Lucidon moved in faith. After taking a buyout from her
California newspaper job, in 2008 the photojournalist
relocated to the nation’s capital, a place she
believed would offer "unlimited
excelled as a freelancer in the competitive D.C. market,
earning awards that brought her to the same spaces as
influential people in the industry. That’s how she met
Pete Souza, the former chief official White House
remembers leaving an unmemorable impression in the
exchange with Souza, so when he called two years later
to ask if she wanted to apply for a job, she thought he
had the wrong number. Turns out, she just happened to be
right about the possibilities.
accepted, which made her the only female photographer
during Barack Obama’s second term as president. Her
new book, which she calls her "visual diary,"
debuts a collection of Michelle Obama portraits, and
reflects on the many ways the former first lady affected
conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
What did you learn from watching Mrs. Obama through your
That life’s challenges are actually our strengths —
they teach us resilience. She shared that with students
across the country, and it deeply resonates with me. I
learned to be fearless and willing to try new things. We
often don’t try because we’re afraid to fail, but
you don’t know you can succeed unless you try. That
was my approach with this book. It was a little scary,
but I tried it and it’s been amazing.
How did you feel having this position?
It felt surreal. Being able to walk up to the White
House, a living, breathing museum, every day for four
years always felt amazing to me. Witnessing history,
flying on Air Force One, traveling to the most amazing
places in the world and meeting such inspiring people
was remarkable. Growing up I saw places like the Great
Wall of China in books but never thought I’d go, let
alone with Mrs. Obama. I never stopped being thankful
for this special position. I felt like, "Wow, what
did I do to deserve to be here?"
What did it mean to be a part of history in terms of
documenting the first African-American first lady?
I’ve always been passionate about stories on civil
rights and discrimination issues. When Pete asked me if
I was interested in applying, I thought,
"Absolutely, this is an amazing opportunity,"
but I was also thinking, "I’m not a political
photographer." But I was able to connect the dots.
Photographing the Obamas made complete sense to me and
was totally consistent with my prior work and what I’m
passionate about. It was my responsibility to photograph
the presidency for history, and I took the role very
seriously. It was a new level of recognizing the
importance of the photos you were making.
Describe a typical day.
We had a schedule and knew the events we needed to
arrive for, but days could change and things could pop
up. We covered all of the events that happened in the
White House, official events that were open to the press
and events that weren’t. We also covered domestic and
international travel. For big events like state
arrivals, we were all there. We’d have someone in the
back, and on the sides. We worked together as a team to
make sure we preserved and documented history.
What was Mrs. Obama like?
I got to be in this small bubble and see that she is all
the things everyone hoped: compassionate, thoughtful,
kind, nurturing and funny. She loved to have fun, too. I
always admired that about her. She had such a serious
role but liked to laugh and share light moments with her
staff. She’d tell short jokes about me. I’m
5-foot-4-inches, so when I was directing a group photo,
she’d be like "Look for Amanda, she’s the
little one!" or, "She’s small but she’s
mighty!" I’d have to tell her where to stand,
too, and it took courage to tell her what to do. At
events, she’d always take time to meet people, give a
hug, take a selfie, say something encouraging. Seeing
her prioritize people was incredible.
In the book, you talk about how it’s easy to make Mrs.
Obama the center of every picture, but the real magic
happens around the edges. Why do you think people have
such big reactions to her?
It’s her presence, authenticity, humility and how
grounded she is that really puts people at ease, yet
moves them at the same time. There’s a photo where she’s
surprising Turnaround Arts students who were waiting in
a room after their White House performance. Mrs. Obama
was walking down the hall and says, "Those kids
were amazing, I want to say hi. Let’s surprise
them!" I slipped in before to get the reaction. She
opened the door and said, "Hey everybody, how you
doing?" They erupted with joy; it was such raw
emotion. If you were just focusing on Mrs. Obama’s
face, you would miss those moments. I like looking at
how people react to the layers of her.
What’s your favorite photo you took of her?
I really like the one with Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Akie Abe,
wife of the prime minister of Japan, sitting on the
floor petting Bo and Sunny. Mrs. Obama learned that Mrs.
Abe loved dogs, so she had them come down and meet Mrs.
Abe. They just sat on the floor in their formal attire
and (petted) the dogs. It was one of those moments that
was so candid it surprised me.
I love the one where she’s in the middle with her back
turned, and all you see are the faces and reactions of
I love that one, too! We met those girls when we went to
Liberia and Morocco as a part of the Let Girls Learn
initiative. They were a part of a CNN documentary about
global girls education, and once the documentary was
created, Mrs. Obama wanted to screen it at the White
House. We invited those girls to come from Liberia, some
had never been out of their town. They were shrieking
with joy as they walked through the doors of the White
House. All the photos have a story like this.
You dedicated the book to your mother and daughter. How
did Mrs. Obama influence those relationships?
Being a mother is another extraordinary experience where
I’m learning everyday, and appreciating my mother even
more because of it. I hung up the picture of Mrs. Obama
and her daughters at the Great Wall of China when I was
making the book because, at that point, my daughter was
only 4 months old. I wanted to be reminded that even
though I was working so hard, my daughter was No. 1.
Mrs. Obama showed me that despite her important roles as
first lady and a professional woman, being a mother was
always her first priority. I admire those values. I’m
glad I got to learn so much from her.