Author Archives: Phil Bicker

A Year of Photographers in the Picture

A little shy of a year agowith the world’s attention focused on a change of power in North Koreaa photo of Kim Jung Il’s funeral, released by KCNA (North Korean Central News Agency), sparked controversy. The image had been manipulatedless for overt political ends, more for visual harmony. Blog Submission . The photo’s offending elements, photoshopped from the image, were not political adversaries or top secret information, but a group of photographers who had disturbed the aesthetic order of the highly orchestrated and meticulously planned occasion.

KCNA/Reuters

Dec. 28, 2011. A limousine carrying a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il leads his funeral procession in Pyongyang.

In an age where seemingly every occasion is documented through photography from every conceivable anglean estimated 380 billion photographs will be taken this year aloneit’s not only North Korean bureaucrats who are wrestling to keep hoards of other photographers out of their pictures.

Photographers frequently appear in news photographs made by others. Banks of cameras greet celebrities and public figures at every event; cell phones held high by admirers become a tribute in lights, but a distraction to the viewer. Amateurs and professionals, alike, appear in backgrounds and in foregrounds of images made at both orchestrated events and in more candid moments. squido lense . The once-invisible professional photographer’s process has been laid bare.

On occasion, photographers even purposefully make their fellow photographers the subject of their pictures. The most difficult picture to take, it seems, is one without the presence of another photographer either explicitly or implicitly in the frame.

Everyone wants to record their own version of realityironically, it turns out, because by distracting oneself with a camera, it’s easy to miss the true experience of a moment. At a recent Jack White concert, the guitarist requested that audience members stop trying to take their own photos. “The bigger idea,” his label noted in a statement, “is for people to experience the event with their own eyes and not watch an entire show through a tiny screen in their hand. We have every show photographed professionally and the pictures are available from Jack White’s website shortly after to download for free.”

The abundance of camera phones and inexpensive digital cameras has changed the photographic landscape in countless and still-incompletely understood ways, and it’s not just the North Korean government trying to find ways around the hoards of photographers making their way into everyone else’s shots. Here, TIME looks back on the past year to highlight an increasingly common phenomenon: the photographer in the picture.

TIME Picks the Most Surprising Photos of 2012

Clint Eastwood’s appearance and speech to an empty chair at the GOP convention stupefied us, Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 24 miles above the Earth astounded us and Gabby Douglas’ Olympic performance thrilled us. But now that it’s on the wane, we can step back and report that, all in all, 2012 held relatively few major surprises. Perhaps one reason for the year’s ho-hum factor is that several long-anticipated events the Mars Curiosity rover landing; the London Olympics; the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; the U.S. elections set a tone of predictability for a year that, in large part, failed to ignite.

Granted, there were some genuine scandals, which always raise eyebrows (if not the level of national discourse): the Petraeus affair, Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace and pictures of a naked royal prince gallivanting with friends in Vegas, of all places.

In front of the ubiquitous TV cameras, Angelina Jolie courted publicity at the Oscars, while Rihanna and Chris Brown shamelessly courted controversy everywhere. That it was all so baldly contrived hardly stopped the media from buying right into it.

A calculated, cautious and utterly uninspiring American presidential campaign contrasted with the hope and optimism of four years ago.The promise of the Arab Spring gave way to protests against the new government in Egypt, a deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and a bloody civil war in Syria that shows no signs of a resolution.

The surprises, when they did come, were brutal shocks rather than thrilling or uplifting wonders. The shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., left us three parts numb and one part seething with a kind of violent despair.

We marked solemn anniversaries, like the 100th year since the sinking of the Titanic and the 50th since the death of Marilyn. linkwheel . proveedor factura electrnica . Mick, Keith and the rest of the Stones kept rolling to mark their own 50th anniversary, but they did so with an utterly foreseeable bombast.

It was left to a Korean YouTube sensation riding an invisible horse to truly surprise and entertain us this year. But even then the novelty and fun rapidly wore thin, as Psy tributes from the likes of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Eaton school boys and countless others lay siege to the Internet.

And yet … in the face of what can really only be called a rather disappointing year, TIME presents a gallery of images from the past twelve months that did, despite everything, manage to surprise us: pictures that, we hope and trust, will in some small way redress the flaws of a year that, despite spectacles as wondrous as a man falling to earth from space and a Hollywood icon chatting with a chair, ultimately fell a little flat.

