Most of us have probably never heard of Pete Souza, but I predict he will be known by millions more after his recent documentary, The Way I See It, is released and witnessed. Pete was always in the background during his years of being the chief White House photographer during President Reagan’s and President Obama’s terms of office. In the documentary he devotes a certain amount of space to the Reagan era, in which he points out some of the President’s personal qualities, his warm, collaborative relationship with Nancy, and his showing empathy for those experiencing a major loss. He acknowledges that he wasn’t necessarily for some of Reagan’s policies, but was interested in demonstrating how Reagan had respect for the Office of President and usually came across as a genuine person, and permitted candid photos of both an official and personal nature.
Souza was never very politically minded, and needed a little persuading to work in Obama’s White House. But unlike his predecessors before the digital age, Obama seemed to have an understanding right away of the importance of photographs both to inform the public of current events and to document history at the highest levels of government. Therefore, he allowed Pete to be a constant presence, pretty much 24-7. Pete was always on call and could hear from the President any time.
We go with him on that journey through his pictures, seeing thousands of images that tell the story of the person Obama is—his presence, his intimate relationship with his family, his show of informed leadership in his official duties and his tendency to solicit as many opinions as he could get on a tricky issue, his capacity for empathy in the everyday as well as in crisis situations, and his intelligence in dealing with major policy issues.
This is a film that you will find inspiring, partly in seeing how important leadership at the top is. The pictures will document what a mensch Obama is, along with his canniness in politics and his fundamental knowledge about government and the needs of its people. Leadership qualities that affirm a good President are outlined by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin: humility, empathy, communication ability, and coolness during difficult times. Souza clearly thinks that Obama has all of these assets, and points out how important temperament is, along with intellect in being a successful leader.
But this is not an idolatrous account of a President. It provides a way for Pete Souza to draw a contrast between what we had, and what we have now, based on his close-up look at two past Presidents and what he sees today. Background music provided by Marco Beltrani, Brandon Roberts, and Buck Sanders adds levity and highlights to the artistry of the production.
Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump only allows staged pictures. Souza is critical of his Twitter posts, noting how that should be beneath someone in that level of government. He feels so strongly, not only does he respond to Trump’s tweets with pictures on Instagram, but he has written a book titled Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, in which he draws visual contrasts of their differences in administration and personal conduct.
THE WAY I SEE IT will be aired on MSNBC on October 9, 2020. Streaming will occur after that.
Remarkable contrasts in government leadership primarily using photographs of U.S. Presidents in their leadership roles and personal lives.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland