Pete Souza

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Pete Souza
Pete Souza and Politics at Prose-cropped.jpg
Souza in 2018
Chief Official White House Photographer
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byEric Draper
Succeeded byShealah Craighead
Personal details
Peter Joseph Souza

(1954-12-31) December 31, 1954 (age 68)
New Bedford, Massachusetts, U.S.
Patti Lease
(m. 2013)
EducationBoston University (BS)
Kansas State University (MS)

Peter Joseph Souza[2] (born December 31, 1954)[3][4] is an American photojournalist, the former chief official White House photographer for Presidents of the United States Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama and the former director of the White House Photography Office.[5] He was a photographer with The Chicago Tribune, stationed at the Washington, D.C., bureau from 1998 to 2007; during this period he also followed the rise of then-Senator Obama to the presidency.[6][7]

Early life[edit]

Souza was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and grew up in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts,[8] the son of a nurse and a boat mechanic.[9] He is of Portuguese ancestry; both sets of his grandparents emigrated from the Azores.[10]

Souza graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in public communication from Boston University and a master's degree in journalism and mass communication from Kansas State University.[7][8]


Early career[edit]

Souza started his career in the 1970s in Kansas at the Chanute Tribune and the Hutchinson News.[11] In the early 1980s, he was a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times.

With Ronald Reagan[edit]

Souza in 1983, during his time as Official White House photographer of the Reagan administration

He served as an official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan[12] from June 1983 until 1989. He was also the official photographer for the funeral services of Ronald Reagan in 2004.[8]

Souza at the LBJ Presidential Library in 2022

At the end of the Reagan administration, Souza continued to be based in Washington, D.C. Between 1998 and 2007, he was a photographer for the Chicago Tribune Washington, D.C., bureau.[7] Souza has also worked as a freelancer for National Geographic and Life magazines. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he was among the first journalists to cover the war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul.

With Barack Obama[edit]

In 2004, Jeff Zeleny, now a political correspondent for CNN, asked Souza to take photographs for a project documenting Barack Obama's first year as U.S. senator.[13]

Souza covered Obama's arrival to the Senate in 2005 and met him for the first time on Obama's first day in the Senate. He documented Obama's time in the Senate, following him in many foreign trips, including those to Kenya, South Africa, and Russia. In the process he not only became close to Senator Obama, he ended up following his rise to the presidency.[6] In July 2008, Souza published a bestseller photo-book The Rise of Barack Obama, featuring photographs between 2005 and 2008.[14]

Souza was an assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication.[7] After the November 2008 election, he was asked to become the official White House photographer for his second time for the new President-elect Obama.[13][15] On January 14, 2009, the new presidential portrait was released; it is the first time that an official presidential portrait was taken with a digital camera.[16] A week later Souza was present at the inauguration and the following day he was the only photographer present for Obama's second swearing-in on Obama's first workday in the Oval Office.[13]

In May 2009, Souza began using Flickr as an official conduit for releasing White House photos. The photos were initially posted with a Creative Commons Attribution license which required that the original photographers be credited. Flickr later created a new license which identified them as "United States Government Work" which does not carry any copyright restrictions.[17][18]

In 2010, National Geographic produced a program about Souza titled The President's Photographer, which featured Souza as the main subject while also covering the previous White House photographers.[6]

Souza's photograph taken at 4:05 pm on May 1, 2011, in the Situation Room during the raid on Osama bin Laden, featuring Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and others, quickly became an iconic image.[19] It also became one of the most viewed images on Flickr.[20] Souza's 2009 image of a five-year-old child, Jacob Philadelphia, touching Obama's head has also become iconic. Jacob asked if Obama's hair was similar to his and the image has become symbolic of the African American struggle for civil rights.[21]

As the official White House photographer, Souza traveled with the president to document each meeting, trip and encounter for historical record. Along with his staff, Souza produced up to 20,000 pictures a week.[6] Souza's team included David Lienemann, the official photographer for Joe Biden,[22] and Lawrence Jackson (later the official photographer for Vice President Kamala Harris).[23]

In November 2011, Souza was included on The New Republic's list of Washington's most-powerful, least-famous people.[24]

In October 2013, Souza and his wife, Patti Lease, became the 18th couple to get married at the White House.

As well as using very high end cameras for his presidential photography, Souza occasionally took square shots on his iPhone.[25][26]

Post-Obama administration[edit]

Interview with Pete Souza about his 2017 book. Video from MSNBC.

In 2017, Souza received a book deal from Little, Brown and Company to publish a book of photos from his tenure as White House photographer titled Obama: An Intimate Portrait: The Historic Presidency in Photographs.[27]

Upon Donald Trump's inauguration as president in 2017, Souza began sharing pictures of Obama on his Instagram account, often as critical commentary on the new administration. In April 2017, he had over one million Instagram followers, and reached two million followers in August 2018 as he continued to critique the Trump presidency through contrasting photographs of Obama.[28] In 2018, he announced the release of a new book titled Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, juxtaposing the Obama and Trump administrations.[29]

In late 2019, Pete Souza and his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin.[30]

Souza's work in and after the Obama administration is also the subject of the 2020 documentary The Way I See It.[31]

Opinions on subsequent Chief Photographers[edit]

In January 2021, Souza gave advice to Adam Schultz, the incoming Chief Official White House Photographer for President Joe Biden. He also noted that the photographer for outgoing President Trump, Shealah Craighead, had posted "very few behind the scenes pictures" to Flickr during her tenure.[32]