2012: A Year of Deja Vu

In an age that, in many respects, is defined by photography, with millions upon millions of pictures being made every single day, it’s close to impossible for a photographer to produce a wholly original image. Someonesomewherehas no doubt shot a similar photo from a similar angle in a similar way. Avoiding photographic clichs in such an environment, when everything is a clich, becomes more and more difficult by the minute.

Then there are those times when the similarities between two (or more) images can be simply and even thrillingly uncanny.

Sometimes these similarities are purely coincidental; but occasionally, photographers purposefully return to a past subject and location to take a similarly composed photograph.

In 2011, Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder flew to Japan to record the devastating effects of the previous December’s tsunami and earthquake. One year later, he returned to the exact same spots as his previous photographs to show the progress made during recovery. Fellow Associated Press shooter Steve Rauke has photographed the dignified transfers of numerous U.S. servicemen at Dover Air Force base since 2009, serving as a constant reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by our troops abroad.

Steve RuarkAP

Left: July 26, 2012.
A Marine carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Sgt. Justin M. Hansen at Dover Air Force Base, Del. According to the Department of Defense, Hansen, 26, of Traverse City, Mich., died July 24, 2012 while conducting combat operations in Badghis province, Afghanistan.
Right: July 30, 2012.
An Army carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Pfc. Jose Oscar Belmontes at Dover Air Force Base. According to the Department of Defense, Belmontes, 28, of La Verne, Calif., died July 28, 2012 in Wardak province, Afghanistan of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire.

Photographer Camilo Jos Vergara has photographed the poorest and most segregated communities in urban Americaformore than four decades,using photography as a way to understand and appreciate the spirit of those places andrecord neighborhoods as they change (or don’t change) over time.

But photo-driven dj vu can take one by surprise, too. Blog Submission . Triggered by images’ composition or content, pictures of divergent subjects in similar images can often seem like far more than mere coincidence. Unlikely connections in disparate photos can nag at us, even when the images are made years or many miles apart. And, of course, photographers working in different countries or on separate continents can have no idea that they’ve made an image nearly identical to another taken somewhere over the horizon, or on the other side of the world.

David GuttenfelderAP

Left: March 28, 2011.
A ship washed away by the tsunami sits in a destroyed neighborhood in Kesennuma, northeastern Japan.
Right: Feb. 23, 2012.
One year later, the same ship remains.

Perhaps our contemporary, collective dj vu is trigged by the news cycle’s constant hunger for images. Photographers, after all, do sometimes document annual events at the same time and place, year after year as if nothing at all has ever changed, or ever will change, at that location.

Documentary photography, meanwhile, raises its own breed of dj vu. Photojournalists often travel together and work side by side at the same event, documenting the same momentseeing the same things, taking the same pictures. Even when working independently, photographers are not immune to conscious (or subconscious) mirroring, and the 20th century has provided a litany of mastersCartier-Bresson, Klein, Evans and Frank come to mindwho have influenced entire generations of image makers. After all, we all want to pay homage to our forebears and our heroes. Is it so surprising when, paying tribute, we veer into imitation?

Even the most celebrated of photographers are not immune to this sincerest form of flattery.

In the book published alongside the Yale show “Walker Evans and Robert Frank,” Tod Papageorge writes of the influence of Evans’ American Photographs on Frank’s The Americans.

“Many of the matched photographs reproduced here obviously, and remarkably, echo one another; they demonstrate that, to a significant degree, Frank used Evans’ work as an iconographical sourcebook for his own pictures.”

With this gallery, TIME embarks on an anthropological dig through our collective visual memory, unearthing images from the last twelve months that awakened in us that singular, familiar sense that we’ve seen them somewhere before. Haven’t we?

Refugee Hotel: Strangers in a Strange Land

Bewildered, exhausted, displaced and lost in their own thoughts, the subjects in Gabriele Stabile’s photographs have traveled far and suffered greatly. Newly arrived refugees in the United States, they spend their first night in America in the temporary shelter of an airport hotel. Many of them endure torturous delays in their native lands—often waiting years in makeshift camps before finally gaining entry to America and an opportunity to build a new life. Once on American soil, these refugees from war, famine, religious persecution and every other imaginable human-made and natural calamity will spend a single night — 10 to 12 hours — at the hotel before they continue their journey, settling in far-flung destinations across the 50 states. Ukrainians to California, Africans to Fargo — the decisions made by the resettlement agencies are often based on existing communities that can offer support and aid in the acclimation of the new arrivals.

