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Scituate native describes her Obama photo that became a social media sensation

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 9, 2012 02:20 PM

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Scituate native Scout Tufankjian has been a campaign photographer with President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign since the beginning, but she never expected her work to get so much press.

The photojournalist’s image of Obama hugging wife Michelle was recently used by the president’s campaign on both Facebook and Twitter, alongside the caption “Four more years”. Within hours, the image became Facebook’s most liked photo and Twitter’s most re-tweeted blurb ever.

According to Tufankjian, the instant popularity of her work was a bit of a shock.

“I had no idea the response was going to be like this. My friend emailed me on election night to tell me and I didn’t believe her. I said, ‘No way, that’s crazy,’ and I looked it up and was like, ‘Wow.’ I had no idea about the Facebook thing until the next day,” she said. “The whole thing is incredible.”

The photo was taken in Dubuque, Iowa, in mid-August, on the final day of a three-day bus tour across the state, Tufankjian said. The president hadn’t seen his wife in several days, and when the pair met at an event onstage, their embrace was heartfelt.

Iowa is especially meaningful for the Obama campaign, as it’s where the idea of a candidacy really took hold. And at first glace, the campaign and excitement was the obvious photography choice.

Yet when the veteran photographer prepared to take the shot seen around the world, it was neither the campaign nor the crowd of people surrounding the Obama family that she wanted to portray.

“I’ve always had a deep admiration for the Obama’s as a couple…despite the fact that he’s the president, their relationship is one of equals,” Tufankjian said. “They have a deep love and respect for one another, and I find that deeply inspirational. So that’s why I chose to focus on just them, rather than them in the crowd, or [the crowd] in the background, but them as man and wife.”

Regardless of the stark beauty of the image -- a half silhouette of an embrace against a clouded, almost painterly, sky - Tufankjian doesn’t take credit for the image’s popularity.

“I don’t think the popularity has to do with the image, or my photography or the lens I chose,” she said. “It’s all about how people feel about the Obama family and how they feel about them in that moment. It’s about the ‘Four more years’ sentiment than about what the picture looks like.”

The image is one of thousands the photographer has captured of the Obama’s after following them as a photojournalist during the 2007-2008 presidential campaign, and working for the campaign during the past election.

The experience has been “incredible,” Tufankjian said, and perhaps the thing she will miss the most is being part of the Obama campaign team.

As for what she’s learned, Tufankjian said it’s about continually perfecting her craft.

“It always develops over time. I think that in terms of technique, you always come up with new ways to show people what you’re seeing and what the things around you feel like,” she said. “That’s always where my photography is aimed. Rather than show someone what it looks like, I try to show what it feels like to be there. You don’t always succeed, but that’s what I’m always aiming at with my photography.”

At least with this particular photo, a moment of happiness and relief and gratitude wrapped in an image of love, it seems Tufankjian has succeeded.

To view more of Tufankjian's work, click here.

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