The differences between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama could fill books.
But the two presidents did have at least one thing in common: photographer Pete Souza.
With his new exhibit, “Two Presidents, One Photographer,” he attempts to show the similarities between the two. The Beach Museum of Art at K-State will be the first museum in the country to host the gallery, Feb. 5 through April 27.
Throughout the gallery, Souza shows various moments of the presidencies. The curating company, art2art, said the goal of the the exhibit is to show “two presidents who clearly respected the office they held and genuinely respected the people they interacted with, no matter the circumstances,” and “have these images contribute to civility and respect across party lines during the lead-up to the 2020 election season.”
The exhibit will start with diptychs, photos of both presidents in similar situations. The photos of the Reagans watching a movie in 1986 will sit next to the Obamas watching a 3-D commercial in the family theater in 2009. Photos of both men with popes, golfing in California and working at the same desk in 1988 and 2016 also will appear in the collection.
“He presented the pairings together to show the roles that presidents are expected to fill, like consoler-in-chief, making military decisions,” curator Liz Seaton said. “He also added a few lighter photos, like their relationships with their wives, and their children and that they were both golfers.”
The 56-piece gallery also will have some of Souza’s pictures from various moments in each man’s career, including moments of Obama speaking with President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, celebrating after the Affordable Care Act passed, and speaking with former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Photos of Reagan include walking with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, discussing the Iran-Contra affair and speaking with Michael Jackson.
Each photo description will give information as to what was happening, but Souza also gives personal anecdotes, memories, or his own perspective from when he took the photo. Included in the exhibit is the photo of Obama meeting Prince George. The caption reads: “President Obama meets 2-year-old Prince George at Kensington Palace in London. Usually the royal family is very guarded about allowing such intimate pictures. But Prince William and Kate requested that I be there. I also made photographs of Prince George playing on the rocking horse that the Obamas had given him for his birthday. It was not lost on me that I was photographing the grandson of Princess Diana.”
Museum director Linda Duke and Seaton said they are excited to have the exhibit stop in Manhattan.
Duke said she met Souza when he came to campus in 2017, and he said he wanted to have something similar to an exhibit featuring National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson.
“Instead of having us pull photos and build our own, he decided to work with art2art to create a show of his work,” she said.
Seaton said she thought it made sense Souza would have his show start at K-State. Souza, from Massachusetts, received his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from the A.Q. Miller School at K-State.
He went on to work at the Chanute Tribune and Hutchinson News in the before heading to the Chicago Sun-Times. He became a White House photographer for Reagan in 1983, serving until 1989. After covering Obama’s arrival to the Senate in 2005, he eventually served Obama’s entire term as chief photographer.
Duke and Seaton both said some of their favorite shots include the photos showing the men in relation to their wives, including the Obamas sharing a moment and secret service pretending not to look, and Reagan helping his wife off a horse.
“It brings to mind how public and how little privacy these families have,” Seaton said. “They were both astonishingly generous to give him such access… They had some awareness of the historic role they were filling, and must’ve felt like it was their duty to be as open as possible.”
Souza will be speak at K-State on 7:30 p.m. March 5 at McCain Auditorium. Tickets will be free and available starting Feb. 19.