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Photographing History with Pete Souza

Lesson 93 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

Photographing History with Pete Souza

Lesson 93 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

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93. Photographing History with Pete Souza


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Lesson Info

Photographing History with Pete Souza

No. Hello, everyone. Good morning. We're good afternoon. Good evening. Wherever you're watching from, I'm seeing We got people from South Africa from Dubai, from Australia all over the world. So range of time zones I want to say welcome. I'm Chase Jarvis, the founder of Creative Live and your host for today's live broadcast As a part of the Chase drivers live show. My guest is very, very special. Before we get into his details and our conversation today, I want to invite you to check out creativelive dot com slash tv Where ah, we've got live chat coming in from all over the world. If you want to leave a comment or ah, shed on a question for our guest, I am seeing those questions, and I will do, but I can't afford them on. Um, you might be watching this on Facebook or on YouTube live. If that's the case, I can't see your comments, But the best interactive opportunity is at creativelive dot com slash tv. Click the live chat in the upper right hand corner and I'll see your questions and c...

omments. Um, and I know you're gonna wanna have a question and or a comment for this gentleman because he is a New York Times best selling author speaker and a freelance photographer. He's done cover story for Nat Geo Life magazine, Fortune, Newsweek and many others, and was on the Chicago Tribune staff that won the Pulitzer back in 2001. He's also the professor emeritus of visual communications at Ohio University and, most notably, the official photographer President Reagan and then the chief official, White House photographer and director of the White House photo office for President Barack Obama. My guest is the one and only in inimitable Mr Pete Souza in the House. Pete, welcome to the show. Yeah, thanks for having me chase. I appreciate it. Oh, it's a treat. Um, I know, but we've been working on this for some time, but you're a busy guy. Congratulations on a couple of books you've put out recently. You've been touring prior to the pandemic, obviously. But for those of you of ah, the handful of people of the thousands tuning in from all over the world who might not be familiar with your career arc, how you tackle all those accolades and were the the White House photographer for both Reagan and Obama. I was wondering if you could trace a little bit of your career, arc. How you got excited, Interested about photography? And what, um, what twists and turns your career took on your way to the White House. I've had a lot of twists and turns in my career. I actually went, uh, Boston University with the hopes of becoming a sportswriter, Um, and was in their journalism school in my junior year. I took a photography class. This is back in the day, of course, of black and white film and making your own prints. And I think that, uh, in all honesty the first print I ever made where you were inside the dark room under those red say flights. And that image magically appeared in the tray of deck tall developer that I was hooked on photography because to me, it was it was magic. Um, so that's sort of like how how it started for me fairly late in life, because I know a lot of people uh uh, make pictures in high school and things like that. I didn't you know, it was a junior year of college and it took me, Probably to the point of maybe, I guess, Like, I want to say, five years before I got any good at it. Um, I think it was a slow, slow learner in a lot of ways. And, um and and then I started out working for small newspapers in Kansas, and really, for me, it's been a matter of I think, um, a good worth work ethic and, ah, lot of luck along the way. In all honesty, that sort of propelled me to where I ended up. It is just hard work and luck. I mean, you know, just decisions that you make you get to the this point of your life on you start thinking back on decisions that you made back in the day and, you know, and it just one thing led to another. And I ended up, uh, becoming, you know, a presidential photographer twice. Never. You know, it was something I ever aspired to. It just kind of That's the direction I I I ended up and basically what was it? Your photo journalism background that you feel like prepared? You best for that? Was it? Is it some sort of Ah, tenacity to chase this story. Is that your ability to see? I mean, there's, you know, millions of photographers around the world and tens of thousands in D. C and probably thousands that would be in contention for some of the jobs that you've received. What do you feel like is the difference maker you mentioned luck and a little bit of Ah, a little bit of skill. I think you probably need to flip the order there, but it is there. Um, is there any one decision that you feel like, really changed the trajectory of your career? Or was it tenacity? What put you in the hunt at all? I mean, I think it was being at a journalism school when I, um I discovered photography, you know, because maybe had I been are or, um, uh, places I could have been a happen to me and the girls in school and thus became of, you know, a photojournalist, a za result. And I think for me, the initial attraction was photography, not necessarily photojournalism. Um, I think I have this. I always tell people that I don't think I'm the greatest retired for in the world, but I really believe I was the right photographer to be the chief official White House photographer for President Obama. I just think everything in my career came together in that job. Um, the ability, Uh uh, and and the I think I had developed an eye for framing in the moment. The anticipation, Um, but also the ability to really hang out and not be a nuisance and not interfere with what was taking place, you know, essentially be a fly on the wall, um, and and and do that in a professional way, uh, and and have, as my main subject, someone who understood the role of having somebody like me visually record presidency, just like everything came together. And in that in that job in the day, years of that job, which to me is sort of like the, you know, the capstone of my career. Yeah, clearly, pen penultimate. But, I mean, I'm so like, I mean, just having had the experience at National Geographic for a few years where I learned mawr about lightened color than I probably did when I was working for a newspaper. And so you know that just just I mean all these factors came into play. Um, one of the things that I love that you said, which I think is often really wildly overlooked. Um, coming from a photographic background myself, this the ability, the technical skills, I think that is just one small piece of an otherwise complex puzzle. And what I loved you said it very clearly. Your ability toe hang out to be in a position to get the shot. Not I think you said nuisance not be a nuisance. And and I just think that that is the most sort of under appreciated, under misunderstood part about, um, about any photographic job. And so what people are thinking right