Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 Countries

Today, President Obama visits Kenya — the 50th country he has visited during his Administration. It’s also my 50th country traveling with the President.

To mark the occasion, as I did when the President visited his 50th state, I chose one photograph from each country that we’ve visited.

Traveling abroad with the President is very different.

Often times, I am at the mercy of the host country for access. Some countries are more accommodating to me than others. I am lucky to have counterpart official photographers in many countries who are extremely helpful to me in this regard. I of course try to return the help to them when they visit the White House with their head of state.

We’re also rarely in any one country for more than a couple of days, which gives us only a partial glimpse of each place. And because of security, the sites we are able to visit are often limited too.

All that said, we’ve had the incredible opportunity to visit the Pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, the Great Wall in China, Petra in Jordan, and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar (Burma). (So I really shouldn’t complain too much.)

I hope you enjoy this gallery. And stay tuned — we’ll be adding a photograph from Kenya and additionally, Ethiopia, following his visit next week.

Afghanistan, 2012

Boarding Air Force One at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Behind the Lens: Photographing an American Hero

Six years ago — on June 6, 2009 — I photographed Cory Remsburg for the first time.

It was amid a whirlwind day in France for President Obama — and for me. We’d had an event with U.S. embassy personnel in Paris; a flight on Air Force One from Paris to Caen; a state visit with then-President Sarkozy; a picturesque helicopter ride into Normandy; the 65th anniversary of D-Day; a helicopter, then a plane ride back to Paris; and finally a tour with the Obama family at the Cathedral de Notre Dame. The President and First Lady greeted hundreds of people that day, including a small group of Army Rangers in Normandy.

Eight months later, I accompanied the President as he made his regular quarterly trip to visit wounded warriors at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. The 10th patient he visited that day did not at all look familiar to me. The patient, an Army Ranger, had suffered a severe brain injury caused by a roadside explosion in Afghanistan.

His name was Cory Remsburg.

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This Day in History: John F. Kennedy Was Born

Today in 1917, John F. Kennedy -- the 35th President of the United States, and the first to be born in the 20th century -- was born in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Of Irish descent, President Kennedy was the youngest man to be elected President, and was also the youngest to die.

Graduating from Harvard in 1940, he entered the Navy. In 1943, when his PT boat was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy, despite grave injuries, led the survivors through perilous waters to safety.

Having returned from the war, he became a Democratic Congressman from the Boston area, advancing in 1953 to the Senate. He married Jacqueline Bouvier on September 12, 1953. In 1955, while recuperating from a back operation, he wrote Profiles in Courage, which won the Pulitzer Prize in history. Read more about President Kennedy's life and legacy here.

Aaron Shikler's iconic 1971 portrait of President Kennedy in a contemplative pose hangs in the cross hall in the central corridor of the White House's State Floor.

Watch White House Curator Bill Allman tell the story of that portrait, and how it came to be painted:

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Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 States

This week, the President will visit South Dakota, marking the 50th state he has visited during his administration (as such, it's also my 50th state with him). To mark the occasion, I chose one photograph from each state that we’ve visited. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. With help from photo editor Phaedra Singelis, I tried to depict a variety of situations. Some are more lighthearted; some are sad, and some are poignant. Some are with the Vice President; some are with the First Lady, and a couple are with the entire family. A selection of photos are centered on policy, and others on politics. Some focus on the President as Commander-in-Chief -- others on his role as consoler for the nation.

I hope you enjoy this gallery. And stay tuned -- we’ll be adding a photograph from South Dakota following his visit there on Friday.

Alabama, March 7, 2015. Marching at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Alabama, March 7, 2015. Marching at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Alaska. Nov 12, 2009. Air Force One refueling at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Alaska. Nov 12, 2009. Air Force One refueling at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Arizona, Aug. 16, 2009. Viewing the Grand Canyon. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Arizona, Aug. 16, 2009. Viewing the Grand Canyon. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

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Behind the Lens: Somewhere Under the Rainbow

When people ask me how I do what I do, I often recite the words of Bob Dylan: “I was just doing what I could with what I had where I was.” That kind of sums up my approach to my job as the President's photographer.

