The Way I See It, a documentary film released by MSNBC on October 16, 2020, narrates the career of the former Chief Official White House Photographer, Pete Souza. He covered two of the most popular US presidents of the past fifty years: Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
Only in his mid-twenties when he was invited to be the White House official photographer for Ronald Reagan, Souza admits he wasn’t a fan of Reagan’s politics but came to admire Reagan’s loving relationship with Nancy. The Way I See It zooms in on the couple holding hands after the First Lady’s surgery. Souza humanizes his subject matter with a lens that exudes emotion. But The Way I See It is all about the Obamas.
When Souza meets President Obama for the first time at the White House, Obama chuckles: “We’re going to have some fun.” And that is exactly what happens. Remarkably, Souza captures intimate and tender moments: e.g. Barack coaching daughter Sasha’s middle-school basketball team “as if they were the NBA.” But Souza also documents what are now iconic images– Obama, Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other high-ranking officials riveted to the screen as they witness the raid on Osama bin Laden; Obama shedding tears with Sandy Hook parents after the massacre; hugging a severely handicapped soldier after his return from the Middle East.
The seemingly invisible camera of Souza’s captures eight years of the Obamas’ lives, taking hundreds of thousands of photographs. Evolving into an exceptionally close relationship between photographer and the photographed, Souza profoundly and brilliantly encapsulates emotion in each of his shots. In a lighthearted scene, the viewer is treated to Souza being encouraged to marry his partner of eleven years, and being offered a wedding ceremony in the Rose Garden with President Obama serving as the officiant for an inducement. Other humorous clips: when Souza claims Obama’s actual favorite moment of his presidency is blocking Reggie Love’s shot on the basketball court; or an impromptu snowball fight and snow-angel matchup between Obama and his daughters.
Souza is seen in 2017, when his tenure as White House photographer has ended, photographing birds in the woods near his home. For an apparently self-effacing man accustomed to drawing attention to the person in front of the lens, not behind it, Souza will soon become the unanticipated center of attention for a new cohort of fans. Appalled by Trump’s lack of empathy and his policy of refusing to allow candid photos, Souza begins an Instagram account that evolves into a political commentary. Souza himself seems surprised at the turn his life has taken, when he starts “throwing shade” (the name of his second book of photographs) at Trump by pairing the tweets from the current POTUS with contrasting photos of Obama, gaining more than 2.6 million Instagram followers, and becoming something of a cult celebrity.
Scrupulously avoiding politics until the onset of the Trump years, Souza shows us a glimpse of what life was like in the Trump White House: candid documentation replaced by staged self-adulation. If you’re feeling nostalgic, maybe The Way I See It will be comforting. Otherwise, if you remember a time when the US president behaved like an adult with integrity, not a narcissistic delinquent, bring out the kleenex.
Availability: MSNBC and Amazon Prime.