document history. Seven days a week, Souza followed Obama, capturing some of the most iconic moments of the administration. Souza breaks down his famous shots and what it took to get the gig. Catch Pete Souza’s new documentary “The Way I See It” premiering on MSNBC on October 16 at 10 p.m. EST.

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What It Takes To Be A White House Photographer

Documentary examines how White House photographer found his political voice

A new documentary called “The Way I See It” follows Pete Souza, the former official White House photographer for Presidents Reagan and Obama. (Sept. 21)

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What It Was Like In The Situation Room During The Osama Bin Laden Raid

Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza, author of “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,”  tells the story behind the iconic photo of President Obama in the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden. Following is a transcript of the video.

Pete Souza: My name is Pete Souza, I was the chief official photographer for President Obama, and my new book “Obama: An intimate portrait” just came out.

On the day of the bin Laden raid, the president and his national security team piled into this very tiny conference room within the situation room complex to monitor the raid as it happened. I chose one corner of the room to be in. And because there were so many people I couldn’t really move around during those 40 minutes. And so I was able to photograph as they all watched this raid unfold. There was very little conversation taking place. There was just observation as they watched the special forces on the ground.

When the president walked into this little conference room, there was a brigadier general sitting at the head of the table, and he stood up to give the president that chair. And the president said no, no no you stay there, because he was on his laptop, in communication with Admiral McRraven. And the president just pulled up a folding black chair and sat next to him.

The picture itself was taken towards the back-end of the raid. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when that was, but I suspect it was when the special forces were inside the house and there was no video of what was occurring inside the house. So I think they were waiting to see what would happen.     

Throughout the 40 minutes in that room, it was very tense and anxious. You could see that on their faces, and when the word came over that Geronimo KIA, meaning Geronimo was Bin Laden’s codename for this mission, that he was killed in action, I think there was a sense of happiness and resolve, but there was no like high-fives or cheering or anything like that. The President stood up at the end and shook hands with a few people. But it was almost anti-climatic and actually somewhat solemn when this ended.

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Pete Souza Recalls Sandy Hook — The Worst Day Of Obama’s Presidency

Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza, author of “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” describes what it was like to photograph Obama immediately following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Following is a transcript of the video. 

Pete Souza: My name is Pete Souza, I was the chief official photographer for President Obama.

To set the scene a little bit, it was about a month since he had been reelected to a second term, so there was that sort of afterglow that was still being felt, I think, throughout the

White House. It was also Christmastime at the White House, so there were these decorations and Christmas trees, a very festive time of the year.

And word began to come out that there had been the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and finally his Homeland Security Adviser John Brennan came up to the Oval Office, he had gathered all the facts, had talked to the FBI, and told the president that indeed 26 people had been shot, including 20 first grade kids.

In the picture, you see just kind of the energy just zap out of the president. I think he was thinking of this not only as a president, but imagining what it must be like as a parent. The horror of sending your six-year-old kid off to school, you put him on the school bus, and you never see them again because some crazy guy shot them to death, point blank, at their school.

So I think it was a very, he was very emotional, and just thinking about this as a fellow parent, almost more so than as a president.

Not long thereafter he had to go make a statement in the White House Press Briefing Room and it was difficult for him to maintain his emotions as he talked about this. And I think that was probably when he cried for the first time.

Barack Obama (12/14/12): They had their entire lives ahead of them. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

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How Barack Obama Managed A Healthy Work-Life Balance

Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza describes how Obama balanced being president with his family life. Following is a transcript of the video.

Pete Souza: My name is Pete Souza. I was the chief official White House photographer for President Obama and my new book “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” just came out.

I think he was able to balance being president and still having a family life. It was very important to him. He would try to be home for dinner every night at 6:30 and if there was still work to be done he could always turn around at the end of the dinner and come back downstairs to the Oval Office.

He often said that during the dinner hour the conversation was what happened with Sasha and Malia that day and not necessarily what happened to him. Although he likes to tell the story that usually they kind of rolled his eyes when he was telling about what he did that day, but one day he said that he had taped this thing called “Between Two Ferns” and I guess Malia got all excited and her ears perked up. “You did ‘Two Ferns?’ You taped ‘Between Two Ferns?'” Because he didn’t realize how popular it was with Malia’s generation.

I think the president’s favorite photo probably changed, but it for sure involved a picture that Sasha and Malia were in. He always gravitated towards the one where he was interacting with his girls more than any others.

I was at his new office in DC a couple months ago, and he has this bookshelf behind his desk and there’s a picture that I took of Sasha and Malia when they were guests at the state dinner for the prime minister of Canada. It was the only state dinner they were invited as guests and they were very elegant, they looked like princesses as they were walking down the Cross Hall.

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Obama Visiting Injured Veterans

Former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza describes Obama’s five meetings with Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was injured in Afghanistan. Following is a transcript of the video.

Pete Souza: My name is Pete Souza. I was the chief official White House photographer for President Obama and my new book “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” just came out.

The president would often visit Walter Reed Hospital where wounded soldiers were taken after being injured in Iraq or Afghanistan or really anywhere in the world.

In 2010, we walked into a room and met with Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was severely injured in Afghanistan. He had dozens of stitches across his side of his head and was not fully cognizant when we walked into the room.

There was a picture hanging on the wall that I had taken eight months earlier of President Obama meeting Cory Remsburg in Normandy and I had forgotten of that moment. And to see the contrast of this photograph that was hanging on his hospital room wall and the injured Cory in the bed was almost too much to bear. We didn’t know that he was going to recover.

A year, a year and a half later, we were in Phoenix for a speech and Cory met with the president backstage, was learning how to walk again, and was able to walk across this small room using his walker.

And not long thereafter that he was invited to be the guest of honor at the State of the Union speech and sat next to Michelle Obama in her box.

A year after that, we visited Cory again in Arizona. Some veterans had built him a house and we visited his house in suburban Phoenix.

And I think there was one other time towards the end of the administration, he came and visited President Obama in the Oval Office and walked through the door by himself to shake hands with the president.

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