For five and a half years, Pete Souza was the official White House photographer during the Reagan Administration. His intimate access to the President provided him with an ability to produce pictures that captured authentic expressions through which real stories can be told. Now, as the Chicago Tribune’s national photographer based in Washington, he struggles to deliver a photograph that he can truly say captures the authentic expression of the current President.
“In a lot of ways I think that I was more a journalist covering Reagan, as an employee of the government, than I was covering Clinton as a newspaper photographer for the Chicago Tribune,” said Pete Souza. “I felt when I covered Reagan I did it journalistically and presented the right photographs of him. With Clinton, I really don’t know if I did a journalistic job or not.”
“I am going to show you two photos that were taken 30 minutes apart. This is the Tower Commission presenting their report to President Reagan, and there are 10 people in the Cabinet Room and me. You talk about being a fly on the wall. That’s what I was. I swear to God, when I pushed the shutter button it was like a cannon going off. This is the moment when John Tower is telling Reagan, ‘Our commission has concluded that it was an arms for hostages deal.’ This is a real picture. I’m a government employee.”
“The second photo is what the press got. Now this is the difference between having access and not having access. And I will argue that this first one is a photojournalistic picture, even though I was a government employee. And this one is not.”
“With Clinton, he’s a guy on stage. This is the way I look at it. He could show you five different faces during any one appearance. I transmit my photos digitally to Chicago every day, and the most difficult thing I do is figure out which one to send because I don’t know which one is the true moment. I can make him look anyway you want to match a story of the day. Do you send the pensive look? Which look do you send?
“Towards the end of the year, when it looked like he was going to get impeached, he sort of changed his game face. When he appeared publicly it was more showing that his staff is behind him. It’s the happy face, kind of a little smirk, almost. But whether it’s a true moment, I don’t know. It’s so hard to tell.”