now. The photographers in the in the audience again, we've just had some more folks joined from Indonesia, from Hungary, from Mexico. What I think they want to hear is how do you get good at hanging out if the technical skills you could master, um, what is it? What does it mean? How do you practice that? And is it a social skills that are you extroverted, introverted? Build a little little story for us around. You know why you think you might be great at that um, yeah. You know, I wish I could give you a bullet point list of, you know, Here's how it's done. Um, I just had a long conversation on the phone the other day with somebody who was applying to be an official photographer for one of our governors and, you know, and he was asking the same question. And I was like, You know, every case is different and it's and it's something that I think you develop as a human human being more so than as a photographer. It's sort of how toe how to relate to people, and every person is different. Um, and this is why I say I think I was the, you know, the right person to be Barack Obama's attire for I mean, we're sort of from the same more or less generation. I'm actually a few years older than him, and I think that actually helped, you know. But but also knowing, just like understanding when, um, Teoh say something to him and when not to say something to him and it. And it's not something that you can teach. It's just it's something that you ah sort of learned over time I think that's about the best answer that I can give. I think it's really hard to articulate other than it's different for, you know, every situation. I mean, I think Bill Clinton would have been, you know, a completely different character in terms of how you would relate to him, because he's such, you know, much more gregarious personality, that the person Obama and I don't mean that in a negative way of just saying there are two different people, and so it's just hard to give an answer to that now. I think that's, I think, embedded in that answer. That it's hard is it's hard to put a finger on is that's part of the Genesis a quad that I think those who are trying to emulate your career, any career, I think ought to know. And it's something that not a lot of creators talk about her can define. Um, you mentioned President Clinton, President Obama, but so far we haven't talked much about your experience photographing Reagan. Do you feel like that? Was that like a a Ah, a prep lap was with that, like your your warm up, um, presentation for ah, For what was ultimately the, um the penultimate with with Obama talked talked us a little bit about the differences between not just the characters but your role in those two different presidencies. I think looking back on it now, it was It was a prep for Obama. I didn't think that at the time, because at the time I was thinking, This is the one and only time I'm ever gonna be inside the White House as an official tire for so I'm gonna try to make the most of it. I was not the chief photographer. I was hired by his tree photographer, Michael Evans in the middle of his first terms. So I came in. I was like, the new guy and, you know, it took a little sort of getting used to, um, I was I was in my twenties, late twenties and I was overwhelmed with suddenly being able to just walk into the Oval Office. Um, and I think the access situation was a little different in that I didn't have, you know, total access. Um, but I still feel that I was able to make some really good moments during the Reagan administration. It's just they weren't as many because of the particular situation with Reagan. He tell people this, um, I didn't necessarily agree with his politics. Um, but I did think he was a decent human being and that he respected the office of the presidency. And I think that it would be difficult to do that job for me if I did not have both of those. In other words, that I didn't think the president was a decent human being and that they were respecting the office. I think it would be difficult to meet for me to work under any other circumstance. Um, I liked President Reagan. He was difficult to get to know. Even even his family says that, um uh, but I mean, he was Ah, genial, old fashioned, Um ah, conservative. I don't mean in his politics. I mean, in his manners, this manners on, uh, you know, he didn't take a suit coat off in the Oval Office unless it was the weekend. Uh, so so is like and, you know, it was the eighties. So is a different, different error. Well, if that was the the preparation work out, if you will, Um, For what would ultimately be your ah, eight year to her duty with with Obama. Is there anything that you learned? Is there any like burning memory that you have? That said, if I if given another opportunity, what I would do differently? Or there's some key mistakes kinky learning moments that came out of that first tour of duty with Reagan that you applied to your your second with a mama? You know, one of things that happened was that the you know, this was back in the eighties when there wasn't social media where you were shooting film, and it would take, you know, a day before you would see what you had shot, that kind of thing. And most of the pictures that the White House then released were there were very few. And it wasn't the like that behind the scenes moments, necessarily. Um, I say that because, um, I went into the Obama administration with, I guess, uh ah. A few thoughts, one waas that I needed to have a total and that I was gonna starting on day one. That was all. That, uh, was my focus. And President Obama understood that. But imagine, uh, he's A He's a human being like you and I and almost doesn't have this guy taking pictures of you every day all day long, you know, Takes a little getting used to. So it's sort of like tryingto, you know, navigate that in a way that I wasn't gonna relinquish my access. So and that was something that I didn't have during the Reagan administration, which was total access. I was determined that I was gonna have that in the Obama administration. So that's 12 was going back to those behind the scenes moments. That was my focus, too. Is capturing the spontaneous moments as they happen and whether they're seeing right away or like with Reagan, they're not seeing until 10 years later, 20 years later, it didn't matter. What mattered is making sure that I was gonna make those pictures in the first place. And I guess lastly, it waas, um was to make authentic pictures of what was taking place in his presidency. Well, part of ah, I'm getting questions in from all over the world, and one of them is from Anders. Uh, obviously reviews your work, um, thankful for our conversation, say, but wants me to ask. And it's along the same lines as what you were just speaking of, which is, well, I'm bringing it up about the, um the juxtaposition between prepared images and rep atoz or candid moments. Is that something you negotiate? How do you balance those two? What was the approach? Ah, the approach was, uh everything was spontaneous. And, um, again, it was the, um you know, my pushing to always be there. Um I mean, we did photo lines per se. You know where you know that person comes in. They want to get a picture standing in front of the deaths with the president, and you make that picture on. That's obviously, you know, opposed