Above: Dancing with Michelle to Earth, Wind & Fire at the 2009 Governors Ball

In 2005, Pete Souza was a photographer at the Chicago Tribune when he was assigned to cover a former community organizer in his first year as a U.S. senator. "We got to know each other somewhat," says Souza. "I also made some pictures with his daughters, which he liked." When the ambitious young legislator was elected president three years later, Souza said yes to becoming the new administration's official documentarian—on one condition: "Total access," he says. "I wanted to portray Barack Obama as a world leader, a father, a husband and a human being."

An after-school stroll on the Colonnade with Malia and Sasha, 2009
Photo: Pete Souza, Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

Request granted, Souza slipped into a routine with his subject: He'd meet the president at 9:30 every morning as he came down from the White House's private residence, and tag along for the rest of the day. Souza's nearly 24/7 fly-on-the-wall status could find him attending a security meeting, squeezing into the motorcade, or playing cards with Obama on Air Force One. "My BlackBerry was on day and night," says Souza. "I was so relieved when I was finally unshackled from that thing."

Feeling the weight of the world in the Oval Office, 2016
Photo: Pete Souza, Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

In total, Souza captured more than 1.9 million images, 325 of which are featured in his book Obama: An Intimate Portrait, out November 7. "In 500 years, people should be able to go through my archive and get a sense of what this administration was about," says Souza. The frames reveal the president in instances both serious (visiting a wounded service member) and playful (dancing with his personal aide in preparation for her wedding), triumphant (watching on TV as Congress passed the Affordable Care Act) and devastating (hearing about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, from his homeland security adviser). Says Souza, "Obama has talked about Newtown being the worst day of his presidency, and it was one of the hardest times for me, too."

Synchronized hoops shooting with Malia and Sasha at a basketball clinic, 2012
Photo: Pete Souza, Courtesy of Little, Brown and Company

The upshot of Souza's POTUS POV: What you see is what you get. "Yes, Obama is laid-back and can belly laugh with the best of them," he says. "But he's also disciplined. He received a thick briefing book every evening with memos and selected letters. I can count on one hand the number of times he told someone he didn'tread it." And while Souza says he can't pick a favorite photo, he has a hunch about the president's: "I visited his new office in Washington, D.C., this summer and spotted one of my shots on his bookshelf. It's of Sasha and Malia at the Canadian state dinner in 2016, and the girls look so grown-up. I always knew he took special pride in pictures of his family."


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