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M. Duane Nellis, Scott Titsworth, Pete Souza, Mark Weinberg

Former White House photographer receives Federal Government Alumnus Award

Marilyn Icsman
October 3, 2018

Pete Souza, former chief White House photographer and professor emeritus of Visual Communication at Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication, was keynote speaker and honoree at the seventh annual Ohio University Federal Government Alumni Luncheon on Sept. 27.

The annual event, held in Washington, D.C. at the National Press Club, celebrates the achievements of Ohio University alumni who have made a significant impact on policy and public service. Hosted by Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis, on behalf of OHIO’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the luncheon connects alumni living and working in Washington D.C. with each other, as well as University leadership.

“Pete Souza has provided a great public service by telling our nation’s story through his well-honed lens. He has inspired numerous generations of photojournalists and students alike through his work as a White House photographer and as a faculty member at Ohio University,” President Nellis said. “We are so proud to have honored him as our 2018 Outstanding Federal Government Alumnus.”

Souza served as President Barack Obama’s chief White House photographer, a job which spawned his best-selling photography book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait.” He was also President Ronald Reagan’s chief photographer and the director of the White House Photography Office.

The photos were a highlight of his keynote address, as he provided more than 150 graduates and friends of Ohio University with a personal, pictorial accounting of his time as White House photographer for Presidents Reagan and Obama. Along with each photo, Souza provided an explanation and told behind-the-scenes anecdotes that gave more insight into each image.

Souza told the audience that politicians are often difficult to photograph because they are so aware of the camera.

“I always tried to use a small footprint, with either president, meaning not carrying a lot of gear, not using flash, not using a motor drive” Souza said. “I tried to be stealthy as best I could.”

In comparing his photography of President Reagan and President Obama, Souza said that Obama just “went about his business,” while Reagan was more aware of his presence.

“In some ways, Reagan was more of a difficult subject, because he was used to the camera, he would play to the camera,” Souza said. “And he didn’t mind me being in the room, but he would actually notice you more than President Obama would.”

Souza also discussed his work with Obama prior to his presidential election. Because of their established working relationship, he said, Obama gave him “full access” as a photographer. This allowed Souza to capture so many candid and intimate pictures, he said.

Souza received the 2018 Outstanding Federal Government Alumnus Award, which honors alumni involved in service to the federal government or engaged in civic debate of federal public policy. In his recognition of Souza, President Nellis said Souza has been invaluable in working with students in Athens and in the Scripps Semester in D.C. program.

“I’m also certain that George Voinovich would embrace him as a fellow Bobcat, and I know he would applaud his years of public service in providing a photographic history of the White house during two presidencies,” Nellis said.

Public service is a key part of Ohio University’s culture, Nellis said.

“One of the strategic pathways for our future focused on strengthening the University’s public service mission,” Nellis said. “And the Voinovich School certainly does that for the state of Ohio, exemplifying the University’s special commitment to Appalachia, through its magnificent work in spurring economic development, environmental sustainability, and quality of life.”