Sunday, February 17, 2008

Photojournalist Pete Souza to Speak

Nationally acclaimed Photojournalist Pete Souza will speak to foreign correspondence students this Tuesday, Feb. 19th.

Pete Souza ( is a freelance photographer and assistant professor of photojournalism at Ohio University. He has worked as an Official White House Photographer for President Reagan, a freelancer for National Geographic, and as the national photographer for the Chicago Tribune based in their Washington bureau. Souza was also the official photographer for the June 2004 funeral of President Reagan.

Souza has covered stories around the world as well as the national political scene. After 9/11, he was among the first journalists to cover the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan after crossing the Hindu Kush mountains by horseback in three feet of snow. More recently, Souza documented Barack Obama's first two years in the Senate and has accompanied him to seven countries including Kenya, South Africa and Russia.

Souza has published three books and has won numerous photojournalism awards including several times in the prestigious Pictures of the Year annual competition, the NPPA's Best of Photojournalism, and the White House News Photographers Association's yearly contest.

He has lectured many times on his photography including at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Harvard University, Boston University, the University of Kansas, Western Kentucky University and Kansas State University.

He has appeared on the ABC news magazine show 20-20, Nightline, Good Morning America, CNN Special Reports and on National Public Radio


Annah said...

I would like to ask Pete about his black and white photography and how he chooses to publish something in white and black vs. color. I was grateful for the chance to see Obama in color after so many black and whites. I find that leaving out color leaves out the ugly of reality. It paints a more stoic picture of the subject, hiding blemish. I think the public gravitates toward black and white photographs because they think of it as timeless and artistic. Why are there so many black and white images in photojournalism when color is truer to reality? I am not saying there shouldn't be, I just pose the question and wonder whether we think about it enough.
Changing subjects, seeing the picture of the drill sergeant yelling at that woman, I shivered. I am not opposed to women in the military, but an image like that made me wonder what women do go through psychologically with these mostly men in power supposed to treat them as equals to their male counterparts. How did Pete feel when he saw that?
I have met Pete (briefly) and look forward to the chance to ask him questions on Tuesday.

Susie Shutts said...

What allows Souza to create a diverse collection of images of relatively uninteresting subject matter (men in suits making speeches) is his eye for moments, mastery of creative devices and access.
Examples of ‘moments’ include an image of Michelle Obama wiping dust from Obama’s coat as he prepares to announce his bid for President and a photograph of Obama kissing his daughter Sasha.
In terms of creative devices, Souza takes a shot of Obama walking through O’Hare Airport and lends it a sense of motion through his use of panning. The repetition of body language between Obama and his aide, Robert Gibbs, as they stand in the Red Square, adds complexity to a simple image. His use of multiple layers of framing (as in the image of a missile graveyard or in Azerbaijan), keep the eye moving within the frame, uncovering surprises. A lot of his subjects are centered within the image, but they are composed effectively (such as Obama inside a dismantled nuclear missile in Perm, Russia, or another of Obama with his daughter Malia in front of a statue at the Library of Congress.) so as to make them overtly graphic. Souza has an eye for interesting lighting, as well, as seen in the image of a private meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, with blind light striping the attendees, and also of Obama in a bus on Robben Island in Cape Town, South Africa. He combines selective focus and his eye for a ‘moment’ in a photograph of Obama shaking people’s hands on the streets of South Africa. The use of all these different elements, lends diversity to Souza’s imagery of the candidate.
My favorite image is the first one in his online presentation, which shows Sen. Obama running up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. The side lighting and sense of movement in Obama’s posture are nice, but what really makes the image is the composition, with Obama placed in the bottom third, and the leading lines of the steps taking the eye up to the grandiose architecture where Obama is headed.
One thing that Souza does that doesn’t work for me, but may for others, is his seemingly arbitrary tilting of horizons, (as in an image of Obama opening Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and another of Obama “surrounded by well-wishers in Atlanta”).
However, the earlier mentioned effective elements are all visible in his other work: of particular note, a graphic image taken in Afghanistan of “the morning after an overnight dust storm,” with the tiny subject placed in the lower third of the frame and orange filling the image, an arresting portrait of “Shakila in her room at the Kabul children's hospital. She suffered from a variety of ailments that couldn't be treated.” The subject’s dead-on gaze in the latter image, demands attention, and the beautiful light contrasts the marks on her face, drawing attention to them. The image of “Afghans leave a soccer match at the stadium where the Taliban performed executions,” make use of particularly beautiful light as well.
The use of repetition (dangling legs, hands holding baseballs, empty seats broken by an employee) silhouettes, shadows and stop-action with a flash are some of the highlights of his Wrigley field photographs.
My favorite images from Reagan’s funeral are the one of the air force flying over the crowd and the 10th from last and last in the series. Souza’s simple, graphic images are effective; he composes large spaces nicely, and the calmness of a sweeping horizon seems fitting for the finality of a funeral.
We reviewed some of Souza’s images of the “Plebe Summer” in my Vico 390 class. Souza was able to get great access, as with his other stories (for example, his extensive work on Reagan over five and a half years). I love love love both the opener (repetitive, broken by a yawn) and closer (emotion via posture) of this story. Some of our discussion included ordering of photographs in a logical way (such as the rafting expedition; it would be confusing to put them jumping out before they are even in the water) and visual variety (the importance of utilizing diversity in overviews, medium and detail shots). Souza is a fantastic teacher; he is able to pull relevant examples from his career and is demanding but encouraging.

Susie Shutts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MGerber said...

I would like to ask Pete about his photography particularly of Afghanistan. Many people don't know but Ohio University currently has seven professors from the University of Kahul College of Engineering, working on their Masters degrees here at the Russ College.

Under the Taliban no one was allowed to pursue a higher education than bachelors. Now the country is in dire need of educated individuals not only to teach but also to help rebuild Afghanistan. After they seven get their degrees they will go home to help their country.

Because I work with these Afghani students I get pulled into their former lives in Afghanistan, and sometime I find it incredibly hard to understand how people can live as they did. I was drawn to looking at Pete's album; road to Kabul in his photo gallery. I noticed there were several photos of people's hardships. Sick children, dead soldiers etc. I want to know how Pete can take such pain wrenching photos without suffering any sort of post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Moreover, how can he get so close and have such a powerful image of someone else's pain and not feel inclined to do anything. I understand the role of a journalist is to not get involved, however seeing some of these photos, I think it would be extremely hard not to reach out and help.

I want to know about the internal struggles he endures as a result of his photography.

Andy Heger said...

A Photojournalist is so important to telling a story because it brings a visual element that we can only imagine with words and facts. At the same time, there is an immense pressure to try and encapsulate the multitude of ways one can tell a story visually.

I really enjoyed reading about the various assignments he has covered and then seeing them in person through the galleries on his personal website. I noticed that a technique he uses, that I believe is beneficial and should be considered by all journalists is to personalize the subject and in essence tell the story behind the story. In his gallery on Wrigley Field, he didn’t limit himself to just the game action, the surroundings, and the tools of the game and the stadium (such as a ball, bat, the famous ivy on the outfield wall, etc.)/ He also included images of excitement and anticipation of the fans, especially younger ones, and what goes on beyond the ballgame, such as autographs, the fight for that ground ball, etc.

Another example is his gallery of the visual poignancy of his work is the Barack Obama gallery. Especially during this campaign, the media viewer has gotten a chance to see Barack shaking hands, giving stump speeches, and his participation in the endless number of debates. Yet I don’t feel as if I know who the real Barack Obama is. Souza does a very nice job of personalizing Barack, by showing him with his daughter, him in contemplative thought. With all his campaign rhetoric and news stories and polls, we forget that he is a real person with a real family and real emotions. That is the power of photojournalism, and that needs to be ingrained into the minds of future journalists who might have to delve into photography or become a photo editor or editor for a visual medium like a magazine.

