As Chief Official White House Photographer for two US Presidents, Pete Souza had an up-close-and-personal look at the hallways of power and the men who walked them. “The Way I See It,” a new documentary now on VOD, captures a detailed behind-the-scenes profile of power and the responsibility that comes along with the office.
Souza’s photography career began in the 1970s at local news outlets before he made the leap to working for major outlets like the Chicago Sun-Times, National Geographic Magazine and Life Magazine. In June 1983 he became the official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan, capturing intimate portraits of the President and wife Nancy in and out of the Oval Office for the next six years.
A stint as photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune Washington, D.C., bureau followed and in 2001 he was in the first wave of journalists to cover the war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul.
In 2004 Souza covered Barack Obama’s first year as U.S. senator and then, after the 2008 election, he began a project “to create the best photographic archive of a president that had ever been done.” In his second stint as official White House photographer he spent thousands of hours alongside President Obama and family, creating an archive of revealing, personal photographs that form the backbone of the first half of “The Way I See It.”
Using archival footage, hundreds of Souza’s pictures, talking head interviews with people like former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes and former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power and snippets of Souza at a live speaking engagement, director and producer Dawn Porter follows the photographer’s career in the White House and beyond. These reveal Soouza to be an engaging character, laughing at his own jokes and welling up when he speaks of Obama’s tender treatment of the parents of the Sandy Hook victims.
In civilian life Souza has become an unlikely social media star, earning the nickname King of Shade for the snarky captions he uses to reply to Trump tweets. It’s made the formally apolitical photographer a social star and inspired a book called “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents” that collects juxtaposes Souza’s Obama pictures against what he sees as the abuses of power and negative policies of the current administration.
“The Way I See It” is Souza’s story but the larger picture it paints is one of the importance of photography. If a picture is worth a thousand words this movie speaks volumes. Souza’s photos capture the hope and empathy that characterized the Obama years in stark contrast to the anxiety that surrounds the current election season. The photos tell the tale, for now and posterity.