The Italian-born Stabile, now based in New York, covered five airports of entry for his project — Newark, JFK, Miami, Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International — and concentrated on documenting the immediate experiences of the new arrivals to a new world.

“I found myself focused on the gateway from their past,” Stabile says. “I used to say they live between uncertainties. One is their past, which they had to abandon, and the other is their future, because they don’t know what is going on, what will happen in America, or what it is going to be like.”

“It’s a suspended reality,” Stabile explains, “where you have to suspend your belief, too. You see an African family of ten people spending all night in the hallways of the hotel and refusing to get into their own rooms to sleep because they’re afraid that the officials are going to forget them — forget about them and leave them there.”

Stabile finds the situations close to “unphotographable.” Arriving in the dead of night, bathed in darkness, the refugees arrive at hotels with generic, fireproof furniture and ugly, flowery wallpaper — a surreal environment for a traumatized traveler to face.

These conditions aid, rather than disrupt, Stabile’s appropriately dark, atmospheric aesthetic. His layered compositions (and reflections) often convey the refugees’ disorientation. In other photographs, isolated refugees seem to emerge from the shadows of their unfamiliar surroundings, physically and mentally displaced and lost in their own thoughts. The mix of emotions and sense of shock are almost palpable.

Stabile and his subjects, meanwhile, appear to have understood one another through his camera. “I was hiding a bit behind it and they were kind enough not to [hide from it]. Some of the people didn’t want to be photographed but mostly they were open.”

He connected with the refugees not only through the lens but through simple acts of kindness, like lending his cell phone so they could call their loved ones and friends back home to let them know they had safely arrived.

As the refugees continued their journeys to their resettlement communities, Stabile maintained contact, becoming friends with some and receiving random calls from others.

“There’s a family in Mobile, Alabama. Every year, on the anniversary of their arrival, they call me,” Stabile says, “because I was the first western guy to show interest in their story and lent them my phone. They remembered that as an act of kindness. The guy wants me to talk to his seven daughters and wife and we don’t even speak the same language!”

A letter from a young refugee named Samira, meanwhile, struck Stabile deeply enough to alter the course, and expand the scope, of his entire project. After meeting her upon her arrival in Newark, he had photographed Samira and her family in Minneapolis — a location he visited that was not a port of entry, but rather a destination for refugees. After he had largely lost touch with the family, Samira wrote Stabile a letter that he characterizes as “very tough, accusing me of disappearing from their lives after [initially] showing interest.”

Gabriele Stabile

Samira Ebisu takes a moment to herself on the day of her arrival in Minneapolis.

This recognition finally led Stabile to expand the refugee project to tackle the larger and, in many ways, far more emotionally fraught story of resettlement — how refugees affect the America is which they now live, and how America has affected (and continues to affect) them. This journey, his journey, is something that, Stabile says, all photographers eventually end up shooting: getting lost in America.

Stabile’s Refugee Hotel is the first photo book published by Voices of Witness. The book is structured into three distinct chapters — two photographic and one written. The first is an impressionistic documentation of the refugees’ first night in the hotel. The second chapter, written by co-author Juliette Linderman, is a series of first-hand accounts and oral histories. The testimonies are stark and full of yearning to rebuild lives beset by adversity and delayed by circumstance and bureaucracy. The third chapter focuses on their resettlement to the smaller communities of America.

The photographic bodies of work are separated by four years and aesthetically are two distinct entities. The first was mostly shot in color Kodachrome and the second with black and white film. The sections were shot during two different periods of Stabile’s own life, between 2007 and 2012 — the first as a young photographer recently arrived in the U.S. and the second as a permanent resident and father of two.

The project represents a serious amount of investigative journalism, with organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) providing tremendous help in tracking down the refugees.

In the second half of the project, Stablile concentrated on the smaller towns the refugees were dispersed to — towns that weren’t as ethnically diverse as the larger metropolitan areas the refugees first arrived in. The second chapter accentuates the paradox of American culture and reinforces the surreal nature of their first nights here.

“The actuality is that there are African people living in Fargo, North Dakota — lost in the fog of an environment in which all you see after a while are roads and strip malls and little towns. These people are trying — scrambling — to make it work in that environment, which is totally and unbelievably different from what they’re ready to approach,” Stabile says.

Many of these resettlement programs are successful. There’s a road map to becoming an American, and it’s an intricate plot. But it does work, especially with young refugees, because they are able to adjust more easily.

Stabile notes: “We live in a very controlled environment in which you’re supposed to take steps to improve — get a better job, put together your retirement money, send your kids to college and have a nice car, for example. That’s what America is about. Not only do many of the refugees not share these values — some even find them offensive. Change is a big undertaking for people who are in their forties and fifties. So they hang onto their beliefs, their ways of doing things.”

Although some share in the ideal of the American dream, others Stabile visited in Mobile, Alabama, for example, were practicing polygamy in the accepted tradition of their culture — a tradition where it is not only recommended to have more than one wife, but where it’s permissible to buy and sell women.

But this is not always what it seems.

“One man waited all night until his wife returned from a trip from Dallas. He was crying because he was finally united with his wife after maybe three days. So they meet and hold each others’ hands and start praying to God that they were actually together again. And this is a guy who bought this woman from a farmer next door. You realize that these are structures we impose on ourselves — of the way our society works. What matters is what you feel, how you relate to your environment and to the people that surround you — but if you think about it, this is happening under the radar in Alabama. Are these guys actually Americans now? They’ve lived here five years.”

“Some of them have these two voices in them. For example, they want their customs to survive, you know, moving to America — they’re afraid they’re going to lose their identities by losing their ways. They are farmers who will never farm again, architects that will never design another building. They find themselves cleaning restrooms at the country club, doing maintenance jobs or working as car mechanics.”

“One thing that I think was common to all of these ethnicities, to all of these experiences, all of these stories, was that misery, once you experience it, never really goes away. You carry it with you.”


Gabriele Stabile is an Italian photographed based in New York. Refugee Hotel, published by Voice of Witness, is his first book.

Voice of Witness is a non-profit organization that uses oral history to illuminate contemporary human rights crises in the U.S. and around the world. Founded by author Dave Eggers and physician/human rights scholar Lola Vollen, Voice of Witness publishes a book series that depicts human rights injustices through the stories of the men and women who experience them.



Raskols: Stephen Dupont’s Portraits of Papua New Guinea Gangsters

From the panoramic mountain vistas to the jungles and the beaches, Papua New Guinea—the largest tropical island in the world—is a naturally blessed and beautiful land. But a peaceful land it is not.

A country of high unemployment, poor education and widespread corruption, Papua New Guinea is rife with ethnic conflict and infested with criminal gangs, known as ‘raskols,’ (the indigenous Tok Pisin word for criminals) that trade in guns, drugs intimidation and violence.

Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, is regularly cited among the world’s five worst cities to live in. In 2004, an Economist survey ranked Port Moresby the most unlivable city on earth.

As a photographer who has covered stories of conflict the world over—from the conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola and Somalia to the genocide in Rwanda and East Timor’s struggle for independence—Stephen Dupont was drawn to document Papua New Guinea’s troubling story.

His new book Raskols: The Gangs of Papua New Guinea, published by powerHouse Books this month, showcases an essay of portraits that he shot in the country he has visited frequently over the last eight years.

Dupont traveled from neighboring Australia to investigate the lawless landscape of tribal divisions in Papua New Guinea with an intention to document the ‘Raskols’ that dominate the area. He first encountered the ‘Kips Kaboni’ or ‘Scar Devils’ gang in the midst of a tribal conflict. The night before, a highlander had killed a Motu woman by throwing a metal spear through her neck. A general revenge rampage against all highlanders had followed and their shops and properties were burnt down.

“The entire settlement was tense and the Motu people were waiting for the Highlanders to fight back,” Dupont said. “I met Alan Omara, the ‘Kips Kaboni’ gang leader who was orchestrating his boys to arm themselves and protect the Motu community. (With) home made guns, machetes, axes bows and arrows—the community was ready.”

Over the days that followed, Dupont covered the events as they unfolded. By the time things had calmed down, he had gotten to know Omara and his gang and had earned their trust and respect. Dupont asked if he could make a series of portraits of the young men and boys.

“I chose to photograph them in very simple approach allowing each subject to project their own individual image,”said Dupont. “Each character was strong in their own way, and I wanted to capture something in their face, their eyes and their body language. My aim was to show the face behind the facelessness of gang culture really. An expose of a dark side of the human condition.”

Over many weeks and several trips in 2004, Dupont would meet the raskols inside their safe-house and shoot portraits with his Polaroid land camera and Polaroid 665 positive-negative film.

Working in the late afternoons when the light was best he asked his subjects to stand in front of the camera, posing with their weapons of choice which included menacing homemade guns. “At times they pointed the guns in my direction or made other ego-encouraged gestures of gang culture body language,” said Dupont. “I gave them very little direction and then picked my moments to shoot.”

Dupont’s disturbing and powerful polaroids of latter-day outlaws are fittingly reminiscent of the wild west era daguerreotype portraits of more than a century ago.

In 2011, Dupont went back and tracked down the raskols. “I found out that many were no longer criminals or in the gang. Some had taken jobs as security workers, or building laborers,” said Dupont. However, not all their stories had positive ends. “Others had died of sickness, were murdered or are in jail.”

Raskols was one of Dupont’s first forays into portraiture-based essays. The series has since led him to make other significant portrait projects including work in Afghanistan and India. His experiences in Papua New Guinea also inspired Dupont to cover stories there regularly, which culminated in a  2011 project about Papua New Guinea society and de-tribalization for Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology as the recipient of the Robert Gardner Fellowship of Photography.

Stephen Dupont is a Sydney-based photographer. See more of his work here.

Raskols: The Gangs of Papua New Guinea was recently released by powerHouse Books.

 

William Klein + Daido Moriyama: Double Feature

William Klein’s urgent, radical, gritty, blurred and out of focus photographs are as dynamic and visceral as any the medium has produced. His revolutionary magnus opus ‘Life is Good & Good For You in New York’ is an uncompromising, groundbreaking portrait of urban life, which at the time of its publication in 1956 not only shocked the established order, but reinvented the photographic document and is now widely regarded as one of photography’s greatest and most influential works.

Daido Moriyama is the most celebrated photographer to emerge from the Japanese ‘Provoke’ movement. His grainy high contrast black-and-white photographs, focused on the urban environment of post-war Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, echo those of Klein’s New York. Like Klein, Moriyama has consistently revisited, reinvented and reworked his photographs within a process of constant flux.

The Tate Modern’s latest exhibition ‘William Klein + Daido Moriyama‘ brings together the work of the two photographers as a double feature—side by side retrospectives of photographers whose work is inextricably linked but independently minded. 

Following Matisse, Picasso; Albers, Maholy-Nagy; Rodchenko and Popova, the show is the latest in a program of double headers at the Tate Modern that explore two artists and how their work relates to one another. 

Simon Baker, the Tate Modern’s Curator of  Photography and International Art, spoke with TIME about the exhibition—the first full show he has curated since joining Tate Modern.



“It’s a matter of historical record that Klein’s book on New York and then his book on Tokyo were massively influential in Japan, and so the idea of the show exploring both influence and affinity, things that [Klein and Moriyama] have in common beyond the idea of influence, is very important. We are not saying that William was the beginning of all of Moriyama’s ideas, Moriyama was really influenced by Andy Warhol. He was massively influenced by Jack Kerouac and the Beat writers. So he had this series of really interesting dissident American influences of which one of them was William Klein—and we thought this was a good starting point.

Both photographers were really involved in the show’s installations. There are certain places in the show where they had free reign to do what they wanted. William’s response was to make huge blow-ups of his pictures—which realize his constant striving for impact and to make his images as confusing and overwhelming as the cities that they are of.

William Klein

Dakar, school’s out, 1985. Painted contact 1998

Moriyama’s response was to make a huge work called Memory, which is a grid of 1.5 meter wide photographs taken from different points in his career. There are images in there from Provoke, from Farewell Photography, from Japan: a Photo Theater, but there are also things from last year or maybe two years ago. He’s similarly free with his past.

We’ve also tried on the wall to show quite large grids of work so you have the sense of looking at images on the page. We have 70 framed prints from New York—There’s a whole group of children playing like you get in the book. There’s a whole group of shots at night in ballrooms like you get in the book—and also unpublished images from the same series. You get this sense of multiplicity.

