President Barack Ob, ... ]

President Barack Ob, ... ] Pete Souza/White House file photo

Former Obama Photographer Pete Souza, On What It Was Like to Be a Fly on the Wall in the West Wing

A conversation with former White House photographer Pete Souza on what it was like to be a fly on the wall of the Obama presidency.

You’ve probably seen the photos: a 5-year-old boy patting the president’s head, the tense scene in the Situation Room during the mission against Osama bin Laden, the look on the president’s face as he receives awful news. The Obama presidency was largely captured, and came to be visually defined, under the close watch and photographic craftsmanship of Pete Souza.

Souza spent eight years photographing the Obama White House, an effort he now chronicles his new book Obama: An Intimate Portrait. “I would tag along with President Obama from the time he came down from the residence in the morning until the time he left at night,” Souza said. He recently joined The Atlantic Interview to speak with The Atlantic’s editor in chief, Jeffrey Goldberg, about what it was like to be a fly on the wall in the West Wing.

Here are some of the memorable photos Souza describes in that conversation:

May 8, 2009

A temporary White House staffer, Carlton Philadelphia, brought his family to the Oval Office for a farewell photo with President Obama. Carlton’s son softly told the President he had just gotten a haircut like President Obama, and asked if he could feel the President’s head to see if it felt the same as his. (Pete Souza)

April 8, 2011

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet in the Oval Office. (Pete Souza)

May 1, 2011

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national-security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National-Security Adviser Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National-Security Adviser Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Blinken, National-Security Adviser to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason, Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured.  

Dec. 14, 2012

The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The President later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his presidency. 

March 22, 2013

President Barack Obama visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Standing with the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate.  

November 25, 2013

Obama prepares to depart Seattle on a foggy morning.

June 26, 2015

It was a festive atmosphere as the White House was lit with the colors of the rainbow in celebration of the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Souza’s reflection on this image: “I chose this angle from several options because I like that much of the White House staff had stayed late on a Friday night to take part in the celebration.”