Images of Donald Trump flood in with a malignancy of stupidity. In a variety of locations, presenting himself to Americans and foreign dignitaries, Trump succeeds in fulfilling a stereotype of the United States-born male, one that is usually as true as any other lazy generalisation, and yet, Trump appears to live to make that character real. On the world stage or with his family, his demeanour is that of the Hollywood jock, with an added fifty years.
It is a comfort, then, after seeing photographs of Trump looking directly into a solar eclipse, to look through the shots of his predecessor. Barack Obama, whatever might be said of him, is excessively photogenic, both in appearance and action. His movements are the opposite of Trump’s erratic personality, his contact with the public never awkward. During the time he sat in the Oval Office, Obama was followed by Pete Souza, who photographed him relentlessly. The best of those photos are to be published under the title, Obama: An Intimate Portrait. Intimate. A strange word, considering the world’s unwillingness to share any intimacy with the current Commander in Chief.
Not since Kennedy has a President so easily inhabited the four sides of a photo’s frame, and although the connection between JFK and Obama is overdone, in terms of image, it is entirely relevant. There is no ignoring the fact that both understood the importance of a sympathetic (and, if possible, handsome) President. Pete Souza’s photographs, given the amount he took, capture both the emblematic and the familial; compare the shot of Obama boarding a plane, the arc of a rainbow uncurling from his outstretched arm, with the photograph in the snow, playing with his daughters. There are shots of him exhausted, playful, romantic, diplomatic, stern. And without denying the genuine nature of his character, Obama has something of the actor in him. In comparison, Trump has something of the Hollywood in him, too. Something of the Weinstein.
Pete Souza’s collection is a portfolio of fresh nostalgia, when the global climate felt a little more comfortable to breathe in. And when looking at the shot of Obama, sat with his arms over the back of a bench and listening to an animated Angela Merkel talk, there is a definite disappointment that such relations are now either broken or blurred.