For years, Pete Souza, the former chief official White House photographer of President Barack Obama, stayed behind the camera. But in The Way I See It, a new documentary from filmmaker Dawn Porter, the lens is trained squarely on him. The film, in select theaters on Sept. 18 and premiering on MSNBC on Oct. 9, focuses on his work during the Obama administration as well as the years he spent photographing President Ronald Reagan. “What I was trying to do was look for these authentic moments,” Souza tells TIME about his tenure in both administrations. “The fleeting moments that not only reflect what’s happening in front of you, but that reveal what the president is like as a human being.”
In recent years, Souza has become more outspoken, particularly about his own feelings on President Trump, on his Instagram account, where he has more than 2 million followers. There, he shares photographs from his time in the White House, many of which are accompanied by snarky captions that compare the current president to the previous one. The popularity of his account led to the 2018 publication of his most recent book Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents. He goes even further in The Way I See It, revealing more of his personal life onscreen. “This puts me in a more public footing, which is a little uncomfortable for me,” Souza tells TIME. “But at the same time, I couldn’t not agree to do this film. I feel so strongly about the institution of the presidency and how it’s being ripped to shreds by this guy.”
Souza hopes that viewers of the film can draw connections between both Reagan and Obama through their appearance in photographs. “Whether you agree with their politics or policies, they’re decent human beings and they’re empathetic,” Souza says. “They know the presidency is about us and not about them.” Throughout the documentary, he discusses what it was like to have such unfettered access to Barack Obama and how he was able to showcase the former president’s humanity through pictures. In seeing authentic moments of a person exercising their capacity for empathy, we can understand what type of leader they are, Souza says.
Given the time he spent in the Obama White House, Souza also had a high level of access to the current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, when he served as Vice President alongside Obama. TIME asked Souza to choose photographs he took of Biden during that time to discuss what he thinks voters can glean about Biden as a leader, and what a Biden presidency might look like.
Reaching out across the aisle