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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This Day in History: Construction Began on Hoover Dam

On July 7, 1930, construction began on the Hoover Dam. President Herbert Hoover was deeply devoted to protecting the environment, particularly focusing on pollution-free water, flood control, and fisheries. After a disastrous Mississippi River flood in 1927, Hoover recommitted to bettering American infrastructure to prevent another catastrophe.

Hoover Dam Workers

Before the Dam could be built the Colorado River had to be diverted through tunnels. This piece of equipment, named a Jumbo Rig, was designed to speed up the tunnel drilling process. Built on the back of a 10-ton truck, 24 to 30 drills could be operated at once. (Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation)

“[Hoover] Dam will probably be the biggest dam, perhaps the biggest man-made thing in the whole wide world.”

— Fortune Magazine, September 1933

Hoover Dam Early Construction

Early construction in Black Canyon (Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation)

Think of it as a giant Lego set, with over 200 blocks fitted together to stand 726 feet tall. The Hoover Dam has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World, comparable to the Great Pyramids of Egypt, and “a vision in the desert.”

In the 1940s, the Hoover Powerplant was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world. Today, over 1.3 million people benefit from the 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power the Dam generates each year.

Hoover Dam View from Crest

View from dam's crest during test of Jet Flow gates. (Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation)

In addition to being an engineering masterpiece, controlling flooding and generating hydroelectric power, the Dam is a national gem, showcasing diverse artistry. Norwegian immigrant Oskar J.W. Hansen sculpted the Winged Figures of the Republic, a pair of 30-foot bronzed statues which guard the Nevada side of the Dam. Hansen stated that the sentinels symbolize "the immutable calm of intellectual resolution, and the enormous power of trained physical strength, equally enthroned in placid triumph of scientific accomplishment." The angels stand on a magnificent terrazzo floor patterned with a star chart from the 1935 date of dedication by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"The waters of this great river, instead of being wasted in the sea, will now be brought into use by man. Civilization advances with the practical application of knowledge in such structures as the one being built here in the pathway of one on the great rivers of the continent. The spread of its values in human happiness is beyond computation."

—Herbert Hoover, November 1932

Hoover Dam Jet Flow Gate Testing

Jet Flow Gate Testing, June 1998 (Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation)

Hoover Dam was completed two years ahead of schedule and millions of dollars under budget. Over the years, investment in our nation’s infrastructure has fallen on the backburner, despite its importance for American citizens and our economy. The President has a plan to fix that, by reforming our programs and increasing funding to support our growing population and millions of jobs. It’s time to rebuild America.

President Obama at Hoover Dam

President Barack Obama views the Hoover Dam during a stop at the 1,900-foot long structure which spans the Colorado River at the Arizona-Nevada border, Oct. 2, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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On the Other Side of the Camp

June marks Immigrant Heritage Month -- and people across the country are sharing their American stories. Whether you've recently embarked on your first day as an American or want to share how your ancestors came to arrive here, we want to hear from you. Add your voice to the conversation today.

I was born in Somalia, but mostly what I remember are flashes of a carefree child, happily unaware of the world beyond the Utanga Refugee Camp in Kenya. About half a mile from our UNHCR-issued blue tent was the fence that surrounded the camp. Beyond the fence was an endless blue horizon of ocean. And if you stood close enough, on the slight precipice before the fence, you could see where the beach welcomed the waves — its sand, sometimes clear and brightly glistening; other times, dark and dusky, casting sad grayish hues. It felt abandoned and desolate. I never saw any people down there. But sometimes I would catch the sight of boats with colorful sails drifting over the waves.

Most of the other children congregated over at the dumpsites and water wells, fashioning toys out of trash and rocks. I kept to myself, a quiet but curious observer exploring the neighborhoods within the camp. I would often come home well past sundown, only to be rightfully scolded by a concerned parent. But those daily, miles-long excursions only left me hungry for more.

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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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Uniting in Support of Broadband that Works

“21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure -- modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains, and the fastest internet.” “I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every commu... Read more »

State and Local Officials in the South Speak Up to Fix the Broken Immigration System

Ed. note: This post is the first in a series of five. Check back on the White House Blog throughout the week for more statements from leaders around the country.

Across the country, Democratic and Republican state and local officials are speaking out about the need for commonsense immigration reform. This week, we’ll share thoughts from governors, mayors, county executives, state legislators, attorneys general, treasurers and more about why they support immigration reform and how fixing the broken immigration system would impact their communities.

“For too many years our country has struggled to find an effective solution to immigration reform, with the central issue being the question of how to deal with undocumented workers.  We have been encouraged, however, that in recent months a bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators has been working together to establish a path that allows those workers, the great majority of whom are hard-working dignified individuals, to become lawful tax-payers.  It is important for the continued growth and competitiveness of our country that we find a solution to this issue, and I urge Congress to continue working together to establish a fair, but humane, solution that establishes such a path.”

Miami-Dade, Florida Mayor Carlos Gimenez

“There is no doubt that the economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants continue to enrich our cities and communities. We cannot ever forget that immigrants have helped make our nation stronger. This is an issue of great importance here in Georgia, and as such, I support President Barack Obama’s proposal to achieve meaningful, comprehensive immigration reform.”

Atlanta, Georgia Mayor Kasim Reed

“In Birmingham, we recognize the value of diversity. We strive to be inclusive and to give a sense of respect for all cultures and all races. Here in the cradle of the Civil Rights struggle, our history mandates that we embrace all cultures and ensure that all are treated equally and fairly and with the honor they deserve.”

Birmingham, Alabama Mayor William Bell

“Louisville is a growing international city in the heartland of America. Comprehensive immigration reform is essential for us to spur entrepreneurism and grow jobs. America's population represents all of the immigrants of the world. The quicker immigration reform is addressed and resolved, the quicker our international competitive economic advantage will accelerate.”

Louisville, Kentucky Mayor Greg Fischer

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Tracking the Response to Isaac

(August 28 - Personnel in the National Guard Command Center in Arlington, Va., monitor the progress of Tropical Storm Isaac as it makes its way through the Gulf of Mexico. The NGCC, which serves as a hub that provides an overall tracking a... Read more »