As part of its Lightbox feature online, the photo editors of Time magazine recently showcased the work of Pete Souza, chief official White House photographer. This article included Souza’s comments on his work photographing the Obama Administration and the Obama Family and the photos that he’s captured since 2009.
Souza said that as he assembled the 100 images for this Lightbox feature that he wanted to create a portrait of the president to help people understand him. Souza had known the president since Obama became a senator in 2005 when Souza was working for the Chicago Tribune. “I was looking for things that I knew that if he ever became President you would never see again,” Souza said in text accompanying the Time feature. “[Obama was] walking down a sidewalk in Moscow in 2005 and no one recognized him. I realized that if he ever became President, you would never, ever see a photo like that again. The odds of becoming President are obviously pretty slim, but I knew he had the potential. And you can’t say that about too many people.”
What Souza recognized that day in 2005 — that something special was to come and Obama had the potential to be famous well into the future — made Souza begin to look for moments that would prove valuable in the course of history.
That’s exactly what student journalists need to do, too. Even as a photographer captures the action of a game or assembly or flirting in the halls, he or she can always look for the action that’s beyond the field and the obvious photos. Seek the behind-the-scenes moments that will help future readers to know what it was like on that day — at that moment at your school. Look for the stories around school that have the potential to tell us as readers and viewers not just what’s important today but what might be important in the future. These are the observations, the moments, the glimpses that will prove valuable in the course of history as our memories fade – our impressions of the school change.
And advisers need to help students see these moments. Advisers know that moments change unexpectedly. Whether in triumph or tragedy, teach students to anticipate many situations. Doing so will mean that unexpected won’t mean unprepared. Help students see beyond the obvious and to collect bits of observation, sideline images and off-hand comments before assembling a larger narrative.
Sometimes the narrative is not apparent even though students are in the middle of documenting it. That’s why going beyond the obvious is so important. Some photos, quotes or stories are obviously important, while others may prove valuable only later. The challenge as a journalist is recognizing the potential in everything.
Find Pete Souza’s collection of images: