The Way I See It (2020) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): The way he photographed the Obama Presidency

Dawn Porter’s documentary film “The Way I See It” looks deep into those memorable still photographs shot during the Obama Presidency via one ordinary professional responsible for them. Yes, he was simply doing his job as required during that time, but he really did a heck of a job of recording not only many historic moments but also those admirable human qualities of Barack Obama, and many of his still photographs certainly remind us again of what an exemplary president Obama was – especially compared to that rude and deplorable scumbag who still refuses to concede to the rightful result of the 2020 US Presidential election even at this point.

At the beginning, we are introduced to Pete Souza, an acclaimed photojournalist who worked as the Chief Official White House Photographer during the Obama Presidency. Having observed how the respectable public image of the White House has been considerably tarnished by President Donald J. Trump during last few years, Souza decided to be more outspoken about his critical view on the Trump Presidency, and he surely drew lots of attention as posting many of his still photographs from the Obama Presidency on Instagram for emphasizing how bad Trump and his administration are in many aspects.

And these still photographs of Obama and others around him are quite illuminating to say the least. At one point, Souza, who was constantly required to be around the president just like his predecessors, photographed Obama being quite pensive right before making some important decision, and you can clearly sense how much he was aware of the considerable impact of his decision on the world outside. As Souza and other interviewees tell us, Obama was always open to more advises and arguments from his people before making his final decision, and it goes without saying that he is indeed a man with the right stuffs for occupying the highest political position in the world.

The documentary also focuses on Souza’s professional career before the Obama Presidency. After becoming interested in photography during his college years, Souza embarked on pursuing the career of a photojournalist, and, after going through a number of prominent newspapers and magazines such as Chicago Sun-Times and Time, he found himself getting hired as a photographer for the White House in 1987. Although he was reluctant when the job was offered to him, he did his best along with his fellow photographers in the White House anyway, and he eventually came to admire President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy a lot even while being quite critical of many mistakes and faults of the Reagan administration.

After the end of the Reagan Presidency in 1988, Souza kept working here and there during next two decades, and then there came an unexpected opportunity in 2007. Since he delivered a stunning public speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama quickly became a new exciting political star to watch even though he was merely a young US senator entering his first term at that time, and Souza was assigned to following and then capturing Obama on his cameras as Obama announced his candidacy for the upcoming US Presidential election. Although initially being regarded as a long shot at that time, Obama swiftly rose to the top of the competition among him and several other notable competitors including Hilary Clinton, and Souza eagerly tells us about his several still photographs which reveal to us a lot about what Obama might felt and thought during his incredible political journey.

When Souza subsequently came to work again at the White House, Obama jokingly promised to him that they would have lots of fun together during next several years, and Souza did have lots of fun as frequently being around Obama as a constant chronicler of the Obama Presidency. Besides those important moments including when Obama and his staff members were cautiously monitoring the process of a certain famous secret operation associated with the climactic part of “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012), there were also many different intimate personal moments to be captured on Souza’s cameras, and many of you surely remember well that famous still photograph of Obama generously bending over for a little African American boy to touch his head and feel something common between them. Seriously, can you possibly imagine Trump being as kind, decent, and humble as that?

Besides being a cool and intelligent leader, Obama was also quite capable of compassion and empathy like any good politician, and Souza recollects those deeply moving moments when he and his camera observed how considerate and empathetic Obama was to devastated people in the need of consolation and support. For instance, he showed constant attention to a solider struggling to recover from his serious battlefield injury after meeting him at a military hospital, and that certainly makes a big contrast to Trump’s callous apathy toward to those brave American soldiers sacrificing themselves for their country. When the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident happened in 2012, Obama did not hesitate to show his genuine sadness in front of the press reporters at the White House, and he also directly consoled the parents of one of the young victims in private.

As becoming more vocal about his political stance against the Trump Presidency in public, Souza started to present more of his photographs from the Obama Presidency via his frequent public presentations. Although he may never be regarded as a merely ‘apolitical’ photojournalist because of that, he does not regret at all, and he did not stop even when the situation became far worse than he and others imagined due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has been infuriatingly exacerbated further by the sheer incompetency and ignorance of the Trump administration.

In conclusion, “The Way I See It”, which happened to be released in US shortly before the 2020 US Presidential Election, is an engaging tribute to not only Obama and his presidency but also Souza’s significant contribution as a chronicler of that uplifting period at the White House. Although I still have some reservation on some of his political choices and decisions, Obama and his administration surely showed the best sides of the American society, and I sincerely hope his legacy will last quite long just like that of Reagan and many other famous American presidents, regardless of whatever will happen in US during next several years.

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