The President's Photographer

February 15, 2012 9:35:06 AM PST
The White House press corps records the president's public events but the real work of any president is done behind closed doors, in private meetings, top secret briefings and sometimes in virtual solitude.

Inside the country's best known building, you'll find one of the world's most photographed men.

But long after the media is ushered out of the president's public events and private meetings in the Oval Office, one photographer typically remains. His name is Pete Souza, and he's been with Barack Obama from before day one.

"The first few days in the White House he really didn't know his way around. So he was always asking me, 'where is the Cabinet Room? How do I get to the Situation Room?'" he told ABC7.

Souza has more access to more meetings than almost any advisor but the chief of staff. Boarding Marine One recently, Souza stood next to the military aide carrying the nuclear football.

"I think this was the happiest day of his presidency, really," Souza said as he looked at one of his photographs of the president.

The monumental moments that stand out are the passage of health care reform and the day American forces brought justice to Osama bin Laden.

"I thought this kind of captured the tension that was going on," Souza said.

Souza says that was one of the days when he was keenly aware the world would be watching America's actions through his lens.

"The one photograph has gotten a lot of notoriety. But in actuality I think I probably took 1,000 photographs that day of different meetings," he said.

The modern White House is of course a very scripted place, complete with made for the media events. But looking through the thousands of photographs taken by his Souza and his two deputies and you get sense of what it's like to be in the room during difficult decisions.

"I think that's probably when he forgets about me the most. He's so focused on what he's doing that my presence is not even in his radar," Souza said.

The official White House photographer also captures the president's private moments -- from family to frustration, fun to fantasy.

"He goes through a lot of emotions that people maybe don't see," he said. "He gets mad, I see him get mad. He laughs and I see him laugh. He even sings every once in awhile, which the public finally got to see."

Before joining the Obama campaign, and eventually coming here to the White House, Souza snapped photos for the Tribune and Sun-Times. These days he has a top secret security clearance and an office next to the Situation Room.

It's a dream job for a photographer: Capturing history as it happens.

"People usually ask me the question: What's your favorite photograph? And I always say it's one I'll make tomorrow because that's what keeps me going," Souza said.

The White House has more 3,000 up and posts new ones daily on the photo sharing sight Flicker. It's received nearly 60 million hits in the last three years.

The vast majority of official White House photos from previous presidents were rarely seen. They would end up in an archive room in a presidential library. Through social media and the Internet, the Obama administration is offering a great glimpse inside the White House.

To see more of Pete Souza's photographs, visit the following web sites: