“I’m trying to figure out why,” Mr. Souza said. “When people come to my talk, they’re not hearing from Barack Obama. They’re hearing from me.”
Here are a few hunches: With Mr. Obama giving few public statements since leaving office, Mr. Souza’s words and images will have to work as a conduit for now. Since posting a photo from a military helicopter as Mr. Obama left the White House on Inauguration Day — “We used to live there,” Mr. Souza heard the departing president remark on that ride to no one in particular — Mr. Souza has been constructing a virtual timeline that juxtaposes events of Mr. Obama’s presidency with Mr. Trump’s, one that has so far been defined by defying norms, bucking expectations and attempts to reverse the legacy of his predecessor.
Mr. Souza’s photo retrospectives, often laced with tongue-in-cheek captions and commentary, began during Mr. Trump’s first week in the White House. In the midst of an immigration restriction order issued by the Trump administration in January, a follower commented on a photo of Mr. Obama visiting with a young refugee: “He is such a decent man. How did we fall so far?”
In August, Mr. Souza posted a photo of Mr. Obama visiting with honorees at the Kennedy Center Honors, an event Mr. Trump skipped: “Those were the days my friend,” an observer wrote.
And in late October, in response to a photo of Mr. Obama cuddling a baby in an elephant outfit, the group therapy continued. “He is still my president,” a man in Pennsylvania wrote. “I miss him so much.”
Alice Gabriner, the international photo editor of Time Magazine, worked with Mr. Souza at the White House during the early years of Mr. Obama’s first term. She remembered having to deactivate comments on the White House’s public photo feed when they became too disturbing and violent toward Mr. Obama. Ms. Gabriner, who remembered Mr. Souza as a “hyper focused” boss, is surprised at how Mr. Souza’s Instagram community has managed to stay largely positive.
“It’s like an untouchable place for the anti-people,” Ms. Gabriner said. “You’d be surprised that the divisiveness of the country wouldn’t be expressed on that forum.”
It is one thing, Mr. Souza said, to read Instagram comments and absorb the feeling that people are collectively mourning. It is quite another to see a real-life crowd react to different lenses that he has placed on the 44th president’s legacy.
There are laughs when Mr. Obama is presented as a doting father and occasional goofball. When Mr. Souza became choked up speaking about the president’s reaction to a shooting that killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a tragedy Mr. Obama has referred to as the worst moment in his presidency, sniffles were audible in the crowd.
In multiple interviews and during his presentation in Brooklyn, Mr. Souza declined to speak about Mr. Trump or about the many headlines that say he enjoys trolling the president, preferring instead to let his photos do the work.
“I think I’ve been respectful and playful and subtle,” Mr. Souza said, “especially compared to what some people say on Twitter.”
He wouldn’t name names.
But in Brooklyn, as Mr. Souza pointed out a photo that showed Mr. Obama leaning down to speak to Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia, his tongue-in-cheek approach went out the window.
“This is how you should talk to the Russians,” Mr. Souza said, of course, to applause.
Mr. Souza, unassuming and with a low, gravelly voice, is decades into a career spent in the background. The son of a nurse and a boat mechanic who grew up in South Dartmouth, Mass., Mr. Souza is known by his colleagues for an exacting work style — he kept a BlackBerry strapped to his belt seven days a week for eight years. Mr. Obama’s nickname for him is “Grumpy,” according to the musician Brandi Carlile, a family friend.
Aside from an obsession with Bruce Springsteen and baseball, Mr. Souza prefers to keep details about himself private. Reluctantly, and at the prodding of his wife, Patti Lease, he consented to showing a reporter photographs of his October 2013 wedding at the White House, a small affair studded with blue flowers, and one that illustrated how close the president and his photographer had become.
In one photo, Mr. Obama is smiling at Mr. Souza, who is gazing at his new wife. The couple, whose relationship started when they were neighbors in Northern Virginia, had been together for two decades and saw no need to marry before Mr. Obama’s constant badgering won out. Mr. Obama even helped select Ms. Lease’s engagement ring.
Ms. Lease, who teaches science in the Washington area, said that, for eight years, her second job was to gently remind her husband about the world beyond the White House gates. There were few days off: Mr. Souza’s Christmas morning routine was often a stop at McDonald’s on the way to work. Where the president went — Hawaii, Afghanistan, Walter Reed Army Medical Center — Mr. Souza went, too.
In the foreword for Mr. Souza’s book, Mr. Obama wrote, “I probably spent more time with Pete Souza than with anybody other than my family.”
The constant access to Mr. Obama became an issue for many of Mr. Souza’s former photojournalism colleagues. In 2013, the White House Correspondents’ Association and 37 news organizations, including The New York Times, lodged a formal complaint with the White House over what the group said was preferential treatment that excluded journalists from documenting history.
Mr. Souza said that he felt “a little offended” by the criticism that journalists had equated his photography to government handouts. “These are authentic pictures,” Mr. Souza said of his work, “more so than when the press pool comes in for 30 seconds and it’s hard to have a real moment happen.”
However it was won, his access was enough to fill a coffee-table book with hundreds of photos. It weighs six pounds, and in Brooklyn, people lugged multiple copies up to Mr. Souza for a signing. As she passed her copy to Mr. Souza, Audrey Bansil, a new mother who lives in the area, asked him to sign it for her 11-month-old son, Luke.
“This was a really inspirational time in history, and I want him to know about it,” Ms. Bansil, 35, said of her son. “And I’m happy he was born in that administration. We cut it close.”
An earlier version of this article misstated for whom President Barack Obama helped select a ring. He helped pick out Patti Lease’s engagement ring, not Pete Souza’s wedding band.
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