I am very excited about meeting Mr. Souza. There are several things I want to ask them, but among the questions is how he approaches the subjects he photographs? Does he have several refusals? I know that when I lived abroad, I tried to document my journeys via camera and video camera, and was met with people who didn’t appreciate the “intrusion.” For someone like him, who is a professional, how does he deal with this aspect especially if he is working on deadline for a certain publication, or working within a foreign country? Also, how does he choose his shots? There are so many options for a photojournalist that it would be hard to decide. Finally, is the life of a freelance foreign photojournalist similar to a freelance foreign correspondent? Even though one involves the written word and the other the visual image, I believe that both types of journalism can learn a lot from each other. It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on the influence of both, especially when covering war torn areas or conflicts.

Arman said...

I like Pete Souza’s works very much because I see what he wants to say; I see the mood and thoughts of the people on his photos. I can see stopped progress after war and after Katrina (6×7 camera) on his grayscale photos. In Plebe Summer Souza guide us thorough the days of his heroes. While on the first photos we see emotional teenagers, in whose eyes is a question: “How I will do it”, on the least photos we see the same faces, but they are not uncertain teenagers any more, they did it, they are navies. Thanks to Souza I understood Obama better because Pete Souza present not only the visual image but throughout his professionalism, he present the person with his hopes and problems.

Kirsten Brownrigg said...

Few words could ensnare the tragically mutilated face of the ill-fated lion, blinded by the Taliban. The feelings stirred by its visage rivals the effect of poet's rhetoric. A similar example can be found in a puddle of sweat, pooling beneath an exerted officer. Mr. Souza has remarked in the past that photojournalism is a different breed of animal from the newspaper; if print media dies, photojournalism will still thrive, he asserts. I have to concede that the power of the image can at times drown out the power of the written word. That's part of the reason I'm drawn to multimedia, as it permits me to draw from multiple forms of narrative when trying to affect my audience the way that Souza's pictures affect each of us. While working on broadcast stories, I can waste hours video taping and shooting images with my camera that will bring to new life and interest to the words I write for the voice over that will accompany it. Without the image, the words of my voice over are, quite literally, colorless. It brings to mind that horrible but inescapably true cliché, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

Breaking down that old adage, we understand that pictures seem somehow capable of standing on their own; many of Souza's manage to fare well enough without captions. I've mentioned the pool of sweat, but there are countless other examples in Souza's work. By invoking tricks of light, or choosing to shoot in black-and-white, or by shooting his subject from below -- what's known as the "hero angle" -- Souza adeptly creates moods and sends messages with scarcely any written explanation.

It seems the opposite with words. What newspaper reporter has not seen at least one story consigned to a place beneath the fold, just because no lively image could be found to accompany it? What broadcast reporter has not been told by her managing editor a story isn't worth pursuing in-depth, if no engaging video can be found to fill in the gaps? Unfairly, the written word seems appreciated less and less with the passing of every generation. Conversely, as Souza put it, "there is no doubt that good photojournalism is alive and well." Photos will continue to be printed for enjoyment long after the written word will have been banished permanently to the online realm.

On that note, Mr. Souza's use of Internet technology reminds me of Brian Storm and his use of photographs to create multimedia storytelling. In his own manner, the order of Souza's photographs form a multimedia storyline of their own.

While looking for more information about Souza online, I found a plain-spoken quote attributed to him in a November issue of News Photographer magazine. The article detailed Souza's struggle with cancer, which reportedly prompted Souza to reflect, "It’s at times like these that you wonder what your purpose in life is. Photojournalism gave me a front-row seat to watching history unfold. I am forever grateful for the experiences I’ve had." I can see these words come to life in the time line of his pictures: whether he is recording the ascent of Sen. Barack Obama, or wading in the wake of Afghan camels laden with hay, or immortalizing a final salute made toward the casket of Ronald Reagan, he is fulfilling the same rule -- that of a witness to history. More than just freezing a second in time, Souza captures a string of moments in a row, telling a bigger story ... showing the bigger picture, if you will.

Bee Anne said...

