New Bedford-born Pete Souza was a silent observer during Barack Obama’s eight years in the White House.
And then, suddenly, he began to make his own views known.
“When I first met Pete, his politics were not at all evident. Pete changed. He could no long be this fly on the wall,” says Alice Gabriner, former deputy director of photography in the Obama White House in the new documentary “The Way I See It.”
The film, directed by Dawn Porter, brings the photographer, now 65, out from behind his camera and into focus.
As chief official White House photographer and director of the White House Photo Office during the Obama administration, the South Dartmouth-raised Souza witnessed and documented American history, from the white-knuckle moments of the bin Laden raid, to intimate Obama family moments. He captured playful moments between dad and kids, Obama smiling at the then-first lady in a freight elevator, candids of Vice President Joe Biden and Obama palling around, and the now-iconic “Hair Like Mine” photo. Souza had also been photographer for the Reagan White House.
Today, the Boston University alum and best-selling author of “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents,” and “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” is something of an Instagram sensation, with nearly 2.5 million followers. Souza shares behind-the-scenes moments he captured of the Obama presidency, along with pointed commentary. He’s appeared on “The Daily Show” and NPR and been featured on the “CBS Evening News” and “Face the Nation.”
So what sparked the change from reticence to outspokenness?
Obama’s successor, Souza says.
“It was clear to me that [President Trump] was, to use a Portuguese word, a vigarista. Loosely translated that means con man. Whether you agreed with the politics or policies of Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama, both men were decent human beings who were dignified and respectful. Both were empathetic and compassionate,” Souza said via e-mail.
“To paraphrase the late John Lewis, if you see something wrong, say something,” he said. “I took that to heart.”
While Souza has made his opinions known through his books and Instagram account, it took months of convincing, partly by Wellesley-raised Evan Hayes, producer of Oscar-winner “Free Solo” to get him to agree to his closeup.
Jayme Lemons — producing partner with Laura Dern — contacted Souza through a mutual friend, Souza said.
“I had lunch with her and producer Evan Hayes in Los Angeles, and they then attended a book talk I was doing. They broached the subject of doing a documentary film on me. It took them a couple of months to convince me to participate in it.”
After graduating Dartmouth High School in 1972, Souza fell in love with photography at Boston University. A photo class his junior year “was my first exposure, if you will, to photography. I knew right away I wanted to do it. It was magic,” he told the Globe previously.
The film made a select theater debut last month, and makes its uninterrupted television debut Friday — less than 20 days before the presidential election.
What does Souza want viewers to take from this film?
“Two things. One: the power of the still image, especially as it relates to authentic behind-the-scenes moments of a president,” he said. “I also want viewers to see the humanity of [Obama] as a person. And to think about what kind of human being we want representing us at the highest level of government.”
Watch Oct. 16, 10 p.m., on MSNBC. Learn more at https://www.petesouza.com/