By Donald R. Winslow
© 2009 News Photographer magazine
ATHENS, OH - Photojournalist and NPPA member Pete Souza has accepted the position of official White House photographer for President-elect Barack Obama, he told News Photographer magazine tonight.
Souza received the offer for the position from Robert Gibbs, the new president's longtime spokesman who is also Obama's incoming White House press secretary.
It won't be Souza's first time in the Oval Office. He was also a White House photographer during President Ronald Reagan's second term.
Souza, 54, said he accepted the offer today after talking with Gibbs and reaching an agreement that the primary function of the White House photography office will be to document Obama's presidency for the sake of history.
Gibbs is a close advisor to Obama, a member of the new president's transition team, and made the offer to Souza this weekend on behalf of the President-elect.
"Pete is great person and a wonderful photographer," Gibbs told the Chicago Tribune's John McCormick. "The White House is lucky to have him back again."
Souza has been teaching photojournalism at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication and the Spring semester starts today, so the photojournalist's incoming students will learn this morning that their professor has started their classes by taking what he says is "an extended leave of absence." Souza says he'll leave Athens on Monday for Washington, where his family stayed while he's been teaching in Ohio.
Obama and Souza met for the first time in January 2005, on Obama's first day in the U.S. Senate when he was sworn in as a Democrat from Illinois. Souza worked for the Chicago Tribune at the time, and documented Obama's first year in the Senate, and his trips to seven countries including Kenya, South Africa, and Russia, in photographs that were later compiled into the July 2008 book "The Rise of Barack Obama," which made it onto The New York Times bestseller list and was available to the public shortly before last summer's Democratic National Convention in Denver, CO.
The next step for Souza is to start assembling his photography department team. "I'll be hiring a staff, and I've got people in mind for that," he told News Photographer tonight.
Souza joined NPPA in 1977 and has won numerous awards for his photography in NPPA's contests, in the Pictures of the Year International competition hosted by the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, and in the White House News Photographers Association's contests, where he's a WHNPA member and has also served as their contest coordinator.
In addition to his first stint at the White House, Souza was a photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times in the early 1980s, and later he was the national photographer for the Chicago Tribune and was based in their Washington, DC, bureau. Souza has also shot stories as a freelancer for National Geographic and Life magazines. And after 9/11, he was among the first journalists to cover the war in Afghanistan and the fall of Kabul.
The photographer's other books include two on Reagan, "Unguarded Moments: Behind-the-scenes Photographs of President Reagan," and "Images of Greatness: An Intimate Look at the Presidency of Ronald Reagan." And one of Souza's documentary projects was published as the book "Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy."
Souza currently works using Canon 5D's and he says that he hopes to upgrade to Canon 5D Mark II bodies soon, as well as Leica M8.2 bodies. He says the work of the Obama photography office will be mostly digital, but maybe sometimes film if needed. The White House photography office made the transition from film to digital photography during the George W. Bush administration.
Souza is a native of South Dartmouth, MA, and he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in public communication from Boston University. He also has a masters degree in journalism and mass communication from Kansas State University. In November 2005, Souza wrote the article "Surviving Prostate Cancer," which was published on the NPPA Web site.
Pete Souza's photography can be seen online at www.petesouza.com.