By Erin Roberts
Even before Barack Obama made his historic run for the White House, photographer Pete Souza knew he had found a special subject.
Then a photographer for the Chicago Tribune, Souza received unprecedented access to Obama as the junior senator from Illinois settled into his new job, capturing intimate family moments as well as behind-the-scenes images from the senator's trips abroad.
"It became apparent to me in 2005 that Obama was a one-in-a-generation politician," said Souza, now an assistant professor of photojournalism in the Scripps College of Communication's School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. "I could foresee then that someday he might be president."
Souza has compiled his breathtaking photographs into "The Rise of Barack Obama," a hardcover book that will premier this week on The New York Times Best Sellers list at No. 16. The list, already posted on the Times' Web site, will appear in Sunday's edition of the newspaper.
"It's very exciting to make The New York Times Best Sellers list," Souza said. "I'm lucky that people are looking to purchase Obama memorabilia; the timing of the book was fortunate."
Souza has been covering the president-elect, mostly for the Tribune, since January 2005. He believes he gained the trust of Obama and his staff early on by taking candid shots of the senator and his daughters that were published in the Los Angeles Times, a sister publication of the Tribune.
"A couple of days later, he sought me out to tell me how much he liked them, and that helped cement my access to him," Souza said. "He could tell I wasn't out to make a picture to embarrass him, but that I was out to document the history of his early days in the Senate."
Souza accompanied Obama on trips to seven countries, including Kenya, where Obama's late father was born. His photographs have won multiple awards in the Pictures of the Year International contest and from the National Press Photographers Association, and are featured in the Life magazine book, "American Journey of Barack Obama."
Souza, who joined the VisCom faculty a year ago, was an official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan and has also worked as a freelance photographer for National Geographic and Life magazines.
VisCom Director Terry Eiler called Souza's book a testament to the quality of his work.
"Photojournalism is a game of inches and luck," Eiler said. "It is so seldom that a photojournalist like Pete gets to start a story and take you places that no one else has gone: behind the scenes with a family of a presidential hopeful long before that person moves into the public eye.
"Pete's book is a time capsule of work, and it's absolutely impressive," he said.
Souza said his return to the classroom at Ohio University will allow him to give back to the profession as well as students.
"It's a complete change of lifestyle, but I was ready for a change in my life," Souza said of his new role. "I thought that if I wanted to have an impact on people, teaching would be the way to do it."
The book, published in July, was designed by Souza's colleague and Ohio alumna, VisCom Assistant Professor Julie Elman. A presentation and book signing in September drew a large crowd and a second signing at Ohio University is in the works for winter quarter.
For a full biography and samples of his work, please visit Souza's Web site at www.petesouza.com.
Coming soon: Outlook will present a special multimedia interview with Pete Souza. Additional photographs of Obama and of Souza's work in the Reagan White House will appear in the fall/winter 2008 issue of Ohio Today.