In 2021 Souza was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum.[33]


Photo books[edit]

  • Unguarded Moments: Behind-the-scenes Photographs of President Reagan, Tapestry Pr, 1997. ISBN 1-930819-37-4
  • Plebe summer at the U.S. Naval Academy: photographs. P. Souza, 2003. ISBN 0-9729426-0-2
  • Images of Greatness: An Intimate Look at the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, Triumph Books, 2004. ISBN 1-57243-701-4.
  • The Rise of Barack Obama, Triumph Books, 2009. ISBN 1-60078-313-9.
  • The President's Photographer: Fifty Years Inside the Oval Office, with John Bredar. National Geographic, 2010. ISBN 1-4262-0676-3.
  • Obama: An Intimate Portrait, Little, Brown and Company, 2017. ISBN 0-3165-1258-3.
  • Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, Little, Brown and Company, 2018. ISBN 0-3164-2182-0.


  1. ^ Larson, Leslie (October 21, 2013). "Obama photographer Pete Souza gets hitched in White House who took the pictures?". NY Daily News. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  2. ^ "Michael Evans Portrait Project Collection - 1981-1984 (120 mm negatives)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on August 4, 2018. Retrieved August 4, 2018.
  3. ^ "Art by Pete Souza". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  4. ^ "Pete Souza: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle". Retrieved May 1, 2014.
  5. ^ "Open for Questions: Pete Souza on White House Photography". October 26, 2010 – via National Archives.
  6. ^ a b c d "The President's Photographer: 50 Years in the Oval Office". PBS. Archived from the original on April 6, 2019. Retrieved September 8, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d "Faculty: Pete Souza, Assistant Professor". Ohio University: School of Visual Communication. Archived from the original on May 1, 2013. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c "Bio". Pete Souza. Retrieved October 22, 2012.
  9. ^ Rogers, Katie (November 9, 2017). "Pete Souza Photographed the Obama Presidency. Now He Helps People Remember It". New York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  10. ^ "Cavaco sabia que os meus avós eram dos Açores". November 21, 2010. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  11. ^ "This Week's Podcast Interview: New White House Photographer Pete Souza". ABC News. January 15, 2009.
  12. ^ Souza, Pete. "I photographed Obama and Reagan. Here's why Trump's White House is a national disgrace". NBC News, Think: Opinion, Analysis, Essays. Retrieved November 11, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c Roig-Franzia, Manuel (March 1, 2009). "White House Photographer Pete Souza Has the Country's Top Photo Op: Pete Souza takes another turn as official White House photographer, this time to document President Barack Obama". Washington Post.
  14. ^ "A Front-Row View Of Obama's White House". NPR. January 15, 2009.
  15. ^ Winslow, Donald R. (January 4, 2009). "Pete Souza Named Obama's White House Photographer". News Photographer. National Press Photographers Association. Archived from the original on May 13, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
  16. ^ "New official portrait released Wednesday"., Office of the President-Elect. January 14, 2009. Archived from the original on September 10, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  17. ^ Singel, Ryan (May 11, 2009). "Flickr Creates New License for White House Photos". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  18. ^ The photos, at are (as of January 4, 2009) posted with the following disclaimer, "This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House."
  19. ^ "Breaking down the Situation Room". Washington Post. May 5, 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2015.
  20. ^ Yin, Sara (May 4, 2011). "'Situation Room' Shot of Obama, Clinton Nearly Flickr's 'Most-Viewed' Photo". Retrieved January 15, 2013.
  21. ^ Olivier Laurent and Julia Lull (January 19, 2017). "The Story Behind One of President Obama's Most Touching Photographs". Time. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  22. ^ Donahue, Joe (October 26, 2020). "Joe Biden's White House Photographer Publishes Book Of Images From Obama Years". WAMC. Retrieved January 23, 2021. like his former boss Pete Souza, David was granted unfettered access to Biden, which resulted in nearly a million compelling photos.
  23. ^ Valentine, Victoria L. (January 19, 2021). "Lawrence Jackson: Black Photographer Will Document Historic White House Tenure of Incoming Vice President Kamala Harris". Culture Type. Archived from the original on January 20, 2021. Retrieved January 20, 2021.
  24. ^ "Washington's Most Powerful, Least Famous People". The New Republic. November 3, 2011. Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  25. ^ Savov, Vlad (December 23, 2015). "A year at the White House as seen through an iPhone's lens". The Verge. Retrieved June 9, 2021. Pete Souza has been Barack Obama's chief White House photographer throughout the US president's two terms in office
  26. ^ Brownlee, John (December 23, 2015). "How the official White House photographer uses his iPhone". Cult of Mac. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  27. ^ Rogers, Katie (April 26, 2017). "Obama's Photographer Gains a New Following, and a Book Deal". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2017.
  28. ^,
  29. ^ Gold, Michael (May 23, 2018). "Pete Souza's 'Shade' Adapts His Instagram Trolling Into Book Form". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  30. ^ Journal, Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State. "Former Obama photographer who now makes career of trolling Trump moving to Madison".
  31. ^ Brian Lowry (September 17, 2020). "'The Way I See It' filters the Obama presidency through Pete Souza's lens". CNN. Retrieved October 14, 2020.
  32. ^ "Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 1/19/2021". Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  33. ^ "Pete Souza". International Photography Hall of Fame. Retrieved July 28, 2022.

External links[edit]