We did the same thing with Moriyama. An incredible series of prints of Japan: A Photo Theater—which was his first really important book—are actually cut, mounted as exactly the same pairs that are on the pages of the book. So you’re standing in front of 75 small prints, many of which are like the small pages of the book.

We are not suggesting that the framed works are better than the book, but just that they give you a way into the material in the book, whilst remembering that the book is the really important thing. We’ve tried to keep that balance throughout the show. They think of their work in terms of layouts and sequences and series so we’ve tried to make that a feature of the installation.

Daido Moriyama

Memory of Dog 2, 1982

The show also focuses on what it means to photograph a great city like New York or a great city like Tokyo. And it’s interesting that Klein and Moriyama both photographed each other’s cities. Klein was a New Yorker who photographed New York and then went to Tokyo. Daido initially photographed entirely in Tokyo and then went to New York and did great work there.

Restless is the way to describe Klein’s attitude to his own work. [With Life is Good & Good For You in New York] He knows that he made a great book. And when he talks about it, he talks about wanting to change everything and he talks about blowing things up too big, making everything too grainy. Making the contrast too high. And he talks about that as a very deliberate thing. That he was trying to make a different aesthetic for photography.

Many people regard Robert Frank’s The Americans as the pinnacle of photo book-making, but Frank’s Americans doesn’t have the kind of impact, especially globally as [Life is Good & Good For You in New York]. What Klein’s book did for the way people think about photography in Latin America, in Europe and in Japan is probably unparalleled. And in that sense its greatness is hard to argue with.

But what I also think is really important and what the exhibition really claims is we’re used to thinking of the post-war 60s and 70s in a particular way, often skewed toward America. And for a long time, black-and-white photography, but particularly Japanese black-and-white photography, just wasn’t known here and wasn’t that understood. Provoke was this amazing work being made by a genuine avant-garde with theorists and thinkers and poets and writers. It was a proper thinking, functioning, avant-garde that was happening in Japan. The importance of that is beginning to be understood.

I think in another 10 years or so Moriyama, Takanashi and Nakahira will be as well known and in that moment, as well understood, as Eggleston and Friedlander.

Klein explored photography. He did some of the best photo books ever and moved on [to make films]. He moves in a very restless way, which I think is very interesting. Moriyama has been more consistent. He’s stuck very closely with photography.

The great pleasure for us and the great opportunity for Tate was to work with both of them directly. They’re both really active. Daido is doing amazing work. William’s still making photographs. He’s still interested in working. And for us; in a photography way, it is like getting to work with Matisse and Picasso while they’re still around. They are these great figures and we’re very fortunate to be able to work with them both.”

Simon Baker is the Tate Modern’s Curator of Photography and International Art

The Exhibition William Klein + Daido Moriyama is showing at Tate Modern, London from Oct. 10, 2012 – Jan. 20, 2013

Klein and Moriyama films Directed by Martin Hampton/Produced by Tate Media © TATE 2012

 

Pete Souza’s Portrait of a Presidency

The long view of history tends to be the judge of a presidency. As we approach what President Obama hopes will be the midpoint of his tenure in the Oval Office, it is too early to draw conclusions on his legacy as Commander in Chief. What we do know is that Obama’s first term has been a historic one: the first African American to hold the county’s highest office, Obama and his Administration have battled a recession, passed health care reform and legislation to end the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, formally ended the war in Iraq and brought Osama bin Laden to justice.

Through adversity and triumph, public victories and private setbacks, chief official White House photographer Pete Souza and his team of photographers have relentlessly documented the actions of the President, the First Lady and the Vice President since Obama took office in early 2009.

As the President runs for a second term, LightBox asked Souza to reflect on his time photographing Obama and share an edit of his favorite images that he and his staff made during the President’s first term; the photographs offer a fascinatingly candid insight into the life of the President while painting a portrait of Barack Obama the man, husband and father.

“I tried to, in putting together this edit, not only to show some of the high points or low points of his presidency thus far, but pictures that help people understand what he’s like, not only as a President but as a human being,” Souza tells TIME. “And how he relates to other people, how he relates to his family.”

