Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.
What if someone benign shadowed you throughout your life, snapping photos to record your highs and lows, your joys and sorrows? What would the photos reveal about you? Would you permit that kind of intrusion on your privacy? What would you hope to hide and why? What would you hope to see revealed?
Pete Souza became a photographer because he loved taking pictures—especially still photos that freeze moments for us to look at again and again. When I was directing high school plays, I was glad to have someone shoot still candids, because the photos never lied about who was deeply in character and who wasn’t. The pics eliminated any need for argument. In real life, we tend to seek out professional photographers who will make us look better (our definition of “better”) than what we see in the mirror—even though the make-up and artificial poses disguise what is the essence of who we are. Perhaps we’re shy about admitting how damaged and distorted our self-esteem is. After all, in modern society, who is valuable who isn’t beautiful? Women and men alike are taught that appearance is our most important ambassador. And character? That’s a descriptor we used to use to excuse ugly blind dates. “She (or he) has great personality—really fine character.” Perhaps we’re rethinking that preference for image over content in view of current events.
Because of his ability to capture character as well as emotion in day-to-day life through his photographs without, himself, becoming part of the scene, Pete Souza was hired to visually record the tenure in the White House of two vastly different presidents—Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Apparently, most presidents feel the weight of history giving them not merely permission but a responsibility to share private moments. Most presidents recognize they work for the people and owe them their truth.
THE WAY I SEE IT, the recently released documentary of Souza’s unscripted accomplishments, brings many viewers to tears because of both its kindly reality and its contrast with the nation’s recent experience. We can readily witness the tender love between Nancy and Ronald Reagan—in public and private with family members—romantic love that eventually characterized the Obamas, as well. We watch both Reagan and Obama reaching out with empathy to those in distress, stepping up to the vulnerability they must shoulder when they make difficult decisions that play out well or badly. We enjoy their sense of humor and their delight in the joys of living. We feel his pain as we watch Barack Obama struggle to maintain composure as he talks about the murder of innocent school children. We sigh as we witness the Obama girls growing up before us, part of a truly loving family, because for those eight years, we felt like we were a little bit of that family, too. Watching THE WAY I SEE IT, we’re moved with pride in what Americans can be—intelligent, principled, tolerant.
Souza didn’t record the images he captured to make a political statement, but he recently surrendered his journalist’s objectivity to comment on the contrast those images can’t avoid when set beside pics of our current administration. Today, we see no candid photos, no moments without make-up and fabulously expensive hair styles. Perhaps we see a reflection of what we’ve allowed ourselves to become—superficialities that were once people renowned worldwide for their generous open hearts, cartoon bravado in place of courage, playground meanness where we once tried to embrace diversity. No wonder so many viewers can’t prevent dropping a few tears as they review Souza’s photographs. We remember our dreams of what we can be if we never give up trying.