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Oh, snap! Photographer Pete Souza's 'Shade' tour focuses on presidential contrasts

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When photographer Pete Souza started "throwing shade" at President Donald Trump, he was fairly subtle. 

The former chief White House photographer posted a picture of red Oval Office drapes, noting he preferred them to Trump's "gaudy" gold ones. On Instagram, Souza countered Trump's boast of inauguration records with a photo of President Barack Obama's bigger crowd.  

But news from the White House has gotten crazier, Souza says. "We're now in impeachment mode.

"I think the first year I was pretty subtle and at times humorous. I'm not as subtle anymore. Now, given the stakes of the country, I'm trying to be more pointed in my commentary."

After about 32 months of a Trump administration, Souza remains rattled by posts from the Potomac: "I'm still surprised that we have a president that lies to us every day and does corrupt things." 

Pete Souza

White House photographer Pete Souza exits Air Force One in 2009 at Andrews Air Force Base.

Photo by Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

"Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents" by Pete Souza

"Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents"

By Pete Souza

Published by Little, Brown, 291 pages, $19.99 (paper)

On sale Oct. 22

Souza kicks off his book tour in St. Louis for the paperback edition of "Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents," which goes on sale Tuesday. The ticketed event at the Grandel includes a copy of the book. Souza describes his appearance as a visual presentation that extends beyond "Shade." 

The hardcovers of "Shade" and "Obama: An Intimate Portrait" both debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Souza has a lot of fans. More than 2 million follow his Instagram account

"Shade" is a show-and-tell album and has been updated with 60 new pages that "show" Obama's years as president in contrast with Trump's "tell," i.e. tweets and news headlines.

Many of those headlines spur the "fake news" tweets from @realDonaldTrump: 

"The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!" (Jan. 6, 2017)

Or insults:

"When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it didn't work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!" (Aug. 14, 2018)

Barack Obama, Pete Souza

President Barack Obama walks to greet Air Force members and their families July 2, 2010, at Andrews Air Force Base before boarding Marine One for a trip to Camp David, Md. At left is White House photographer Pete Souza.

Photo by Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

Souza responds by posting a photo of his former boss having a drink with Mexico's leader. Or a family pooch watching the president, noting, "A real dog waiting for a real President."

They are often amusing or even poignant and highlight Obama's low-key presidential style. But they  also are reminders of some of the things Trump said and did early in his own term.

Seldom does Souza get angry comments or emails from Trump fans: "There's only one instance when I referred an email to Secret Service." A few of the critics he's identified as Russian bots.

He's careful to note that he doesn't follow the president's Twitter account, but he does check on it and keeps up with the news. On Instagram, he refers to Trump as "Comrade Minus." (Rather than refer to him by his presidential number, Souza at first called him "46 minus 1," and the reference evolved from there.) 

Most of the time, Souza knows immediately which photo he wants to post to go along with a Trump tweet or quote. He took 1.9 million of them during Obama's eight years in office. 

Pete Souza

President Barack Obama is photographed Jan. 21, 2013, by Pete Souza as participants in Obama's inaugural parade walk down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

"Every single photo we were required to save," he says. After Watergate, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, so all records, including photographs, are preserved. They are now in the National Archives and are in the public domain. (There are limitations. The photos can't be used for advertising, for example.)

Souza admits he didn't immediately understand when people told him he was "throwing shade" at Trump. "I hadn't heard the terminology 'throwing shade' before. But I knew exactly what I was doing."


President Ronald Reagan works on his inaugural address Jan. 19, 1985, in his private study in the White House.

Photo by Pete Souza, the White House via Associated Press

In the introduction to the book, he writes: "I had seen what the presidency required — not just in the Obama administration but years before, when I was an official photographer for President Reagan. And both Presidents Reagan and Obama took the job seriously and respected the office of the presidency. That didn't appear to be true for the new guy."

Asked about the difference between working for Reagan and Obama, Souza says he was much younger during the Reagan era and didn't have as much access to the president (he wasn't the chief photographer). He does remember that the atmosphere was more formal than it was under Obama, whom he had also photographed during Obama's first term as a senator from Illinois. Souza spent almost as much time with Obama as the president's own family did.

Souza's work as an official White House photographer was to make photos for the historical record. On Instagram, he says: "They are important to convey information, context, mood and emotion." 

Although his work there was different than when he was a photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune, he says: "It's not like I made pictures any differently. ... Any photojournalist is trying to truthfully portray what is taking place." (Trump's chief White House photographer is Shealah Craighead, and some of her photos are available on Flickr.)

Now, Souza, 64, and his wife have relocated to Madison, Wis., from Arlington, Va., to be closer to his daughter. 

He's not retired but says he's too old to keep up with the demands of a White House job — "It takes too much out of you."

In the meantime, his book encourages voters to go to the polls. He's predicting that Trump will lose next year — if he's on the ballot.

"If he's still president on Election Day, I think he'll be defeated in a landslide.

"I think some people think he'll be reelected. I think that's crazy. I think the vast majority of people think he's corrupt." 

Books-Obama Photographer

White House photographer Pete Souza pauses during an event Oct. 21, 2013, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

In the meantime, Souza keeps posting pictures. While Democrats seek a tape of Trump's controversial call to Ukraine's president, on Sept. 27 Souza posted a photo of Obama's talking to then-President Myung-bak Lee of South Korea. The photographer identifies the various officials in the office and says a photo of Trump's call could be telling: 

"Although Comrade Minus loves to host the reality show for the White House press pool, essentially staging Cabinet Meetings and Oval Office encounters just for the TV cameras, there is little visual evidence of him actually doing real work. ⁣

⁣"Congress should demand to see photographs of his phone call with Ukraine President Zelenskiy. It could provide information, context and mood: who else is in the room; where in the residence did the call take place; what was he wearing; is he joking or not."⁣

What Pete Souza When 7 p.m. Wednesday • Where The Grandel, 3610 Grandel Square • How much $22.13 • More info 314-534-1111;

Selections from 'Shade'

Selected pages from "Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents," by former White House photographer Pete Souza. Images courtesy of Hachette Book Group.

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group June 29, 2017 • Respect for women. President Obama strategizes with aides Kathy Ruemmler, Jennifer Palmieri, K…

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group Aug. 1, 2017 • Despite what some say, the White House is definitely not “a dump.” What a shameful thing to say…

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group Sept. 17, 2017 • There’s only one Rocket Man—Sir Elton John.

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group Feb. 27, 2018 • A different kind of witch hunt (Halloween 2010).

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group April 8, 2018 • Back when we had a President who read a newspaper and didn’t call it fake news even when he wa…

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group April 15, 2018 • A loyalty pledge was neither needed nor asked for.

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group May 6, 2018 • Stormy.

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group March 5, 2017 • Say what!?

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group May 11, 2017 • Not much laughter happening here (Beijing, China, 2014).

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Courtesy of Hachette Book Group May 17, 2017 • Robert Mueller, then the FBI director, briefs President Obama after the Boston Marathon bombing…

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