picture. But everything else is as it happens. And it was, um that was something that, um uh, President Obama inherently. Is that the right word? Uh, understood. And it wasn't. It didn't need to be negotiated. Um, and this, you know, imagine if he's not objecting to me being in the room, how could anybody else and so it was just expected that I would I would always be there. And, you know, I sort of talked about this in terms of how I made this work, I made sure that I knew my role was as an observer. My role was not as a participant. So I'm in these meetings arm in these situations. And, um, you know, I don't, uh, interrupt. I don't like Say what? I think, um, I keep, you know, keep my mouth shut. Now, that doesn't mean that if I'm alone with him, um, that I might, you know, converse with him. But I always made it a point that when I when he was in the middle of, ah, conversation with somebody, I was not part of that conversation. I was the Observer. Unless, you know, somebody would say something to me. Okay, well, I think this is ah, kee area. Just seeing again. More questions come in, MK Eerie of curiosity. Does that mean you never coached like, hey, Iraq, You know, turning had a little more sideways or, you know, step forward into the light. Is there any coaching that happens in those worlds? Even when you're just Ah, it's just you and he Uh, no. No coaching at all. Interesting. Really, really fascinating. Well, let's some depart for a second on the psychology of what it was like in your philosophy on photographing and touched just briefly on something I'm not that enamored with. But I know from the comments people are interested in the technology. Obviously, you mentioned huge Arkin technology change from your first assignment as a photojournalist back at the papers, then obviously probably a different world where you had a lot of film being pushed through the system. But as you mentioned, it was film and a lot of these images were delayed. And then the instantaneous. You're looking at the back of a camera and you've probably air wife eyeing it to someone else. Can you talk about maybe those three different buckets and what was like to be, um, both? Ah, I guess, anchored by in some ways and empowered by the different modes of operating, you know, between your early career and later, later on, with Obama and the instant nature of digital photography, Um, I switched to Digital in 2000, um, when I was with the Chicago Tribune, and I remember it was then because it was the on the way to the New Hampshire primary on the plane with my new digital cameras that I was sort of reading the manual trying to figure out how to use this camera. Was that a d one Nikon D one by chance you want? Yeah, I remember that camera. And, um, you know, up until then I had still been shooting film, Um, for the Tribune color color negative film at the time eso that began the transition for me. And, um, you know, one of the one of the great regrets is that those early digital cameras were We're not that good. And you know, subsequently, the following year, I after 9 11 I went to Afghanistan for the beginning of the of the war and, you know, risk my life. And, um, there I made images that I'm is proud of is any I've ever made in my career. And those Iran, you know, like the the old digital camera. And that really hurts me to this 22 a two megabyte file. It was like, you know, whatever, Meg about filing because of hard drive space when you're in Afghanistan that, you know, I was I had to shoot j pig and not raw, so that really pains me looking back on it. Um, the, you know, subsequently, over the year there's the digital cameras, got better and better and better and better. And my predecessor, Eric Draper, who is George W. Bush, is chief White House photographer. I made the switch to digital at the start of Bush's second term, Um, and that he transitioned the White House photo office to an all digital office. And so when I started, Eric was really great about, you know, transitioning, uh, with me and, um, that I'm so glad that he was the one that did that and that didn't fall on my shoulders because I made it easier to hit the ground running, uh, with the, you know, just digital workflow with the with the white House. Um, so, um and a matter of fact, I was, um, talking to somebody about this the other day. I realize that, you know, I started photographing Barack Obama after he had been elected to the U. S Senate in for and it's I've come to the realization that I have never, ever made a single image of Barack Obama on a with film. Every picture I've ever made of him starting in has been on a digital camera, which is kind of crazy today. Um, yeah. So I mean, one of the one of things that I tried to. Still, even though given the immediacy of digital journey, Obama administration I still owe made it clear to everyone that my main job was to document the presidency for history. That's the main part of the job. Is that s o. I did not want to be caring a laptop with me or warring about sending pictures wirelessly in the moment. Uh, because, you know, the White House whip site wanted something right away. So I set the marker down right away that I would not operate like that, that I did not want to be in the middle of some big speech sending a far, you know, So the White House have it right away to post on Twitter or what? Whatever. That was not, you know, the main function of my job. So, um, you know that rub Children rub people some a little bit the wrong way, and I would try to accommodate you know them as much as I could, but I wasn't gonna be carrying a laptop, and I wasn't gonna not be ah, documenting what he was doing. Just so somebody could have a picture right away. Um, so that was a big, uh, big distinction that I made, uh, and I held firm on that. Is that a negotiation? I mean, what I know what you It was like, This is the way I'm doing it. Because to me, it the, uh you know, posting stuff on social media is not number one on the job description. Number one is documenting the presidency for history. All my pictures, every single one of them ends up at the National Archives. I didn't want to miss something that was sending something back doing something. It was number 45 or 10 on the list, right? So? Well, if it's, um if it's not a negotiation, is this then something you have worked out in the job interview, so to speak. I think people are wondering how you actually get this job you mentioned, um, you know, working for the senator after his election to the senate for Illinois. Um, so is this a This is a part of the relationship building over time. Are you established your boundaries? Um, And I'm thinking, you know, if this is your client, for example, that this is broadly applicable for anyone who's listening, I'm just curious what your methodology was for. Sort of stamping. And I think you said you put your marker down. You know, how does one do that and not make enemies? Or did you have to make some enemies and stand tall with something you believe deeply in? Oh, I'm sure some people were pissed off, but, you know, it's part of the job, right? Part of the Yeah. I mean, I I said to them, I will help you out if it doesn't interfere with, um, documenting for history and, um, interrupting. Um, you know, a big event, uh, documenting a big event So that, um, you know, I could get