Obama and his contagious laugh


By Sterre Sprengers 

Smiling is socially desirable. The pictures by Pete Souza, the White House photographer, show President Obama doing it all day long – contrary to what one would expect with such a job. With a broad smile he shakes every hand, he poses for every picture and he opens every state visit. He smiles to friends and foes. Smiling is a mask which can hide many different emotions. It can bridge any cultural difference. But it only works if the smile is sincere. Especially on a picture, which can expose or suggest every second of awkwardness, this sincerity is crucial. Real laughter is fundamentally different from smiling. It is a short circuit in the brain, a physical reaction to something unexpected. Laughing is healthy and puts things in perspective. It is an exuberant outlet for all the emotions hidden behind that mask. The President wants to be associated with sincerity, spontaneity and optimism. But like a laugh, these associations cannot be forced. This is where Pete Souza’s pictures come in. Because he can capture Obama’s laugh, one of his secret weapons.

@ Pete Souza/ The White House

@ Pete Souza/ The White House

You can see the entire ‘laughing’ collection here.


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.