Pete Souza has definitely had a varied and exciting career as a photographer. Even as someone who knows very little about the technicalities of the art and skill of photojournalism, the absolutely wonderful quality of his work is plain to see. I completely agree with what Susie said about his ability to capture 'moments' in time that turn seemingly ordinary actions or circumstances into an extraordinary photograph and insight. For example, my favorite photo from Reagan's funeral is actually the picture of the man vacuuming the private viewing area, with members of security and the military looking on. I wonder what was going through the man's mind as he cleaned the room where one of our former President's was to lay. I'm not sure why it struck me, but I stared at the picture for a little while, trying to figure it out. I am looking forward to asking Mr. Souza why he took the picture and what he was thinking. I am also interested in his own experiences as the White House photographer for Reagan and then also as the official photographer at his funeral, whether that affected him at all and his thoughts in general.

Like Annah, I would also like to ask him how he chooses whether to shoot in black and white or color, but I take the opposite view. Sometimes I find that color distracts from the essence of a photograph, whether that be a glance from a mother or the splash of the waves. Not having any experience with serious picture taking, I would like to hear how he describes the process of determining whether to shoot in black and white or color - and talk specifically about his series of photos from the Plebe summer. Having just been at West Point in the fall for a conference and with a brother about to enter the Air Force Academy, I would like to talk to Mr. Souza about the story behind some of these powerful photographs of new students being initiated into the armed services. The picture of the young man's head held off the floor as sweat pools underneath is an incredible picture, and one demonstrative of many things about that initiation process. The young men reviewing their Reef books made me smile, after hearing many stories of the torturous Knowledge Quizzes that plebes have to take. By the last few pictures of the series, the determination of the young seamen is plain to see in every expression and moment captured by Souza's lens.

Mr. Souza has produced remarkable work, and I am looking forward to broadening my knowledge of photojournalism and asking him questions about his experiences and the field in general in class this week.

Danielle N said...

As a fan of fashion photography, it was interesting for me to see the difference between the photgraphy that I love and Pete's photojournalism. I generally concern myself with the flow of the fabric or the lighting factor and the emotion conveyed in the photograph when I look at them, but with Pete's photgraphs I studied the story being told.
The pictures of civilians in Kenya listening to Obama were gorgeous. The emotion showed in the crowd and the individual faces allowed me to see how important Obama was to them.
Also, the picture in his Plebe Summer gallery, of the two military men dancing almost made me laugh out loud. It just seemed like there was such an interesting story behind that photograph. And my absolute favorite photograph I saw, even though I am a black-and-white photgraph lover, was with Obama standing in a dismantled nuclear missile in Perm, Russia. That photograph was mesmerizing with the missile shape swirling around Obama. I would be very interested to see that photo in black-and-white and see if something extra is brought out in the minimalization of color. Color photography loses some of it editorial appeal to me, so I was very pleased that the majority of his work was simplistic and void of color. Black-and-white allows light to take on different shapes creating a more interesting photograph, I think.

Sanford said...

My question to Pete would be, "Is it your intention to tell a story with your galleries?" The Obama gallery clearly has a story to tell from his travels to campaigning to family life. Another story told through photos was Regean's funeral, but that is understable since it was an event.
However, in the gallery the Road to Kabul, I didn't feel a smooth story being told. It seemed it was just a photo album of a little bit of every element he encountered.

It seems that throughout all the blog postings there are much discussion over the use of black and white or color photos. Personally I like the black and white photos because they add more depth and emotion to the subject. The black/white Obama photos seem very historic already, and we're still waiting for some historic moment to happen (although having to minorities running in the same presidential election is historic). However, the color photos are more stimulating to the eyes. My favorite color photos are that of Obama shopping for his daughters in Russia, young girls in Kabul playing, and the casket of Regean. All the colors are so bright draws the attention to that part of the photo. That element may have been lost in a black/white photo.

In the Kabul gallery there was a photo of men blown to pieces. I want to know how he felt shooting those photos, and who was the first dead person he ever shot, and what happened to them?

Bethany said...

The thing that really stood out to me about Souza's photographs was the detail. He often focuses on a central object, but there is always so much going on in the background that I found myself flipping back to look at a picture several times to take everything in.