you your pictures so you could tweet it out while it was happening is not a good argument to make. So I mean, the, um you know, I did have a staff. So if said event was at the White House, it would be really easy after the event toe hand, a photo editor, my cards and they could start the process. So it wasn't like it was gonna be the next day, but it wasn't gonna be, you know, in the moment. And, um, you know, and there And there were instances where State of the Union, for example, I would have, um well, one of the photographers that worked for me Ah, set up like where the press is and he may live. Transmit something from his camera, you know? So we were trying it. We would try toe make accommodations, but to you know, I did not. I want to, um, uh, sort of go overboard about, you know, social media being the number one thing on my, you know, list of things to do. I think it's just ruthless prioritization. And that's part of what a lot of people need to hear. I think that the modern creator is a person who wears lots of hats. And I think it's really curious and interesting as someone who is, you know, the chief photographer, the White House, who has staff, um, still has to wear a hat, many hats and still has to make hard decisions of what to do and what not to dio I think that I mean, I think it it's it's an unusual job in that it's the I mean, it's the Onley staff photography job. Um, where here. Also the boss. In other words, the photo editors work for you. They don't like most newspapers and magazines. You know, the photo editor is the boss, right? And so, uh, that you know that easier to sort of say, Okay, this is the way it's gonna be. Um and but But again, it wasn't, You know the number. As I said the number one thing in the back of my mind waas documenting for history. And every argument to me was based on that. Ah, you mentioned the photo editor. And that brings to mind conjures up sort of workflow and and questions about editing. And, um, you had an editor, those those editor editors. Those editors work for you. What was the relationship with that? Went with with them? And we got Kristen Schmidt asking, you know, how do you catalog these photos? What kind of ah, you remarked several times about you're in this for history. That's a very profound burden to bear. And, you know, obviously, every day when you're posting pictures. Ah, of shade. Your ableto clearly able to keyword search for a moment that's happened in the previous day. And so I think, you know, as you have done such a nice job of pulling back the curtain for us, maybe you could share a little bit about about the editing process. And you know what goes into creating a catalog like you have that's at your fingertips, but also infinitely complex and slice a blonde isil, you know, an infinity number of ways. Yeah. So we had, you know, we had a filing of, ah, filing system, like, way established the file name for each photograph, which was based on the date. And then, you know the file number chronologically throughout the day. We have five for, you know, ash, start 0001 and then, you know, chronological throughout the day, Uh, every single photograph had a caption attached. Um, we have little photo archivist that had been there since the Reagan administration had actually known her back in the Reagan days, and, um and so she would then go in and try to add everybody's name. That was pictured keywords. Um, so I mean, I mus proud of the images as I am of the information that's attached to each image. For historians, it's just, like, so important have that information. So, for instance, you could, if you wanted to, you know, uh, search at the National Archives. You know, Obama alone with Denis McDonough. All the pictures from the eight years would come up. You know, that's the kind of system we way built. And we wanted to make sure that all that information, one of things that Eric Draper is said to me, this is Bush's photographer was that a lot of the information was lost went during the transfer from the White House to the National Archives. And so we made. The one upgrade we did is we made it. We worked with the National Archives and they built a database that included all the you know, the ability to transfer all the information that was attached with each image. In terms of editing, I would be something like on a daily basis. The White House website would come to us and said, Hey, we would like to use it. We're doing a post of the president's meeting with Angela Merkel and we need We need a picture to go with that post. So one of the photo editors would go through, um, my take and select two or three images and usually email on to me. I actually ran my office basically on my BlackBerry so they would email me the images and I would say, Yeah, send all three or I don't. You know, I only like the second one. Or I might say, I thought I shot this particular image. Can you see if you can find that and thats so that's how the editing process worked in terms of we started doing this monthly upload on flicker. At the end of the month, we would do a Siris of behind the scenes pictures, and that's something that would, um, involve mawr editing mawr. My involvement mawr where I would show the pictures, too up somebody in the White House press office to make sure that you know they're okay with them. That's sort of how it worked. Them, uh, brilliant and just a debt. As someone who knows his catalog, millions and millions of my own images and nose just enough to be dangerous about the the amount of work that goes, and it's not a surprise that you say you're is proud of the cataloguing and the in the information is your other image. But I do. I think that's just phenomenal as a contribution to history, because the image without as much of that information is is less of a historical record. What about the technology you mentioned databases and what kind of platform we're using are using the same ones today? Um, is the National Archives built on something that is a consumer grade? Is that enterprise grade? What's talk to us a little bit about, um, some of the technology used in your workflow? And then we'll move on toe less tactical on more, uh, or strategic and contemplative things. Yeah, So I mean, we ingested are, uh, cards using photo mechanic, which is served something that photo journalists tend to use. Easy to add, uh, captions and keywords and things like that. And then the database was something that Eric Draper had purchased. A licence to Merlin one. And so all the images we'll go into Merlin one and we you know, we have a server in a backup server that the White House main maintained. And then when it came time to transfer to the National Archives, they were not allowed to use Merlin one. And for reasons that I'm not quite clear about one of which was that once you send a record to the National Archives, you cannot change the record. And so, Merlin one you could go in and, like, we would update captions all the time as we added names and things like that. But once it was sent to the National Archives, it it becomes a locked file from the White House, the National Archives, and Merlin. You can go in and change things so they couldn't use Merlin. So, um, you know, I worked really diligently with them, and and an I t guy at the White has to build a similar system as Martin and, um, it on. And so