A few weeks ago, we received a beautiful photography book in the mail: Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer. The book is a stunning portrayal of First Lady Michelle Obama’s time in the White House. The photos are candid, inspiring, and offer a true lens into a life and set of responsibilities that few experience.
The author and photographer is PhotoShelter member Amanda Lucidon, who was Michelle Obama’s photographer between 2013 and 2017. Amanda arrived at the White House with a background in documentary photography and film, and today is one of only a few female White House photographers in history.
We were lucky enough to interview Amanda about her time there, creating this book, and what the experience has taught her about photography.
Once you got the job, how much research did you do beforehand? How did that impact your own approach?
When I first started, I spent a lot of time looking through the archive of photos from the Obama Administration. Samantha Appleton and Sonya Hebert had served in the role before me and I was fortunate to be able to learn from their work. I also researched events in the archive as they came up throughout the years.
I studied the photos of Pete Souza, Chuck Kennedy, Lawrence Jackson and David Lienemann. It was very helpful to see how things were covered in the past so I knew what to expect. Being prepared with this information, allowed me to be in the moment and make more creative photos.
Photographically, what was your greatest challenge?
Before the White House, I worked as a documentary photographer and filmmaker. I would spend years working on projects and building relationships. Working at the White House, the pace was much quicker. But it was incredible to witness Mrs. Obama’s impact in these moments and the way she could positively transform the energy of a room.
Tell us about your photography workflow. Was there urgency from the White House to receive your images quickly? And tell us how your photos were typically used at the time.
If I was covering an assignment at the White House or in town, I would download my images immediately, apply the captions (which were written by our stellar archivist, Janet Philips, who served at the White House for 27 years!) and move them onto the server. Our team of editors would work diligently to fulfill the requests for images, which could be used on WhiteHouse.gov, and White House social media channels.
On international trips with Mrs. Obama, I did the editing and transmitting on my own. I spent many late nights in foreign countries trying to troubleshoot transmission issues. I know that’s something many photographers can relate to.
I learned so much about workflow from the White House Photo Office. I am much more organized than I was before I started there. And organization is key to a good workflow!
Tell us about your process creating this book. How did you choose the final images? And what message are you hoping this book sends overall?
I was really inspired by the young women we met in Liberia on a trip with Mrs. Obama in support the Let Girls Learn initiative. Let Girls Learn shines light on the 62 million girls in the world that don’t have the opportunity to get an education.
I was moved to hear how these girls overcame so many obstacles in pursuit of an education. Many of the girls had to walk long distances to school. Some walked for hours through dangerous conditions. Others were responsible for helping with the household work before they could start their studies. Oftentimes, they were studying by candlelight.
When I created the book, I had these stories in mind. I wanted to create a lightweight book that could fit in a backpack and could be carried for long distances. I wanted the book to be accessible (which is why we are doing our book tour at public libraries) and affordable.
When making the final choices for the images, I wanted to include pictures that were candid, intimate and expressive.
I hope each person has their own unique experience with the book, photos and text. I feel very fortunate to have this visual diary to look back on the extraordinary experience I was afforded as a White House Photographer for the Obama Administration.
What surprised you most about the First Lady herself?
Mrs. Obama maintained such a serious role as First Lady. She was dedicated to so many important initiatives. But she also loved to laugh! And being a mother was her number one priority. As a new mother, I really admired her values.
What has this experience taught you about being a photographer?
My time at the White House was completely transformative. It changed me as a photographer and as a person. I had the opportunity to work in a living, breathing museum with so many dedicated people. I also had the privilege to spend time with Mrs. Obama, President Obama and their incredibly motivated staff for four years. I learned so much and was inspired every day.
To purchase Amanda Lucidon’s book, Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer, click here.