Souza’s process is aided by his long-standing working relationship with Obama — one that precedes the presidency. They met on Jan. 3, 2005, Obama’s first day in the Senate. For Souza, then a staff photographer at the Chicago Tribune‘s Washington bureau, it was the first day of a yearlong assignment to document the new Senator’s time in office.

As the assignment evolved, Souza — who had worked as a White House staff photographer during President Reagan’s second term — began recognizing something special about the Senator. An inkling of things to come, or potential for the future. He began looking for moments that would prove valuable in the course of history, photographs that would define Obama’s early years to those who only knew his legacy.

“I was looking for things that I knew that if he ever became President you would never see again,” he says. “[Obama was] walking down a sidewalk in Moscow in 2005 and no one recognized him. I realized that if he ever became President, you would never, ever see a photograph like that. The odds of becoming President are obviously pretty slim, but I knew he had the potential. And you can’t say that about too many people.”

Souza continued to photograph Senator Obama, who quickly became presidential-candidate Obama and then Democratic-nominee Obama. With Obama’s 2008 election victory, Souza returned to the White House as chief official White House photographer and director of the White House Photography Office.

The photographs that Souza has taken extend the lineage of White House photography that began in the 1960s, first in a somewhat scattered way during John F. Kennedy’s Administration and then more officially with Yoichi Okamoto, Lyndon B. Johnson’s photographer. Okamoto is considered the first photographer to capture the presidency with an eye for history. Souza is quick to acknowledge and praise his work and that of others who have followed, including David Kennerly (Ford), Bob McNeely (Clinton) and Eric Draper (George W. Bush).

An all-digital workflow is one thing that differentiates Souza’s work from the majority of his predecessors. Although he wasn’t the one to move the process to digital — Draper, Bush’s photographer, made the switch from film to digital — Souza made the first official portrait of an incoming President with a digital camera. The Obama Administration has understood the insatiable appetite for imagery that the digital age has wrought and embraces Flickr as a means of disseminating presidential photography.

The Administration encourages sharing behind-the-scenes photos now, he says. “[It wanted] to establish a way to become more transparent than any other Administration, so every month, we upload a new batch of behind-the-scenes photos. The response has been overwhelming.”

But alongside the ease brought by the digital era came one difficulty: the Presidential Records Act prohibits Souza and his team from deleting any photographs. ”One of our bigger challenges is just the storage of all these images,” he says, noting the immense difficulty the team will experience moving millions of digital files to the National Archives at the end of Obama’s tenure.

Souza’s work with the President follows in the golden age of photojournalism’s best traditions, when photographers working for magazines like LIFE established relationships and spent inordinate amounts of time shooting beautifully crafted images of public figures.

“I spend a lot of time with [the President], around him, on vacations, sometimes on weekends, depending on what’s going on. He’s used to me being around,” Souza says. As his friend P.F. Bentley described it, “When the President is on, I’m on. And when the President’s off, I’m still on.”

Souza recalls one meeting that he missed because it had been rescheduled unbeknownst to him. “I was a little upset with the President’s secretary for not telling me that they had moved the meeting up, and [the President] heard us talking and he said, ‘What are you talking about? You were in that meeting.’ He’s so used to me being there that he thought that I had been in the meeting that I wasn’t even in. So I took that as a compliment.”

His access to Obama’s inner circle and day-to-day routine stems from the trust he built during their relationship prior to the presidency. “I’m there to seriously document his presidency. I’m not looking for cheap shots, and I think that’s the kind of relationship any White House photographer should have with the President they’re covering,” he says. “That they have a level of access and trust that will lead to important photographs for history.”

Souza is aware of the significance of the photographs he and his team are taking, but he’s also focused on capturing the small and incidental moments that make the Obama Administration unique. “There are days that you certainly think about the importance of what’s taking place — you’re serving an important role in visually documenting this period of time for history,” he says. “But at the same time, a lot of the pictures that tell you a lot about a President are not [made] during those times. They’re when he’s having a private moment with one of his daughters, or when something unexpected happens that may not be, you know, important in terms of history’s sake.”

“I think that’s what keeps you on your toes. You never know when those moments are gonna occur, because they don’t always occur when big things are happening,” he says. The image of Obama playing in the snow with Sasha and Malia is a testament to Souza’s approach. The photograph is not simply of the President but of a moment shared between a father and his daughters.