that's that's they hired a contractor to build this database. That is as good, if not better than then. Merlin. Wow. Yeah, Julie's asking. Do all of your photos and up in the National Archives then, huh? Yeah, Every single one. So I shut about 11. million photos. I didn't quite make it to two million. So they're all they're all now at the National Archives. Amazing. Amazing. What a contribution to history. Um Wana. Speaking of history, I want to shift gears to talk about some of the the key moments that you photographed that are, you know, indelibly engraved, embedded in, um, culture forever, Um, one that comes to mind is the image in the in the, um the moment where the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound is going down. Um, can you talk to us about you know, your experience there, What you can share. And, um, just being in so many of those moments, Do you have some favorite photographs besides that one that is just so iconic? Yeah. So, um, that was that was ah, a long day. Those really long day. Um, but the raid itself, when they were when they were monitoring the raid as it happened Ah, that was like Iran. About 40 minutes. Um and it's as, ah, tense and anxious. The time as a zai can probably remember in my career. And it was it was tense, more so for the people in the room. And it was for me. Although I was pretty tense to, um I mean, I think part of the the to me, the interesting aspect of the photograph is that you've got all the most powerful people in the executive branch of our government all jammed into this tiny room. Um, and yet in that moment, they are powerless because, you know, their their decision had already been made, and now is up to those guys on the ground. And they're watching this unfold. And a is nothing I can do about it. Uh huh. You know that the attention that you see in that photograph it and and that was that was a situation where, um, you know, I wish wish Marylise cameras had had been in, um, it had advanced to the point where they are now. Back then, this is 2011. They didn't. Says what? Using a canon five d mark to, I guess which was, you know, fairly quiet. But it did make noise. And so I did not. In those 40 minutes, I did not shoot. Ah, lot of frames. I think I shot a little over 100 as I recall. Or maybe maybe just under 100 Just not really a lot. And in terms of like, choosing that particular image, um, I think that that when When people are able Teoh to see all the images that I shot in that room, uh, which they will eventually, um I think I think I chose the right one. I feel confident that it's the best picture. Um, were there others where you could see the same tension? Yeah, but you know, oftentimes with that many people in ah, a picture somebody's, you know, looking the other way, or you somebody is caught in the mid blank or somebody's looking down or whatever. And for whatever reason, I mean, that one just sort of gravitated right away on, and I think hopefully people will agreement agree with me when I look at all my images that I chose chose the right one. Oh, clearly stunning, stunning image. And that's part of what you shoot 100 right? Because of the blinking and that nose picking and the scratching in the off moments, you got to shoot 100 to get a handful of the ones that you love. Um, is that it was that be do they become a tool for those moments. I think we're trying to speak specifically of some of these just hyper historic, like, just amazing. Captures was the mere list that become Ah, um, a key piece of machinery for for that purpose of the silent or almost silent shutter. You know, we never used Marylise cameras to me. They hadn't yet gotten to the point where they were could match the quality of the DSLR. I mean, I thought the Canon DSLR was fairly quiet. There was a silent mode. It wasn't totally silent, but it's pretty quiet. And I wasn't like a guy I didn't use, like, a motor drive or rapid fire. Or I didn't use a flash for, you know, the candid pictures. Um and so I think you know, I think people it wasn't that, uh, disruptive, if if at all. Yeah, uh, you know, obviously, today it be much easier with a Merrill is t b the fly on the wall because there's, you know, no noise if you so choose. Um so But the mirror lists didn't really come into play during during the Obama administration. I don't know about you. I still can't get over the digital viewfinder concept. You know, the focus is always seems imprecise versus what I can see with my eye through an actual, you know, SLR mirror. Um, I suppose that technology's improved, but, um, like, I like you didn't really see it suitable for the pro jobs. Um, do you feel like in these moments, um, you know, having the tool be Justin extension of your body and you're focused on these moments? Did you trained for these moments in advance? You're visualizing anything when you walk into this this room, um, we walk into the situation room or any of these other really high pressure, high profile moments that you've been selected to capture You thinking about making a picture, or is it always reacting in the moment? Oh, I'd say 90% of the time, just reacting in the moment. Um and, um you know, uh, uh, I think my my framing and my my use of late and certain its's have have developed over time. Um, and it's a it's a product of, you know, everything I've experienced in my career. Um, there were, you know, there's a handful of times when, um, one that comes to mind in particular is, um, you know, on the last day leaving the Oval Office for the last time. Where? You know, actually, you know, I was thinking about how can I I know what the worries. While I know about what? He's gonna walk out and, you know, capture this in such a way That sort of embodies the moment. And so, in a case like that, I might think about it ahead of time and plan accordingly. In that particular case, it involved, um, borrowing a ladder, Um, you know, to serve, get up high. To show the surf, though as much of the Oval Office is, is that as I could, So but those instances were pretty pretty rare. And you mentioned early in your career are short. You're on a conversation about being in Afghanistan and actually being in war. Can you juxtapose the moment of sitting in, say, the situation room when you were photographing the raid versus actually, not at that moment, but being boots on the ground in a place like Afghanistan with a lot of people in the in the, uh, are listening right now are watching have questions about the, you know, the juxtaposition of of the pressure of your job versus the the life and death aspects of being a war photographer. Yeah. I mean, I've had a couple of friends that have been killed in war, and, um, there's no comparison. Uh, yeah, my job at the White House had a lot of pressure, but there were no bullets flying over my head. There was no rocket propelled grenades heading my way, whistling through the air. Um, you know, my life wasn't in danger. And so it's a different kind of pressure but doesn't compare to what it's like for, you know, a war photographer and which I will say I was not good at. I did not function well when I heard, uh, you know, sniper bullets whistling over my head. I did not function well, and I was not made out to, um, Teoh to do that for for a career. I mean, I'm glad that I went to Afghanistan. There's there's pictures there I'm really proud of, but it's it's not something that I would ever do again. Yeah, it just seems so hard core. Um, and obviously several in our community have passed over the course of the last two decades of conflict. Um, I want to shift gears and, um, juxtapose all of this work that you've done, um, in photojournalism for, you know, a couple of different administrations and And the report Taj with some work that I gather you do for fun. And I'm gonna Harkin a moment we've met before. I don't know if you remember this, I'm guessing you probably don't. Um I was at the white House. Ah, hanging with, um, Lumineers at South by Southwest. I was positive it was a guest of ah, of the administration. And I have known the Lumineers helped, um, uh, start telling some stories early on in their career with Jeremiah and ah, West. Those guys were amazing. We're standing the rose garden, um, talking about taking pictures of music and whatnot. Um, so you take pictures of music? You look familiar? No. Acts me, by the way, I have to say that the, um the last public thing I've ever done like being and go out. And Publicas, I went Ah. I saw those guys in Milwaukee on March 11th. It was their last concert, basically probably for the year. Ah, they didn't. You know, they didn't know it at the time, but, uh, that that was, like, the last time I've ever been out in public and with other people. Oh, those guys were amazing. We, um we did a live broadcast of a whole set of music from our creative life studios in Seattle on the day that they're big album dropped. Whatever. I think that was 2011 or 12. So I've known those guys for a long time, and I know you think highly of them. And and I want to explore a little bit of this stuff that it seems like you do. Um, for I don't know if it's for fun, maybe you can tell us why you do what? You've photographed the Lumineers a lot. Brandi Carlile. Obviously a subject of yours. Your turtle, Charlotte is the subject. And she loved someone. Ah, in the broadcast or someone in the comments that I think I see it. Turtle head over there somewhere in the behind your shoulder. Iwas Well, I don't know where she is right now, but she was walking around. Um well, is those, um the subjects are very different than what you're known for photographing. I'm just wondering if you could talk about a certain area Passion. Are these just friends of yours? You're casually photographing. Um, And since we've share that in common, I was just a little bit curious how you go back with Jeremiah and Wesley in this guy's you know, I met them for the first time at, um at South by South Lawn. Uh, when when you were there and, um kept in touch with them and then my book, Obama, an intimate portrait was printed in Verona, Italy. Ah, and I was in. I was there for three weeks as they were printing the book. Um, and it just so happened that the Lumineers can't through it at a concert in Verona. And so I hooked up with them there and on. Then I sort of kept in touch, and they invited me toe photograph in the studio when went before their, uh, their third album came out. And, um, yes, So you know, I've become friends with them and, um, I like music. I've I've been a huge music fan my whole life. I have played guitar my whole life I'm really bad at it. But, you know, I play chords and stuff like that. And I met Brandy and out on Bond 10 or so years ago. She became a really big good friend of mine. And, uh um, so it, you know, I photographed her a lot. Um, and I you know, I think it's I think it's funny. Like I was mentioning earlier that I just happened to be in journalism school when I developed a passion for photography. And I think if if I had, if I thought about it back then and known that you could become a music photographer, that I sort of like to go back to 1976 and and switch you start to make. My mark is a music photographer back then. So now I can just do it for fun. Uh, is probably more than anything. Um, it's It's really seeing your pictures. Um, you can tell the connection that you have with the artists is ah kee to it. I'm I'm sort of hearkening the commentary that you had earlier around. Just being able to be present with, um on Obama or a Reagan, or just be the fly on the wall, be comfortable to be around. And I think that's, um probably has a little bit to do with the photographs that were able to get us some of these musicians. That's fun to see you outside of what you're well known for. And obviously still, um, making incredible pictures. What about Charlotte? Like you've taken documenting her. I've seen a lot of Charlotte videos on your I g feed. Um, Always been a turtle guy. Yeah. I mean, she she has her own instagram feed. Yes. Our limits. Willis. Thanks. Yeah. 25,000 falls. Charlotte, the Tortoise Charlotte years. So she, um You know, uh, my wife's kids got Charlotte when they were little kids and kids. Kids grow up, they leave the house and they don't take their pets with them. So now I sort of like, am I guess the father toe to Charlotte and, um, her caretaker. And she's just like, you know, it's just unusual, pet. And, um, I started, you know, doing videos of her and still photos. And, um, people were just fascinated. So she started her own account, and, um, there's actually she posted Charlotte posted today a selfie of With Me and Charlotte on. That's All I'll say so people could go check it out. It's not on by Instagram account. It's on her instagram account. Charlotte the tortoise for those who are curious and tuning in late. Ah, and if you are tuning late, I'm chased Roberson here with Pete Souza, legendary photographer of many things and not the least of the chief photographer for Barack Obama. A to White House. Uh, let's see here. So we've covered a lot of ground. I think it's really important to cover. Ah, piece of locking, making choices with your art and locking these. You've got 1.9 million moments that you've captured in film. But, you know, on Lee, a couple 100 get to make your books and, um, a couple of books, one, most recently, shade till two presidents before that. Obama. An intimate portrait, Um, both number one New York Times best sellers. Um, when we think about creating and putting as much stuff out as we can and capturing the moments and getting them catalogued at some point, we have to make a choice of what art to put out there and what to hold on to, um, talk to spot editing those books. And when you have 1.9 million images and you have some of the most iconic photographs of, um, of a Nikon iconic time and iconic, Uh, I guess subjects like Reagan, like Obama and all of the world's top dignitaries and whatnot, how in the world do you make choices? That's tough. I mean, the Obama an intimate portrait, which, which is, you know, the book that I will forever be the proudest of that I've ever done. Um, there's probably a little over 300 pictures in the book, and it was agonizing. I don't know how else to say it, but but I But I had a few things in the back of my mind. One was what was it like during the Obama presidency s? So that was a thought in the back of my mind. To what? What are some of the most important things that happen? Um, big events. And three, What's Barack Obama like as a human being? And that probably overrode Everything is I really wanted to show images, is that showed what he was like a za person. And there's there's