Pete Souza marked his transition from official presidential photographer to just another guy on Instagram with an image of apparent finality: President Barack Obama looking out over the White House as he flew away in a helicopter.
But Souza’s story of Barack Obama — told for eight years through official photographs — didn’t end on President Trump’s Inauguration Day.
Tens of thousands of people have since followed Souza’s Instagram account. In the handful of archival Obama photos he has chosen to share, some fans relive a presidency that can never return.
And some look for a hidden message.
“A silent, social media, shade-throwing protest told in visuals” is how CNN described it, though the outlet is not the first to discern a critique of President Trump in Souza’s photo selections and the scant words he writes to accompany them.
“Many people are surprised to learn I also worked as a White House photographer for President Reagan,” Souza wrote beside an old photo of Obama and Nancy Reagan, posted four days into Trump’s presidency. “I have always looked at this job as documenting for history. It was never about politics.”
Still, he noted, “my political leanings are Democratic.”
A few days later, Trump signed an executive order he said would protect the country from “radical Islamic terrorists.” That weekend — as the world learned that the order barred all refugees and millions of visitors from Muslim-majority countries — Souza posted a photo of Obama laughing with a little girl in a headscarf.
In a photographer’s fashion, he wrote nothing beside it but a bare description.
His fans made the connection for him.
“THIS....is Presidential,” one wrote.
Another, simply: “#trump.”
Souza followed up with a photo of Obama meeting a boy who had written a letter asking the president to rescue an injured child in Syria — one of the countries whose citizens are barred from the United States in Trump’s order.
“ ‘Someone’ needs to see this post and learn about compassion from this kind-hearted and loving 6 year old young man,” a commenter added.
“Thank you for your posts,” reads a comment beside Souza’s 2012 photo of U.S. soldiers taking the oath of allegiance to become U.S. citizens. “They speak very loudly and we are hearing them.”
Sometimes, Souza would spare a few words to help his point along.
“Merrick Garland. Just saying,” the photographer wrote beside a photo of Obama’s failed Supreme Court nominee, whom Congress members refused to give a hearing before Trump took office and selected his own judge.
Sometimes, Souza didn’t need to write a thing. Like when he posted photos of Obama palling around with the leaders of Mexico and Australia — after details leaked of Trump reportedly belittling both men on the phone.
“More shade! Awesome!” someone remarked on Souza’s photo of Obama drinking tequila with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Souza has posted only a few dozen photos since leaving the White House, and most don’t appear to have any political meaning. Certainly not his congratulatory shot of Beyoncé and Jay Z, or “that time POTUS stuck his face in my wide angle lens.”
Others are cryptic: Like a photo of Obama playing rock-paper-scissors with a child, beside the caption: “Might be worth a try.”
CNN saw some connection in Souza’s decision to share a photo of Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the same day a German magazine released cover art of Trump decapitating the Statue of Liberty.
Time reports that Trump has named Shealah Craighead, photographer for former vice president Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin, as his official chronicler. She’ll step into the role after Souza redefined it for a digital age.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza noted in 2012 that Souza’s tenure marked “a remarkable shift from the role/influence that White House photographers in the past have enjoyed.”
Through the White House Flickr feed (now inactive) and other social media, Cillizza wrote, he “is telling THE story of Obama for many Americans.”
Is Souza now telling his version of Trump’s story? He didn’t return a call asking. But on his Instagram page two days ago, after weeks of speculation, the photographer came close to confessing.
“I admit it,” he wrote. “I miss Bo.”