Every once in a while, you also just get very lucky. Such was the case last week, when a rainbow came along just as the President’s helicopter was arriving at the airport in Kingston, Jamaica, where he would board Air Force One for the flight to Panama. Fortunately, I was manifested aboard the second helicopter–which always arrives before Marine One–giving me a few minutes to prepare for photographing the rainbow.

In the first photograph, I framed the rainbow above Marine One as the President disembarked the helicopter.

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President Obama Helps Dedicate the New Edward M. Kennedy Institute

President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the First Lady traveled to Boston today to celebrate the opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. The building — complete with a full-scale replica of the United States Senate chamber — honors the life and legacy of Edward "Ted" Kennedy, who served as a U.S. Senator from 1962 to 2009.

Located adjacent to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, the Institute offers interactive exhibits, a replica of Sen. Kennedy’s D.C. office, and historic documents and memorabilia from the Senator’s life.

“The John F. Kennedy Library next door is a symbol of our American idealism. The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a living example of the hard, frustrating, never-ending, but critical work required to make that idealism real,” President Obama said today.

President Obama Speaks at the New Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, Mass., March 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

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The Incredible Kid-Ingenuity on Display at the 5th White House Science Fair

Today, the halls of the White House were packed with science projects -- robots, 3D-printed objects, computer programs, apps, and extraordinary scientific discoveries -- all built, invented, designed, and brought to fruition by students.

President Barack Obama greets Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy O’Neal, and Emery Dodson, all six-year-old Girl Scouts, from Tulsa, Oklahoma as he viewed their science exhibit during the 2015 White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions, in the Red Room, March 23, 2015. The girls used Lego pieces and designed a battery-powered page turner to help people who are paralyzed or have arthritis. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

At the 5th annual White House Science Fair, President Obama welcomed more than 100 students from more than 30 states for a celebration and showcase of their truly remarkable achievmenets in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

As part of the Science Fair, approximately 35 student teams exhibited innovative projects -- including discoveries and insights in key areas such as disease diagnostics, clean energy, and information security -- as well as inventions ranging from the “why didn’t I think of that?” (automatic page-turner for people with arthritis) to the “who’d have ever thought that possible?” (a hiccup-curing lollipop!).

The President personally viewed some of these projects, marveling at the incredible ingenuity on display from student innovators across the country including some as young as six years old.

President Barack Obama talks with Sergio Corral and Isela Martinez while viewing science exhibits during the 2015 White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions, in the State Dining Room, March 23, 2015. The two 17-year-old students are current leaders of the robotics program from Carl Hayden High School in Phoenix, Ariz., which was chronicled in the recent documentary "Underwater Dreams" where their under-served high school beat out MIT and other colleges in an underwater robotics competition. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy).

In remarks to an audience of science-fair participants, mentors, educators, and leaders in government, philanthropy, and the private sector, President Obama praised these extroadinary students:

“These young scientists and engineers teach us … how to question assumptions; to wonder why something is the way it is, and how we can make it better," the President said. "And they remind us that there’s always something more to learn, and to try, and to discover, and to imagine -- and that it’s never too early, or too late to create or discover something new." 

President Obama went on to describe how science shapes our world-view:

"That’s why we love science. It’s more than a school subject, or the periodic table, or the properties of waves. It is an approach to the world, a critical way to understand and explore and engage with the world, and then have the capacity to change that world, and to share this accumulated knowledge. It’s a mindset that says we that can use reason and logic and honest inquiry to reach new conclusions and solve big problems.”