some big events that just didn't didn't make. I didn't make the book, um, because I was mawr looking for these human moments, these human interactions that I thought, um, really showed what what he was like. And, you know, there's there's some cool pictures in there to, you know, like a very forceful on and Marine one. And, um, you know, just like cool visual images that maybe don't tell you anything about him. I'm in trying to mix some of those into, but for the most part, you know, the ones that I was really trying to get it in the most were just those those moments that that tell you what he's like moments with others, moments alone. Um, yeah, all that. All of it. Of course. Um, lots of folks want to know about your favorite capture, and I personally hate being asked about my favorites. But I'm I'm projecting now, and that's a bad role as an interviewer. So do you have some favorites or is the I mean for me, it waas the the the, uh, the and I don't think I really mentioned this before, but I was, uh, um, intent on trying to create the best body of work. Uh, that had ever been done on a president that was served, like, you know, that that was my overarching goal. And so I let you know, others sort of weigh in on this is your best picture. This is your most fit, you know? I mean, a lot of people say, Oh, the situation room is your most famous picture. Well, yeah. I mean, it's it's it is its historic image. But at the same time, I would say it's like it's not hanging on my wall anywhere. You know, it's it's not one of those, um, so And I think over time it changes. You know what your favorite images it that changes over time. And, um so I sort of, like, always put into answering that p to anything. It's a superlative, like what's the best that most the coolest. It's just some ways so hard you're picking from a lifetime of things, and I can only imagine that's probably exponentially harder for someone who is live the life and see the things that you've seen of speaking to your Ah, hang on your wall back there. I do see the famous Snake River Grand Teton image by Ansel Adams. Um, in the background, there is already it's story about that zoo. When I was when my book shade came out, it was being printed at a Meridian Meridian printing in Rhode Island. They do create for the heart of e books. And while my book was printing on one press, this poster was being printed on the other press and I saw it coming off the press and I was like, Can I have one of those? And they're like, Yeah, well, trim off. You know, all the color codes. And I said, No, no, no, no. Keep all that stuff on there. I want everything I want the like the the whole sheet. And so that's what that is. I don't know if you can see at the top is the Yeah, yeah, the color bars. To me, that was the coolest part of it. So in parallel with that, are there other photographers whose work, um, that you respect and admire or that have maybe played a key role in developing you as an artist? Um, it's a little bit of a typical question, but I'm wondering if you have, um, you know, if you have some folks that you looked up to that have paved the way or or maybe even outside of photography, that have been really influential in your development as a creator, I mean, there are so many, um I mean, I think from for for me, um uh, me two people, three people that I never met that have influenced my career. Car caper sunk, of course. The great French photographer who was so good at composition, framing and and moments had decided on lightning like slice of life. Uh, W Eugene Smith, the the old, uh, life magazine for tired for photojournalists. Ah, you know, developer of the picture story, the photo essay, and in many ways, And, um, you know, looking through his his famous essay is the country doctor, and, um, things I Dad certainly had influenced me, And I think in terms of, um, at the White House Ah, Yoshi Okamoto, who is LBJ's photographer and really was the first official White House photographer to truly document a presidency for history. Meaning he just had total access and just raised the bar on what it meant to be a white house, the tired for and in terms of white House photography. I think that he definitely influenced me more than anyone. And I'm sorry that I never got Teoh meet him. He tragically died from suicide, I think in 1984 and last man, a fact that last year last fall I got this call sort of out of the blue from his son. Ah, and it was such a fascinating conversation to talk to his son about his dad. Um, so I think you know, Okamoto has had a huge influence on my ah, White House career. Well, you are insanely talented at your job. You've got a clear place in history locked in for yourself and the images that you have created locked in that, um, the legacy of a couple of men in particular. Barack Obama, Of course. Um, but with respect to your own, um, I'm I'm curious. If you have advice and advice for people who it's not just about wanting to become the next presidential photographer, but for people who have big dreams and I don't know, when you came into have the dream of being, you know, a white House photographer or one for particular for Obama. But clearly you've had dreams in your career, and I'm wondering if you could give some advice, not just for photographers, but for all creators out there about what it took to pursue your dreams. And if there's something that's missing from the dialogue and pop culture at large Oh, that's a That's a big question. And I'll I'll simplify it. Uh, because, um, I can only, um, se what's what's word for me? Which is, um, you know, work hard. Um, every assignment, every, uh, time you're asked, make a picture. Uh, no matter who the client is, do the best. You know, the best job you can. Um, the you're gonna get, uh, lucky in your career. Um, if people see that you do work hard for the tire prisons specifically, but I don't think there's any, like you can't get on an elevator and hit 20 and get the job that you want. You know, you just you just have the work hard, and I I would not necessarily aspire to become a White House photographer. And I say that because the odds are against you and I mean I got lucky. That's that's how it happened to me. And you could do all the right things and still not get that job. So instead, I would say, just, you know, do the best you can at what you're doing and people recognize it. Um, for photography. I think it's so important. Teoh, get out there every single day to make pictures. Um, I think you learn by your failures. And the only way that you can fail is the truck. Um and, you know, even today I mean, I'm limited in because of my have asthma. You know, I'm at that age group where I do not want to get Corona virus some lip limited in what I can do. But I'm still I mean, I was out this morning, um, doing macro shots of my peonies outfront, you know, just right. Just try toe, engage every day in photography. Um I mean, you look at somebody like John Stan Meyer, who is think on day, I don't 40 something, Uh, he's a National Geographic for stuck at home in Massachusetts. And every day he's photographing in his house, and it's fascinating. I mean it, Z genius. Ah, to show the creativity that exists in the world. Ah, and if you're not, uh, these are different times, and some people are willing to take more risks, uh, than than me, and