Previously Unseen Photos Of Michelle Obama Illuminate 'Chasing Light'

Oct 28, 2017
Originally published on October 28, 2017 5:13 pm

She generated billions in profits for the fashion industry just by getting dressed in the morning. For some, she made gardening and gym class cool; for others, she is the poster child for what a successful marriage and family life can look like.

We're talking about Michelle Obama, the former first lady who is still a role model for millions of Americans who were refreshed by her style and authenticity, and moved by how she fulfilled her role as the first African-American first lady.

There's a new book out this month of photographs of Michelle Obama by a journalist who got to see and know her as few others did. Chasing Light shares 150 candid shots (many of which were previously unseen) of the first family by Amanda Lucidon, who worked as the only female White House photographer during the final four years of the Obama administration.

As an independent photographer in Washington, D.C., she was surprised to be tapped for the job in the first place.

"I was working on a project — you know, a personal project of mine — and one day my phone just rang," Lucidon says. "And I picked it up, and it was Pete Souza — the chief White House photographer — on the other end of the line. And he asked me if I wanted to apply for this job, and I said, 'Do you realize this is Amanda Lucidon?' Yea, I thought he had the wrong number. So, you know, I'm still pinching myself that it all happened."

We spoke in NPR's Washington studios about her new book, and her personal reflections on her time at the White House.

Interview Highlights

On Michelle Obama's personality

I think she's one of the most genuine and compassionate and thoughtful people. She has a way of just making everyone feel so comfortable and special and loved. I mean, you think about meeting the first lady, and I know I think about the first time I met her, I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't even speak. She's so wonderful, and she's so tall, and she's so pretty, and I don't even know what I'm saying right now," you know? So a lot of people have that experience where they meet her for the first time and they're laughing, or crying, or they can't speak. She just has this way of just calming everything right down, and just making people feel loved.

Just to see her invite so many people in the White House that didn't think they belong there (myself included, you know?) and be able to give that experience to them, and then allow them to see the light inside themselves — I mean, that was just amazing, every single day, to witness that.

On the reason for creating the book

For me, my time at the White House – four years – it just went by so quickly. So this was a great way for me to go back in time and look through this visual diary and say, 'Wow, we did so much.' That's when we met those amazing girls from Let Girls Learn, and we got to go to all those wonderful countries. So for me it was a great way to reflect on what we had all experienced together, and the lessons that I learned through that time. ...

I think the biggest lesson that I draw on every day that Mrs. Obama taught me was to look on our challenges that we experience in life as our strengths, and not our weaknesses. You know, when we sort of embrace that, we can see the resilience that we built through those experiences. And with resilience, we can really overcome anything.

Gemma Watters, Dustin DeSoto and Jennifer Liberto produced and edited this interview for broadcast, and Patrick Jarenwattananon and Christina Ascani adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, she generated billions of dollars in profits for the fashion industry just by getting dressed in the morning. For some, she made gardening and gym class cool. For others, she offered a vision of what a successful marriage and family life could look like. We're talking about Michelle Obama, the former first lady who remains a role model for millions of Americans who were refreshed by her style and authenticity and moved by how she fulfilled her historic role as the first African-American first lady.

And now, her fans have another way to remember what they loved about her. There's a new book out of new photographs of the former first lady by a journalist who had rare access to Michelle Obama at home and on the job. Amanda Lucidon was the only female White House photographer during the final four years of the Obama administration. Her new book "Chasing Light" shares 150 new candid shots of the first family as well as her own personal reflections of her time at the White House. Amanda Lucidon joins us now in our Washington, D.C., studios to tell us more about the book, which is her first. It was published earlier this month. Amanda, thanks so much for speaking with us.

AMANDA LUCIDON: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So tell me that story of how you got the job. Do you even know how you got the job?

LUCIDON: Yeah, it's pretty wild. I was working at home. I had been working as a photographer in D.C. for about five years. And I had my own business. And I was working on a project that was, you know, a personal project of mine. And one day, my phone just rang, and I picked it up. And it was Pete Souza, the chief White House photographer on the other end of the line. And he asked me if I wanted to apply for this job. And I said, do you realize this is Amanda Lucidon? (Laughter).

MARTIN: Are you serious?

LUCIDON: Yeah, like I thought he had the wrong number. So, you know, I'm still pinching myself that it all happened.

MARTIN: You know, there's a saying - I don't know if it's still true, but there's a saying - the camera doesn't lie. So what do you think that you saw that really captures a truth of her?

LUCIDON: I think she's one of the most genuine and compassionate and thoughtful people. She has a way of just making everyone feel so comfortable and special and loved. I mean, you think about meeting the first lady, and I know I think about the first time I met her, I was like, oh, my gosh. I can't even speak. She's so wonderful. And she's so tall. And she's so pretty. And I don't even know what I'm saying right now, you know.

And so a lot of people have that experience where they meet her for the first time and they're laughing or crying or they can't speak. And she just has this way of just calming everything right down and just making people feel loved. And, you know, just to see her invite so many people in the White House that didn't think they belonged there, myself included, you know, and to be able to give that experience to them and then allow them to see the light inside themselves. I mean, that was just amazing every single day to witness that.

MARTIN: There's a photograph that you might be the most well-known for. It's a moment of the Obamas together in the Diplomatic Reception Room in 2015. Do you mind describing that picture? Just tell us about how you happened to get that shot.

LUCIDON: Sure. So, many times, we're there to document other people who are coming to the White House to film a segment. And this was a video for the World Expo in Milan, and they were both taking part of it. So I set up to document the scene of what was happening, and then the cameras were resetting. And there was just a moment where they shared a sweet moment together. And I basically had enough time to lift my camera and take two pictures, and then it was over.

MARTIN: She's kind of snuggled against him...

LUCIDON: Right. Yeah.

MARTIN: ...And he's kind of leaning into her, and she's kind of snuggled against him. So was she cold or they just like to snuggle?

LUCIDON: I think it was just a sweet moment that they shared while the cameras were readjusting. And it was, you know, for me, it just feels like - represents love, you know, I think the way we all feel when we're in love.

MARTIN: Why did you want to put this book together? Why this book and why now?

LUCIDON: For me, it's, you know, my time at the White House - four years - it just went by so quickly. So this was a great way for me to go back in time and look through this, you know, visual diary and say, wow, we did so much and, you know, that's when we met, you know, those amazing girls from Let Girls Learn. And we got to go to all these wonderful countries. And so for me, it was a great way to reflect on what we had all experienced together and the lessons that I learned through that time and so to be able to share those with others.

MARTIN: Well, what are some of the lessons that you learned through that time? Other than don't get left by the motorcade because they're not waiting for you.

LUCIDON: Yeah. Luckily, I never missed the motorcade because I was so anxious about it and always super early. But I think the biggest lesson that I draw on every day that Mrs. Obama taught me was that, you know, to look at our challenges that we experience in life as our strengths and not our weaknesses. You know, when we sort of embrace that, we can see the resilience that we built through those experiences. And, you know, with resilience, we can really overcome anything.

MARTIN: That's Amanda Lucidon, former White House photographer. She has a new book out, it's called "Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through The Lens Of A White House Photographer." And she was nice enough to join this in our studios in Washington, D.C. Amanda, thanks so much for speaking with us.

LUCIDON: Thank you for having me.

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