POTUS Delivers remarks at 5th annual White House Science Fair

President Obama also announced a number of ambitious steps to continue to inspire young people like those at the Science Fair and ensure they are connected to the tools, resources, training, and mentors they need to achieve their STEM goals. Here are just some of the announcements the President made today:

  • A $150-million philanthropic effort to empower a diverse cadre of promising early-career scientists to stay on track to become scientific leaders of tomorrow
  • The $90-million Let Everyone Dream campaign to expand STEM opportunities to under-represented youth
  • A $25-million Department of Education competition to create science- and literacy-themed media that inspires students to explore
  • 120 universities and colleges committing to train 20,000 engineers to tackle the “Grand Challenges” of the 21st century
  • A coaltion of CEOs called Change the Equation committing to expand effective STEM programs to an additional 1.5 million students this year

All told, the steps launched today bring the Administration’s grand total up to $1 billion in commitments and in-kind support to advance the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign, which aims to inspire more girls and boys to excel in STEM subjects.

To highlight the theme of this year’s science fair -- Diversity and Inclusion in STEM -- Administration leaders hosted two roundtable discussions in which students shared stories about opportunities and challenges they face in STEM studies.

Kaitlin Reed demonstrates to President Barack Obama the attachable lever she developed that can make wheelchair movements easier and less tiring, during the 2015 White House Science Fair in the Blue Room, March 23, 2015. With Kaitlin is Mohammed Sayed, who developed a 3D-printed modular arm for his wheelchair that can be used as a food tray, camera tripod, rain canopy, laptop holder, and cup holder. The two 16-year-old students are from Massachusetts. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).
 

In the morning, Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls Valerie Jarret, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Associate Director for Science Jo Handelsman, and OSTP Principal Assistant Director for Energy and Environment Tammy Dickinson met with all-star female students participating in this year’s White House Science Fair. There was a lively discussion of the changing image of women in STEM and the need for even more extraordinary female role models to step up and tell their STEM stories.

In the afternoon, Vice President Biden joined a group of students, teachers, and STEM advocates for a discussion on the importance of providing access to STEM education to all Americans, regardless of background. The Vice President -- joined by NFL player Victor Cruz and actress Cierra Ramirez -- talked with the students about the tremendous opportunities that are becoming available every day because of advances in science and technology. He closed reminding participants never to lose faith in their own abilities to shape the future.

It was a whirlwind day for science and engineering at the White House! Geeks descended upon 1600 Pennsylvania -- filling rooms and halls from the State Dining room to the East Garden -- and showcasing more discoveries, inventions, and bright ideas than ever before.

We can’t wait to keep track of where these incredible young innovators go next!

President Barack Obama hugs Emily Bergenroth, Alicia Cutter, Karissa Cheng, Addy O’Neal, and Emery Dodson, all six-year-old Girl Scouts, from Tulsa, Oklahoma after viewing their science exhibit during the 2015 White House Science Fair celebrating student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) competitions, in the Red Room, March 23, 2015. The girls used Lego pieces and designed a battery-powered page turner to help people who are paralyzed or have arthritis. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
 

Becky Fried is Deputy Assistant Director for Strategic Communications at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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“Even One Case is Too Many”: Vice President Biden Marks the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act

Vice President Biden on the 20th Anniversary of VAWA

Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, at the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. September 9, 2014. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Twenty years ago this week, President Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) -- a landmark law that empowered women and children to expose and prosecute domestic violence. The signing of the law marked the end of an arduous road to pass the legislation and put our society on the path toward effectively combating such heinous abuses. Vice President Joe Biden, then a U.S. Senator, not only authored VAWA, but helped drive it through Congress and deliver it to the President's desk. 

Today, standing in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives, Vice President Biden reflected on how far we've come in our ability -- and willingness -- to address domestic violence:

Even just 20 years ago, few people wanted to talk about violence against women as a national epidemic, let alone something to do something about. No one even back then denied that kicking your wife in the stomach, or smashing her in the face, or pushing her down the stairs in public was repugnant. But our society basically turned a blind eye. And hardly anyone ever intervened, directly intervened -- other than my father and a few other people I knew.

And no one -- virtually no one called it a crime. It was a family affair. It was a family affair. Laws -- state laws when we attempted at a state or a federal level to design laws to prevent actions that were said that we now are celebrating, we were told, I was told, many of us were told that it would cause the disintegration of the family. That was the phrase used. It would cause the disintegration of the family.