that's all fine and everything. But I think it's so important to be photographing every day and learn from your mistakes. You said it's, ah, one liner. It was Ah, quick one liner earlier in our conversation, I want to come back to here at the end, and the quick one liner was. I just tried to make the most authentic images that I could and you're referring Teoh, um, the Obama presidency. Clearly, you're a super authentic person. This conversation just uses it. And I'm wondering when you said make unauthentic portrait and when you carry yourself as you do, like what is what is authenticity for you? It's a word that gets thrown around quite a bit, but you know what was you know, how do you think of that word? And what role is it played and your your career? I mean, I think it's I think it's, um, to me, authenticity is, um, uh, you know, being truthful, uh, and and and truth is open to interpretation. Uh, because we all bring our own, you know, background and thinking and every situation we're in. But, you know, authenticity to me means, um, that you're representing what is taking place in an objective and truthful way, and and to me, it's the mood and the emotion, right that that you're like the picture in the situation room. To me, that represents the true mood and emotion of what was taking place. That that I witnessed that the way I saw it, yes, I think that's what I mean by authenticity. Um, and I think it's it's actually even more important today. Uh, then ever that photo Journalists especially are doing that because, I mean, I don't want to get into politics, but you know, the the that we have one of our highest national leaders questioning the whether something is fake news or not, it is so important for photojournalists, especially to be authentic in the images that they're posting or publishing. Um, and and not to, um not to misrepresent any situation. Um, it is so vitally important on the topic of importance. Shade tailor to presidents. Incredible. Um, not just result in having, you know, so many copies sold and hit the New York Times list, but just incredibly timely Obama An intimate portrait. Such a ah ah, capsule of legendary work. Um, those two books, if you haven't, you're listening right now. And you haven't looked at either or both. Um, now is a great time to go pick up a copy, and Ah, I'm curious, Pete. What? You know, after after two just incredible. Um, incredible books. What is next? You have another book in the works? Are you working on something that you can share with us right now, or is it all hush hush. I'm gonna I may have got, um I'm still actually trying to figure out my next big project. Um, well, I do another book someday. Yes. What? What will that book be? Not sure yet. Um, I will. I will tell your listening listeners that, uh, there is a documentary film in the works coming out about me and my career mostly centered on President Obama. That will be out this fall. Uh, it's it's being produced and by lord during the actress. And, um, Evan Hayes, who, uh, produced free solo. Um, and So that's coming out this fall. And I have ah lot of involvement in and and, uh, that film, I'm also helping President Obama with the, um, photographs for his forthcoming book. And, um so some of the hopefully some of the pictures that didn't didn't make my book well will appear in his book, so I'm sort of helping him curate. Uh, those images ice just kick kicking it with a casual ah shared light room library, walk down the street and lay out some tear sheets and helped the former president pick out some good pictures. I'm sure it's more Ah, more advanced than that. But I would love to see some more of those images come to light, as I'm sure some money and congratulations on the documentary Wow, that is it's a little It's a little unnerve ing because, um, the you know, all you all lose a little bit mawr of my anonymity, which you know, which is a little uncomfortable. But, um, you know, I think it's I think it's for the I think the documentary will be for the greater good, So Well, what a crew you've got working on it. Um, I've been a long time friends with Jimmy Chin, the director for free Soul, who was actually the most recent guest last week on the show. Right? Proceeded proceeded Jimmy, and obviously he's He's good friends with Evan Hayes, who has the producers and now good friends with Evan. So small World today will meet, I think so. We'll come together and just I can't thank you enough for not just this conversation but your role in history for being such an iconic, humble, hardworking, you know, bad ass photographer. Clearly one of the best in the business. Best ever hold a camera in the photojournalism world you've taken, You know, some of the most iconic photographs in the last 20 years. Um, and I'm just It's really important that I give you a shutout from Michael and Chris and Allie Rice and Robert and Han and Ryan and Jennifer Lee. People from all over the world want to say thank you so much for inspiring them. There's a lot of congratulations about your book, a lot of just kind notes about your role in telling amazing stories of the past two decades, and just for me personally, thanks so much for being on the show. Pete, what's the best place? If people want to learn more, where would you steer them? Um, and how can this community come together? Thio Thio, help support you as ah, the artist. You are? Ah, yes. Oh, my websites pete souza dot com Pretty simple. And at Instagram at Pete Souza. So it's, uh, those actually haven't updated my website and probably, I don't know, five years or something like that. But, you know, you could Seymour of my more my work there. And I regularly post to instagram if you're not following me on instagram. Um, and, you know, sometimes I post old pictures of President Obama or new pictures of Charlotte or, you know, pictures of my flowers. It's all it's all fascinating. And while, uh, Charlotte might be a great subject, he's not the fastest type. Er, so she does not post is often overlooked is often, but, um, yeah, she posts a lot of videos. Um, and that's Charlotte the tortoise for human use. Curious on Mr Graham? A Pete again. Thanks so much for being on this show. Uh, you're a legend and an inspiration to so many, including myself. I appreciate you taking the time out, and I just want to wish you the very best thanks for having me on trays. Appreciate. All right, everybody signing off. Make sure to go. Follow Pete if you're not already. I know most of you probably are a Z. He's a legend in our midst. And remember, if you were watching this at Facebook Live or YouTube live, come check us out at creativelive dot com slash tv. Where we have conversations like this every day and more than 2000 classes for the world's top creators and entrepreneurs. I'm chased Jarvis signing off Pete, thanks again for being on the show. See everybody getting hopefully.

Ratings and Reviews

Dream Focus Studio

By far the best classes on Creative Live!! Thanks Chase Jarvis for bringing so much greatness to the table for discussion! Just LOVE it!

René Vidal

@ChaseJarvis - love chat with Gabby about hope and the "relentless optimism" you share at the end of Creative Calling. Many thanks. -- René Vidal McKendree Tennis


Excellent interview with thoughtful questions. Thanks!!

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