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Author and former Presidential photographer Souza featured at Symposium

The Ohio State University at Marion, the Harding Presidential Sites, and Ohio History Connection have partnered to present the 2023 Warren G. Harding Symposium, Through the Photographer’s Lens: Exploring the United States Presidency, featuring famed author and Presidential photographer, Pete Souza, Friday, July 14 & Saturday July 15, 2023, in Marion, Ohio.

This annual event, which attracts visitors to Marion, Ohio from across the country and beyond, will explore the unique history of presidential photography in our country. The symposium features a Friday evening opening reception, the annual Presidential Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Harding Memorial, three workshop sessions with outstanding scholars with unique insights into the U.S. presidency and presidential politics, and a concluding dinner program and panel discussion with experts, as well as guided tours of the Harding Presidential Sites. 

The keynote speaker for the symposium is Pete Souza.  Souza is a best-selling author, speaker and freelance photographer based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also Professor Emeritus of Visual Communication at Ohio University. Souza was the Chief Official White House Photographer for President Barack Obama and the Director of the White House photo office for all eight years. He was also an official White House photographer for President Ronald Reagan, from 1983 until Jan. 20, 1989. In 2021, Souza was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame.

His book, Obama: An Intimate Portrait, was published by Little, Brown & Company in 2017, and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. It is one of the best-selling photography books of all time. His 2018 book, Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents, also debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Shade is a portrait in Presidential contrasts, telling the tale of the Obama and Trump administrations through a series of visual juxtapositions. Souza's most recent photography book, The West Wing and Beyond: What I Saw Inside the Presidency, was published in September 2022. This book takes you inside the presidential bubble with photographs and stories of consequential moments and traditions with the people who define our nation’s highest office—from the senior White House staff to the Oval Office valets. It delivers new insights into the role of the Secret Service, the seriousness of decisive meetings in the West Wing, and even some fun moments aboard Air Force One.

Based on his best-selling books, Souza became the subject of documentary film in November 2020, The Way I See It.  Directed by Dawn Porter–and produced by Porter, Laura Dern, Evan Hayes and Jayme Lemons–the film takes an unprecedented look behind the scenes of two of the most iconic Presidents in history, Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, as seen through Souza's eyes and camera. As Official White House Photographer for both these Presidents, Souza was an eyewitness to the unique and tremendous responsibilities of being the most powerful man in the world. The film also reveals how Souza transformed from a respected White House photographer and photojournalist to a searing commentator on the importance of having someone with empathy and dignity in the office of the Presidency. The film was nominated for an Emmy, premiering on MSNBC and became the highest rated non-news, non-live program ever. Souza also won the Critic's Choice Award for Most Compelling Living Subject of a documentary.

Also presenting at the workshops sessions and dinner panel discussion is Cara Finnegan.  Finnegan is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She holds affiliated appointments in the Center for Writing Studies, gender and women's studies, and art history. She was named a University Scholar in 2017. Finnegan's research examines the role of photography as a tool for public life. Her projects are best described as rhetorical histories of photography. In them she examines the production, composition, reception, and circulation of photographs at specific moments in United States history. Her most recent book is Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital, published by the University of Illinois Press in 2021. Finnegan's ideas about photography and visual politics have been featured in a variety of publications in the fields of communication and United States history, as well as in popular media outlets such as the New York Times, CBS, and Vox.

A complete event schedule, pricing, and a link to registration for the symposium can be found at https://go.osu.edu/harding. Registration must be completed online and is open through June 23, 2023. Seating at the reception and dinner are limited, so patrons are encouraged to register early.  If you have questions, please contact us at 740-725-6340 or by email at iams.18@osu.edu or somerlot.30@osu.edu.