One of my favorite photos on his Web site was the one of Obama walking down a Russian street without being noticed. To me as an American and a viewer of an album dedicated to Obama, he stood out, but I enjoyed seeing how he could blend in.

Most of the photos of Obama depicted him in a positive way. I came away from the album feeling like he is a laidback, friendly, productive and intelligent man. I wonder if he is just polished enough to never let his guard down around a photographer, or if Souza chose those photographs for a reason. The closest Obama came to being vulnerable was in the shots before he announced his candidacy; those were some of my favorites because they showed a humanity that we often don't see in political photographs. I am curious whether Souza's political leanings were affected at all by his time with Obama. How can you spend so much time in such close contact with anyone without coming away changed? Is it even possible to take stirring photographs with an objective frame of mind?

When other foreign correspondents have come to class, they have said that their time in a war zone has changed them. How has Souza been affected? What is it like to have such close contact with tragedy? With power? How have his experiences changed his world view?

Amanda Teuscher said...

What always strikes me about effective photojournalism is that you forget that there was even a photographer there to begin with. It's just you and the image. Emotions are so much more raw when you can feel as if you witnessing an event firsthand, even if you know it's thousands of miles away. And emotions can range from the euphoria seen in the people listening to Barack Obama speak, to the utter tragic horror of imagining yourself standing over the body of the killed Northern Alliance fighter.

Of Souza's galleries, the one that seemed to stand out the most, perhaps because of its sheer drama, was the series of photographs "narrating" the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan. They began with moving pictures of children forced to grow up in a war-torn land, and Souza somehow conveyed the total barren landscapes and emptiness without having a landscape in every picture. As the gallery progressed, we see more and more violent outcomes of the ware, and the viewer is struck with the tragedy of it all. And all the while, the images of the children remain in the back of our minds.

With such arresting images, it's hard to avoid just staring and thinking about the photos for a while. I wonder then how a photojournalist, who is actually and physically present, can even prepare themselves to lift a camera when confronted with so much, and I would be interested to know if Souza has to distance himself from what he's seeing in order to do his job. I also wonder if he chooses the order of the images in his galleries, because I think that contributes to the very narrative quality of the photographs.

Karen said...

It's funny because when I was looking at the gallery of Obama pictures, I also wondered how photographers decide to use color or black and white. (I'm aware that sometimes photojournalists will carry multiple cameras to capture the image several differnt ways--at least when film was still being used.) Which brings me to my next question: Does he use a digital camera most of the time, or film? Any particular reason for whichever he chooses?
I've heard that the really talented photographers have to "anticipate" the shot. Is that true? Is that how he catches the little details--the kiss on the forehead, the bead of sweat on the brow, the look of terror, etc.?
Last, does he have a favorite "topic" or "thing" he likes to shoot when he is in Athens, and not in another state or country?

Kim said...

I would want to know how Mr. Souza felt about covering the funeral of someone he worked with for years. Did he mourn at the funeral with the rest of the attendees or did he put on his professional shield? I would like to know who asked him to be the official photographer of the funeral and what was his initial reaction to Reagan's death as someone who knew him.

Also, I want to know what he thinks of Obama. Obama used to smoke and I'd like to know if there was a policy of not photographing Obama while he was smoking or if it just wasn't interesting to Souza.

I would also like to know how do you prepare to cross mountains by horseback.

Also, as a photojournalist, are you constantly snapping pictures or are you selecting moments you think represent something? I would like to know how much of getting a good picture is skill and how much is just being at the right place at the right time.

Jennifer said...

I watched a photo slideshow of Pete Souza's work during the Reagan administration. Souza commented on what it was like to "witness history" through events like the Four Summits conference in 1986. He said Regan, usually emotionally reserved, showed his anger about the conclusion of the meeting with Gorbachev.
Some of his favorite photos were of Ronald and Nancy. He describes their relationship as an "ongoing love affair."
Through further research, I got a sense that Souza is extremely grateful to the experiences he has been awarded as a photojournalist, but I still have to think, how lucky!

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