A Portrait in Contrast

Review of Pete Souza at Seattle Arts and Lectures.

Written by TeenTix Press Corps Newsroom Writer Eleanor Cenname, and edited by Teen Editorial Staff Member Huma Ali!


I have never been one for cliché expressions, but the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been so applicable as when I had the opportunity to experience the photographic chronicle of President Obama’s time in office. With our current administration, it may be easy to lose the hope that we may ever have a leader capable of respect, empathy, and an unwavering resolve to make the world better for the people who inhabit it. But Pete Souza, official White House Photographer for Presidents Obama and Reagan, decided to remind us of the kind of leader we are capable of electing.

I had the pleasure of attending Pete Souza’s lecture on his newest book, "Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents" at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. After a quick musical performance, Souza was introduced and started at the end, so to speak, by detailing his experience from the conclusion of Obama’s presidency up until the proceedings at Trump’s (or as Souza referred to him, “[President] 46 minus 1”) inauguration. This shade makes this lecture one that is best suitable for an audience whose beliefs align more with that of the Obama administration. The lecture itself had an undeniable political bias. Still, throughout his lecture, Souza kept pushing the people to vote for the leaders they thought capable of filling such a position.

Pete Souza at Seattle Arts and Lectures. Photo by Libby Lewis Photography.

Souza provided an almost page-by-page walk through of his book, which was a juxtaposition between Trump and Obama. He engaged the audience through a witty comparison between the two administrations using relevant mediums: Trump’s personal Twitter captions and pictures of Obama’s time in office.

Souza also shared some personal anecdotes, thus including a deeply personal take on the Obama presidency, and connected with the audience with brief bouts of comedy. For example, he said he felt a brotherhood with the Obama’s dog Beau, because they were both of Portuguese descent. In contrast, however, Souza also addressed his perspective during significant and tragic events in the duration of his work with Obama. The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting being a prominent event. With an emotional and honest viewpoint, Souza exposed both his and former President Obama’s empathy during those times. The lecture was a simple and elegant presentation from a passionate political advocate touching on topics dear to him through his true passion: photography.

Pete Souza at Seattle Arts and Lectures. Photo by Libby Lewis Photography.

Souza referenced many times throughout his presentation the origin for his book’s title: "Shade." Essentially, he had made subtle references to Trump’s administration through captions on images he had taken during Obama’s presidency. Souza said that the purpose of this subtle shade was not only to present the stark contrast between two opposing presidencies, but to make people read the news and keep up with politics. With such inconspicuous references to the happenings in the Trump presidency, Souza was hoping that his followers would keep updated on political processes. But this was merely a step in Souza’s overall message. Souza currently promotes the hashtag #ThrowShadeThenVote, and discussed at length his reasoning behind the movement: getting people to make informed political decisions.

As a teen, the premise of voting is just as important as it is for adults. The future is truly dependent on upcoming generations, and they won’t succeed if they don’t speak out for their rights or vote. Irrespective of the audience, Souza’s sentiment was as invaluable as it was clear; we can be upset or throw “shade” at our current administration, but what we should really be doing is voting. Voting is our way to alter the future. Voting determines the lives of the children. Voting is why our country was founded.

Audience asking questions at Pete Souza at Seattle Arts and Lectures. Photo by Libby Lewis Photography.

Near the end of the lecture, I had the opportunity to ask Souza a question I felt was important for all teens to know. I asked that, while he says to #ThrowShadeThenVote, what would he say to students who can’t vote but still want to make a difference? It was at this point that I felt Souza’s lecture was empowering both for teens and adults: he said that even though we can’t vote, we can campaign for our beliefs and how we want to be represented. He reiterated the purpose of his shade: to push people to understand our government.

This lecture, especially in a time of deep partisan divide and distinct detestation of the press, was an honest and unapologetic plea for the people of the United States to use everything they have to make a difference, while still remaining an uplifting reminder of the leaders we are have elected, and are capable of electing. In Souza's words, “after a storm, we might just get a rainbow.”

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. The Editorial Staff is made up of 5 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

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