"This was the ugliest form of violence that exists," he said, and though many wanted to see these crimes remain hidden in the shadows, the Vice President was committed to bringing them out into the light. "We had to let the nation know," he said, "because I was absolutely convinced -- and remain absolutely convinced -- in the basic decency of the American people, and that if they knew, they would begin to demand change."

"The only way to change this culture was to expose it . . . the best disinfectant is sunlight."

Change could not come soon enough for the victims of domestic violence. Many summoned the courage to share their stories before Congress in order to convey exactly why the nation needed to act: 

These were stories of survivors from all walks of life, all parts of the country, North, South, East and West, and Midwest.  One young woman I remember had her head put in the vice on a workbench by her father, crushing her skull, as punishment and abuse. Another who had both her arms broken with a hammer by her husband because she didn't respond quickly enough. Several others had their heads beaten with pipes by the men who professed their great love for them; a 15-year-old girl stabbed by her ex-boyfriend who had just been released from prison for beating her before. So many other cases, a famous journalist whose daughter who was killed after having a stay-away order in the Mid-Atlantic states, and her husband following her to Massachusetts because there was no computer system to be able to know it was done, they let him loose.  And he killed her.

More than anything, as we painted this honest picture of what was going on in America, public opinion began to change.  As more men -- I might add -- and women, but men spoke out, as well, minds began to change.  And the terms of the debate shifted.

Four years after it was first introduced, VAWA finally passed Congress and was signed into law on September 13, 1994.

Since then, VAWA has been reauthorized three times:

  • In 2000, when we added the definition of dating violence to protect women from violent partners
  • In 2005, when we added a new training program for health-care providers to screen patients for domestic abuse so they could better address their psychological and physical needs
  • In 2013, when -- despite Republican opposition -- we ensured services would be available anywhere to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"When violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change."

Though we've come a long way as a society, the Vice President made it clear that much work remains: 

We have so much more to do, because there’s still sex bias that remains in the American criminal justice system in dealing with rape -- stereotypes like she deserved it, she wore a short skirt still taint prosecutions for rape and domestic violence. We’re not going to succeed until America embraces the notion -- my father’s notion -- that under no circumstance does a man ever have a right to raise a hand to a woman other than in self-defense -- under no circumstance; that no means no, whether it’s in a bedroom, or on the street, on in the back of a car -- no means no.  Rape is rape -- no exceptions.

Until we reach that point, we are not going to succeed.  But I believe that we can get to that point.  It’s still imperfect, but the change is real that’s happening.  

To pursue that progress, the Vice President announced that he will hold a Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women in order to expand civil rights remedies in the law -- because, as he said, "You can’t talk about human rights and human dignity without talking about the right of every woman on the planet to be free from violence and free from fear."  

It’s a right that flows from the document behind me -- the equal protections clause -- inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it’s enshrined in every document we pay tribute to. And it’s the right that measures the character of the nation. It’s the single-most significant and direct way to measure the character of a nation -- when violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.

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The President Gives an Update on Iraq and the Situation in Ferguson, Missouri

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri, from Edgartown, Massachusetts

President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri, from Edgartown, Massachusetts, August 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This afternoon, President Obama updated the nation on two issues that he's been monitoring closely over the past several days -- America's military operations in Iraq, and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

Speaking first on Iraq, the President noted the progress the U.S. has made in carrying out "targeted military operations" in the country:

Last week, I authorized two limited missions:  protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.

A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter.  We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice -- starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground.  That’s when America came to help.

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President Obama Discusses the Latest Developments in Iraq

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This afternoon, President Obama gave an update on the most recent developments in Iraq.

First, the President noted that U.S. forces have "successfully conducted targeted airstrikes to prevent terrorist forces from advancing on the city of Erbil, and to protect American civilians there." He also addressed our ongoing humanitarian efforts to help those who are stranded on Mount Sinjar, adding that we've deployed a USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team to help.

"Some have begun to escape their perch on that mountain," he said, "and we’re working with international partners to develop options to bring them to safety."

The President reiterated that "the only lasting solution is for Iraqis to come together and form an inclusive government," and highlighted important steps Iraq is taking in that effort:

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