He’s a beacon of hope to the #Resistance.
And regardless of political partisanship, he’s a reminder of a long-gone era when a masterful photographer served as President Obama’s Chief Official White House Photographer.
Even if you don’t know Pete Souza, you’ve surely come across his Instagram account — two million followers and rising! — the inspiration behind his latest photo book, “Shade, A Tale of Two Presidents,” from Little, Brown and Company, which launched last night at the NYC Union Square Barnes & Noble in a conversation/book signing event moderated by Gayle King.
The sold-out venue held a mixed crowd of all ages and ethnicities. VIP star power was slim but D.C.-luminary: John Brennan (photo above), Obama’s former CIA director, made a front row appearance to support his good friend. (Souza mentioned that they had neighboring offices in Obama’s White House.)
Moderator King steered the conversation at a lively, sparkling tempo while frequently referring to specific photos in the book to draw out Souza’s creative process, anecdotes, and ideology. Souza’s demeanor was as accessible and straight-forward as his wardrobe, a dark plaid shirt with denim.
King, in a well-cut emerald green cocktail dress, said that moderating the event was a proud exception to her strict weekday curfew for CBS This Morning, citing a 3AM wake-up call! Fun fact #1: she said her favorite photo was on page 201 — buy the book to find out! Fun fact #2: she gave the book a nice nod in her “The World According to Gayle” November feature in O, the Oprah Magazine November edition!
“Shade” is a follow-up to Souza’s bestselling 2017 photo book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” of his unforgettable, iconic portraits of Obama and the first family, which captured the gravity of the presidency and the White House, and the huge responsibility that comes along with it.
Souza said that choosing the ~100 photos for “Shade” — juxtaposed with a wry, witty twist against tweets, news headlines, and quotes from Trump’s first 500 days in office — was an organic, intuitive process that took about six weeks.
He also said that it was a departure from his former documentarian lens: “Shade” is pure opinion that criticizes the current administration’s chaos, abuse of power, corruption, and inhuman policies.
Souza’s strong opinions of Trump are grounded as a living witness: his first impression of the current president came during a pre-inauguration visit to the White House where he watched Trump interact with Obama, and was immediately struck by his “confused” expression and his affected manner, like a “mafia don” and a “reality TV star.”
Once Trump took office, Souza was compelled to take a stand against Trump’s public swipes at his friends, former Obama appointees from 2009-2017 when he was the Director of the White House Photo Office. He implored Trump to 1. stop lying and 2. stop bullying after he cited a handful of egregious examples of his bad sportsmanship wuch as when he falsely accused the Obama administration of wiretapping his phones during the 2016 election.
Calling it his “civic duty” to speak out against Trump’s presidency, Souza aims to inspire his readers to vote responsibly, particularly in the upcoming November midterms.
Political proclivities aside, Souza reminded us that for all of Trump’s blustery, strong-arm rhetoric and militaristic fetishes, the pen is mightier than the sword.
Catch Pete “The King of Shade” Souza on his national tour event through mid-December with presentations, signings, and Q&As.
And if you’re in the NYC area, the Steven Kasher Gallery is hosting a low-key solo photo exhibition of prints, “Pete Souza: Throw Shade, Then Vote,” which runs through December 8, 2018.
(Me and Obama [in spirit!] above and below!)
(Above: Souza signs my book!)
(Above: the scene from outside Union Square. Barnes and Noble is the brick building.)