Michelle Obama has always given off an air of confidence and humility all at once. A consistent champion for children through her endless pursuits of community building, healthy food choices and more, it’s no surprise she left quite the legacy as First Lady.
I had the pleasure of interviewing PhotoShelter member Amanda Lucidon on her recently released book Reach Higher: An Inspiring Photo Celebration of First Lady Michelle Obama. The new book will focus on educating young readers on the role of the First Lady and the White House, sharing behind-the-scenes stories about Lucidon’s time at the White House, and of course stunning images from Mrs. Obama’s White House years.
Amanda previously released a New York Times best seller Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Feature Photo by Amanda Lucidon; First Lady Michelle Obama tapes a video for Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl with students from Harriet Tubman Elementary school on the South Lawn of the White House, Oct. 28, 2013.
Congratulations on the success of Chasing Light! What made you want to make a second book? And why did you choose to focus on young readers for it?
The idea sprung from a conversation with two wonderful editors: Kaitlin Ketchum, editor of Chasing Light, and Emily Easton, editor of Reach Higher. There was interest in adapting Chasing Light for young readers, which really excited me. The White House is such an amazing place filled with fascinating history. In addition to the adapted content from Chasing Light, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share some of the fun facts that I learned while working at the White House. And I’d be remiss in not giving due credit to my 8-year old godson Mason, a history buff, who pointed out that there weren’t enough children’s books about First Ladies. He simply requested, “You should make one.”
We love the cover photo. Can you tell us a little about that particular image? How did you decide on that?
Thank you! In honor of Black History Month, Mrs. Obama invited young black female dancers from the D.C. area to share their talents and participate in a workshop where they learned from some of the best choreographers in the industry; Debbie Allen, Judith Jamison, Fatima Robinson and Virginia Johnson.
Upon welcoming the young dancers to the White House, Mrs. Obama paid homage to the legacy of dancers who helped pave the way for principal ballerina, Misty Copeland. In her moving remarks, Mrs. Obama said:
“I know we have the power to keep reaching higher and defying the odds and achieving those firsts and seconds and thirds and hundreds and thousands until a black principal dancer is no longer a cause for headlines, and our children are limited only by the size of their dreams and their willingness to work for them.”
I love the excitement of the girls reaching for Mrs. Obama, as well as her reaction to them. She has become a source of inspiration for so many people across the country and the world. But she is also grounded, compassionate, humble and nurturing. And I hope that comes across in the cover photo.
You’re one of the few female White House photographers in history. Can you talk to us a little about what that means to you?
It was an incredible honor to work for an administration that appointed more women and minorities than ever before. Working as an Official White House Photographer is a unique responsibility that few people have experienced. As one of few females in history to serve in this role, I was so grateful that I could count on the support and advice of women who worked in the White House previously, such as Susan Biddle, Samantha Appleton, Sonya Hebert and Shealah Craighead.
Tell us about your process creating this particular book. How did you choose the final images? How did you ensure the content — both images and copy — was friendly for young readers?
Since Reach Higher is intended for children ages 8-12, the text and photos were edited to be more kid-friendly. We’ve added some new photos that weren’t included in Chasing Light, that have a strong appeal for children. It was important to keep the young readers engaged. I think the creative design elements, the brilliant colors, the pull quotes and the fun facts about the White House and First Ladies provide additional features that are unique to this book.
What gear did you typically use? Did that change throughout your time at the White House?
For assignments at the White House, I tried to keep it light and efficient. I typically carried two cameras with a long lens on one body and a wide angle on the other. And I always had a strobe, which took a while to get used to as a documentary photographer. But as a White House photographer, you could quickly go from covering an event to taking a few posed portraits backstage with participants and the President and First Lady.
For domestic and international trips, the days could be long so I carried a few additional prime lenses and a teleconverter, as well as extra batteries and a plethora of memory cards. I never wanted to worry about missing a moment.
Throughout my career, I’ve used different systems based on the gear provided by employers. But Nikon is my long-standing personal preference. Their continuous professional support has been instrumental.
What message are you hoping this book sends overall?
I would like children to learn more about the White House, the important role of First Ladies, and Mrs. Obama’s dedication to improving the lives of young people and families. But most importantly, I hope readers realize that their dreams can become reality.