The Human Element: The Peter Souza Exhibit at the Leica Gallery


Peter Souza is the White House Press Photographer. But he doesn't only capture the major public moments in the life of the President, he also captures the more human and tender times. Many of his photos are on display in an exhibit at The Leica Gallery in NYC entitled, "The Obama Presidency: A Look Behind the Scenes." Though his photos are already showcased on the White House Flickr Account, Peter's work is something that needs to be seen in person to truly be experienced.

About Peter

White House Press Photographer Peter Souza has a decorated history. He is an Assistant Professor of Photojournalism of Ohio University's School of Visual Communication (currently on extended leave). Souza has followed President Obama around since the former Senator started campaigning, documenting everything that happened along the trail. But before chronicling the rise of President Obama, Souza freelanced for publications like National Geographic and Life, as well as having his photos published in Fortune, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report, amongst many others. Souza has also won various photojournalism awards.

These awards now include the honor of having an exhibit hosted at the Leica Gallery. Since it opened in 1976, the gallery has showcased over 115 exhibitions, such as "Obama's Presidency" and "Nightclubbing, New York Nightlife in the 80s." This was my first time to the gallery, and I will be returning every now and again—especially because admission is free.

Upon entering the Leica Gallery, you'll see a book behind glass with a certificate showing that the photos have been shot by Peter Souza. Around it are congregated many other historical photos (not all of them Pete's). 

Souza's photos are placed all across the walls of the inner gallery. Like most traditional galleries, the photos are arranged in a very linear fashion, with four photos placed in a rectangular fashion in various spots. The lighting of each photo brings out the colors and real-life moments that Peter has captured. And when viewed up close, one can't help but feel like they're right there as the moment is happening.

The gallery displays photographs that have been printed in black-and-white as well as color. Each moment captured embodies two of the core elements of photojournalism: the intimate and the emotional. When entering the gallery and starting on the right side, you'll see some extremely captivating work that seems to reach out and compel you to keep coming further in. The photos shown are relatable to people of all walks of life, and capture the President in candid moments that frame him as an average American, albeit with tremendous responsibility.

Those images aren't the typical photos that end up every day on the front page of the New York Times. Instead, they present facets of the President that the public doesn't usually see, and that the media or tabloids don't often cover. The photos show that those that work in the White House are actually human beings.

Each photo is captioned by Souza. (You receive a paper with these captions when you enter the gallery.) For example, the photo above shows how much the President is involved in the writing and editing of his own speeches. When first glancing at it, I thought that perhaps it was of him editing one of his daughters' book reports. My father used to do the same for me with my book reports.

Every photo shown seems to have its own story. For example, there are photos where Souza states that the President is "goofing around" with his daughter. Reading the story behind those images not only helps to explain them, but helps you to notice details that you may not have paid attention to before.

Overall, the exhibit is one that needs to be seen in person. If the entire collection were submitted as a project for judging, it would surely receive a Pulitzer award, not only for the wide span of coverage, but also for the amazing images that comprise the project. This exhibit is the type of work that is worth paying for in a big museum, like the MoMA or ICP. However, the Leica Gallery has it on display for free. Any photojournalist looking for ideas and inspiration should pay a visit to the gallery to see what great documentary projects are all about. The quality of work is right up there with Henri Cartier-Bresson—the founder of Magnum Photos.

The Leica Gallery is located at 670 Broadway / Suite 500, New York, NY 10012, and is open Tuesday – Saturday 12.00 pm – 6.00 pm. The exhibit will be there until October 6th, 2011.

If you've visited the gallery, please share your thoughts.