Photojournalist explains when, why she snapped the most retweeted photo of Obamas

Slate’s Julia Turner spoke with photojournalist Scout Tufankjian about the photo of Barack and Michelle Obama that has become the most retweeted ever. The photo was taken August 15 in Dubuque, Iowa, in the middle of a bus tour.

“It was the first day that the first lady had joined us so he hadn’t seen her in a couple of days. She came in on a bus that morning — it was the first event of the day — and they embraced on stage,” Tufankjian said. “I decided to focus on them rather than taking a wider shot, because I think I’m not alone in finding their relationship to be totally aspirational.”

Photo by Scout Tufankjian

After the campaign tweeted the photo Tuesday night, with the message “four more years,” Poynter’s Kenny Irby said:

The Obama machine understood both the closeness of the race and the power of his image … It was not about what the event was, but rather who was in the image. Millions only cared to see the unity of the first couple and the victory associated with that.

Tufankjian told Slate:

It reflects on the way that people feel about the Obamas as people, rather than as public figures. The wonderful thing about working for the campaign is not being with the president or on Air Force One or any of the things that would happen covering any president’s campaign. Spending time with that family is the thing that’s so wonderful. What the family is and represents to the country is as much a part of the president’s appeal as his policies.

I don’t know why they chose it, but that’s why I like the choice. As opposed to him waving in front of a flag or something more traditionally presidential.

The same moment was captured by Jim Watson for Getty.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Thomas Smith

    Well, that just doesn’t make any sense then. Oh well. It sounds nice I guess, regardless of the baffling misappropriation of the word.

  • Coupon Mage Software Review
  • Ron Harris

    I’m going to second Tom’s “whoa.” And actually, yes, I wouldn’t consider Souza a photojournalist at all in his current capacity. He’s a very good photographer. But unless he has/endures the same access level as other actual working photojournalists (and he doesn’t), then no. He’s not one. I made (decent) cupcakes for my daughter last week. I’m also not a pastry chef. These are parallel truths.

  • Poynter

    Hi, Tom. I believe she is not currently working for the Obamas or the campaign and wasn’t when she took that photo, though she did work for the campaign in 2008. I wonder about the premise, though. Would you say White House photographer Pete Souza is not a photojournalist because he’s documenting for the government? If he applies journalistic standards to his work, is that invalidated because he lacks some independence (assuming he does)? –Julie Moos, Poynter Online

  • Coupon Mage Software Review
  • Tom Avril

    Whoa hold on a sec — If she’s working for the Obamas, she is by definition NOT a photojournalist. (though i realize she has been one in the past)

  • Poynter

    Hi, Thomas. I think she meant aspirational, in that couples aspire to that kind of love. She goes on in the interview to say she’s in a new marriage and hopes to have a marriage like theirs in 20 years. Here’s a link to the interview: –Julie Moos, Poynter Online

  • Thomas Smith

    I think he meant to say “totally inspirational”. In this context aspirational would mean that they really wanted to have a good relationship but were not quite there yet.