First, Pete Souza became an Instagram celebrity by documenting the White House. Then he became an even bigger one by criticizing it.
The former chief White House photographer for President Barack Obama, Mr. Souza has been developing a huge following on his Instagram account since the early days of the Trump administration. That is when he began posting nostalgic photos from the Obama era that, because of their captions and Mr. Souza’s timing, also read as sly commentary on Mr. Trump.
People caught on, and Mr. Souza, who also spent more than five years photographing the Reagan White House, became the subject of numerous media headlines lauding his “shade-throwing” skills. While he declined to comment about Mr. Trump at the time, Mr. Souza kept the visual digs coming. Now he is adapting his strategy into a book titled “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.”
The book, scheduled for publication on Oct. 16, is intended to be a “portrait in contrasts,” according to a news release from the book’s publisher, Little, Brown and Company. In it, Mr. Souza’s photography will be juxtaposed with “tweets, headlines, quotes and other material from the first 500 days of the Trump administration.”
The contrast, Mr. Souza said in an Instagram post announcing the book, is meant to express his concern over “the future of our democracy” by framing the current presidency through a look at the previous one.
Mr. Obama “respected democracy and the rule of law,” he wrote. “Unlike his successor, he respected the office of the presidency.”
When Mr. Souza began his personal Instagram account, he didn’t know what “shade” meant, according to his publisher. But he was certainly throwing it at Mr. Trump from the start.
Shade (and it is “thrown,” by the way) is a type of insult that is marked as much by its subtlety as its sharpness. As the drag queen Dorian Corey explained in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 film “Paris Is Burning,” which explored drag-ball culture in queer communities of color and helped bring shade into the mainstream, shade is a more refined form of barb-slinging than “reading,” which tends to involve more exaggerated pronouncements.
Both reading and shade involve playful put-downs, but shade is usually more artful and less overt. Whether Mr. Souza’s social media posts qualify as either is a matter of some debate, but when he began posting old photos of Mr. Obama on Instagram, his captions fit the bill. He typically avoided acknowledging Mr. Trump or the news stories that he appeared to be responding to. It was only later that he began registering his disapproval more explicitly.
In January 2017, when Mr. Trump signed an executive order blocking refugees from entering the U.S. and temporarily halting immigration from some predominantly Muslim nations, Mr. Souza posted a photo of Mr. Obama meeting with a refugee girl in 2015. The caption didn’t mention Mr. Trump’s travel ban, and Mr. Souza had been posting photos from his archives for almost a week.
Days later, when Mr. Trump nominated Neil M. Gorsuch as his pick for the Supreme Court, Mr. Souza shared a snapshot of Mr. Obama meeting with Merrick Garland, his nominee for the same seat. “Merrick Garland,” the caption read. “Just saying.” Mr. Garland’s confirmation was blocked after Republicans said they would not consider any Supreme Court nominee until after the 2016 election.
And that February, after a Washington Post story drew attention to the lack of gender diversity in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, Mr. Souza uploaded a picture of footwear, including three pairs of heels, that he shot during a meeting of Mr. Obama and his top advisers. “This is a full-frame picture,” his caption read. “I guess you’d say I was trying to make a point.”
In all three cases, Mr. Souza was relying on viewers adding the context of the news cycle to their interpretations of his Instagram posts. The captions and the photos seemed innocent enough — a look through Mr. Souza’s files — that he had some plausible deniability.
Over time, though, Mr. Souza’s Instagram posts started to become more direct in their critiques.
Take a photo, for example, posted in June 2017, shortly after Mr. Trump held a televised cabinet meeting in which his assembled staff members took turns going around the table and praising him. Mr. Souza posted a photo of a meeting in the Obama White House with the caption “a working Cabinet meeting.”
Mr. Souza was hardly more subtle in October, when he Instagrammed a picture of Mr. Obama with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee after a day during which Mr. Corker and Mr. Trump exchanged insults (or reads, if you prefer) on Twitter. “The President often disagreed with the Senator,” Mr. Souza wrote under the photo, which showed Mr. Obama and Mr. Corker in the back of the car, “but at least talked to him in person or on the phone.”
This week, he shared a picture of Mr. Obama with the pointed caption, “back when our President was respected around the world and not unhinged by the rule of law.”
Mr. Souza has previously tapped into nostalgia for Mr. Obama’s presidency. In 2017, he released his first book, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait,” a visual retrospective of the eight years both men spent in the White House.