Photographer captures Michelle Obama’s ‘warmth’

A former White House photographer has her work on display in Paley Library until Jan. 22.

Freshman neuroscience major Daniel Gilliam looks at photographs of former First Lady Michelle Obama in Paley Library. The photos were taken by Amanda Lucidon and are on display until Jan. 22. | CACIE ROSARIO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

As Michelle Obama’s personal photographer, Amanda Lucidon has traveled to more than 20 countries, including Italy, Cambodia and China, documenting candid moments of the First Lady’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative, an international program that supported education for adolescent girls in more than 50 countries.

In Liberia, during a discussion with a group of high school students, Lucidon was so moved by Obama’s determination to understand the young girls’ struggles that she was almost brought to tears. As the students told moving stories of overcoming hardship to attend school, Lucidon didn’t want to ruin the intimate scene by using the flash setting on her camera.

“I had all these challenges to overcome,” Lucidon said. “It was a very dark situation. There was no electricity in the schools, and there was hardly any light due to an incoming rainstorm. I needed to find the best angles and also keep my camera from shaking.”

Lucidon, an official White House photographer from 2013 to 2017, recounts her memories of working in the White House in her new book “Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer,” which includes 150 of her photographs of the former first lady.

Ten of these photographs will be displayed in an exhibit on the first floor of Paley Library until Jan. 22. On the last day of the exhibit, Lucidon will host a Q&A and book signing.

“There is no typical day at the White House as a photographer,” Lucidon said. “Slow days can quickly become a busy day. It can be a quick public event at the White House or a school visit, and then the next event we’re welcoming foreign dignitaries.”

In 2008, Lucidon moved to Washington, D.C., to start her own photography company and work as a freelance photographer.

Lucidon is one of few female photographers to ever work in the White House. During the second term of the Obama administration, she was the only woman, and worked alongside Director and Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza.

Impressed by Lucidon’s freelance work during the first inauguration of President Barack Obama in 2009, Souza reached out and recommended her for the position.

“I met Pete Souza once at a National Geographic event, and to my surprise he called me up a couple years later and asked that I apply for the job as a White House photographer,” Lucidon said. “I was stunned then, and I’m still stunned now. And I’m so grateful that he offered me the opportunity.”

Sara Wilson, Paley’s outreach and communications administrator, said she was “very excited” when she received the email that Lucidon’s photographs were coming to Temple.

“The idea was to bring the White House here to the people,” Wilson said. “There is such warmth in all of the photos and Amanda did such a great job in capturing Michelle’s personality in all of the photos. You feel like you’re there in the moment with her.”

Set in thick black frames, many of the photographs depict the First Lady as she embraces or speaks with people from around the world.

Monica Mohammed, a senior international business major and library assistant, said she likes how the photos illustrate the United States’ “global presence.”

“What’s also inspiring is it shows people that they can do more than they think they can and achieve what they put their minds to,” Mohammed said. “Michelle Obama is like an ambassador. Just to see her in different parts of the world is amazing. You don’t have to be a president to outreach and inspire.”

Looking back at her four years spent next to the former First Lady, Lucidon describes the time as an “amazing experience.”

“To be able to walk into a living and breathing museum every day was amazing,” Lucidon said. “My camera was literally my passport. The White House is so rich with history that it was an incredible opportunity to be in that space.”

CORRECTION: This article previously misstated that Amanda Lucidon was the only female White House photographer during the Obama administration. Lucidon was the sole female photographer only during President Obama’s second term.

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