These personal images round out Souza’s portrait of the President and give it greater depth. While preparing this edit for LightBox, he acknowledged that it was hard to present what a presidency is about in just a handful of pictures. “I don’t gravitate toward any singular image right now,” he says. “I try to look at a body of work, and so I’m proud of this edit that I submitted. To me, it’s all these photographs together which tell you something about this man, this President, and I guess to a certain extent, about me and what I think is important.”

Although Souza’s edit comprises more than 100 images, it is by no means a comprehensive record of Obama’s time in office. “I’m sure that I left out some important moments,” he says. “I don’t think I included anything from the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and that’s historic in itself — he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But it just didn’t fit in with the series of pictures that I wanted to present.”

Says Souza of the President: “He has certainly created history just by being the first African-American President. Hopefully in future generations, we’ll soon have a woman President or a Hispanic President, and it won’t matter that much. But I think that if you’d ask him, he wants to be remembered for the things that he’s done.”

For Souza, it’s difficult at this point to reflect on the last four years and the photographs he and his team have made. “One of the difficult things, doing this every day, is having a chance to really sit back and take it all in. Putting these photos together helped that a little bit,” he says. “You’re a little bit overwhelmed about everything that happened in four years, because a lot of stuff has happened. I hope there will come a time where, when I’m not doing this job any longer, I’ll be able to sit back and reflect on everything that he’s been through and everything that I’ve been through.”

An exhibition of Souza’s work, The Obama White House — Photographs by Pete Souza, is on view at the Leica Gallery in New York City from Oct. 5 to Nov. 10, 2012.

The Americans List: A Salute to Robert Frank

Photographers the world over need no introduction to Robert Frank’s seminal 1950s work The Americans, an exploration of the American ideal from his outsider’s perspective as a Swiss émigré. Taken on a series of road trips around the country, the resulting intuitively-sequenced images —produced with funding from a Guggenheim fellowship—reflect both the dark undercurrents and poetic beauty of American culture.

Originally published in Paris in 1958 and the U.S. a year later, the book’s hallowed pages—containing a mere 83 images—have become one of the most referenced and revered photographic works. Many of the individual frames reside firmly in the collective memory of contemporary photographers who consciously and subconsciously reference the images on a daily basis.

Three years ago, an extensive retrospective exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art provided a fascinating and exhaustive insight to The Americans. The show, entitled Looking In, also inspired and facilitated photographer Jason Eskenazi’s recently published appreciation, The Americans List.

In 2009, Eskenazi—himself the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship—was working as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Every day for two months, even on Mondays when the exhibition was closed to the public, he stood in close proximity with the work, studying it compulsively, attending special events and asking questions of MET curator Jeff Rosenheim.

While guarding the show, Eskenazi started to ask photographers he knew—famous or not—about their favorite images from the show. Over the next two years, Eskenazi compiled their answers, along with their explanations and thoughts about the work. His compilations eventually evolved into his own book, published this month by Red Hook Editions. In the foreward, Eskenazi writes:

The Americans is probably the one book that connects more photographers than any other, so while guarding the show, I saw many photography colleagues enter. I began asking them what was their knock-out favorite image. Though many said it was too hard to choose and many images were important to them I insisted. I discovered that many of the answers revealed much more about the photographers themselves.”

The Americans List assembles selections by 276 photographers from Joel Meyerowitz (Canal Street – New Orleans. plate #19) and Joseph Koudelka (Covered car – Long Beach, Califonia. plate #34) to Eskenazi’s own personal favorite (Men’s room, railway station – Memphis, Tenn. Plate 52). Eskenazi considers the book a present to the photographic community and a homage to a great living photographer.

Guarding the exhibition also afforded Eskenazi the opportunity to meet the legendary photographer, first at the exhibition opening and then at Frank’s house in New York City, where he asked Frank to confirm the long standing rumor of his own favorite photograph from The Americans (San Francisco. Plate 72).

Eskenazi quit his day job at the end of the Looking In exhibition and has since returned full time to his life as a photographer. “I became very intimate with the work,” Eskenazi says. “It brought me back to life. And Frank was very moved by the book when he was recently given a copy in Nova Scotia.”

Clark Winter

Nova Scotia
September, 2012

Jason Eskenazi is a Istanbul based photographer. See more of his work at JasonEskenazi.com.

The Americans List is published by Red Hook Editions and available through the photo-eye bookstore.