By Sterre Sprengers
He is excited. Surprised maybe. By the place? By his own bare feet? He is looking straight into the camera. He is clearly not posing, he is still moving. On the picture, he seems to be alone, but on his visits he is accompanied with an entire delegation. So why is he standing there alone, the others apparently watching? He wants to share this moment with the camera. Or with whoever is watching him. Obama is visiting Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar. One of the official points on his agenda is a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple complex in the city of Yangon. It is holy soil, so Obama has had to remove his shoes and socks. Souza hardly ever photographs Obama from head to toe. Especially not like this. But it is not the bare feet that make this picture exceptional. This picture is unique because it is different from almost all other pictures from Souza’s archive. Obama is surprised, and he directly shares his surprise with the photographer. That is something he usually doesn’t do. Usually, he ignores Souza. That is the strength of his images. Souza can be up close to the President without influencing the situation. But this time, it is different. The composition reveals that Souza is surprised too. Usually he is near the President, but not now. Usually Souza controls the framing. This time the framing is a little messy. A lot of foreground, and the temple is cut off. Really, this isn’t a very ‘good’ (or: aesthetically pleasing) picture, especially not from someone with Souza’s stature. The composition is too random, the President too small. Really, all this picture shows us is a happy man on bare feet. A typical snapshot for the family photo book. That’s all. Such an endearing picture. So real, so sincere.
You can read the entire article here (in Dutch).
For eight years, White House photographer Pete Souza took 20,000 pictures a week of Obama. That’s right, 20,000 a week, many of which were posted on the White House Flickr account. Sterre Sprengers, image editor at De Correspondent, has followed his work for years, in search of patterns – patterns that reveal relationships of power, etiquette, love. And patterns that subtly reveal the image of the president that Souza created with his images. As time went on, once he had firmly established the presidential image, he took fewer solemn portraits and more images that were lighthearted or artistic. Gradually his work for the White House came to reflect his own personal taste. That is an achievement.
Until Jan. 20th, when Obama’s successor Trump will be inaugurated, the John Adams will present once a day an image and a text from the project Sterre Sprengers published on the daily online news medium ‘De Correspondent’. You can see the entire project here.