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Recollections of Obama

jack_obamaIt was late January or early February when psychology assistant professor Lisa Jack had some friends over at her home. In the middle of the primary election season, the conversation turned to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Jack told her guests that she knew Obama back when they were both students at Occidental College in Los Angeles and that as an aspiring photographer she took pictures of him. Jack’s friends didn’t believe the story. So Jack went into her basement and, in about five minutes, found 36 negatives of Obama as a 19- or 20-year-old college student.

That the negatives survived is in some ways amazing. The negatives and one print were in a cellophane wrapper. They were never housed in a special container to protect the negatives. They sat in a box in the basement for years. They were moved seven times.

Jack wanted to share the photos but wanted to wait until after the election. That’s when she contacted Time magazine to see if there was any interest in publishing the photos from Obama’s past. The magazine was very interested.

This week, a number of Jack’s photos from 1980 will hit the newsstand as part of Time magazine’s Person of the Year Issue. The magazine named Obama the person of the year on Wednesday.

Copies of the magazine will begin arriving in mailboxes and bookstores in the upcoming days. The photos can also be seen on the Time magazine website.

In her initial conversations with Time, Jack wrote about her memories of Obama and how the photo shoot came together.

Recollections of President-Elect Barack Obama

By Lisa Jack

In 1980, while a student at Occidental College, I was experiencing some success as a photographer. My black and white portraits of fellow students had gained some positive recognition. Consequently, when my roommate’s best friend introduced me to this “hot guy” named Barry, I knew I had to take his picture because, well, he was “hot” and I just couldn’t resist. Barry agreed to be a model.

I never did realize my dream of becoming a professional photographer, but I did keep the negatives from my early photographic explorations. And now that “Barry” is the President-Elect, I offer them up so that others may see a side to him I have yet to observe captured in the current maelstrom of contemporary media. I believe the images reflect his spirit of fun and thoughtfulness that I hope he hasn’t lost on his road to the White House. For the record, there wasn’t a nicer, more sincere guy in college.

These photos were taken in 1980 in a small apartment in Los Angeles, one block from Occidental College. My roommate and I had an overturned shopping cart as an end table, and our couch was a plaid nylon loveseat that had been left on the side of the road. The carpet was an indoor/outdoor lime green shag that probably hadn’t been cleaned since it had been laid sometime in the 1960’s. Barry showed up in a bomber jacket, carrying his cigarettes and a straw hat for effect (his idea, not mine). He was as friendly and charming as could be and followed instructions very well. He just kept flashing his awesome grin and asked how I wanted him to pose. We talked about Hawaii and New York, mostly superficial stuff, and I tried to get him to “speak to the camera”.

After that afternoon of the photo shoot, we ran into each other on campus occasionally, but we didn’t interact all that often. The next summer, while I was at a club in Hawaii, I spotted Barry sitting at a table near mine. There were two gorgeous women sitting in his lap and he had his arms around both. He was smiling and flirting and when he looked up and saw me, he enthusiastically said, “Hey, I know you.” We had a drink and a cigarette, and then we both went back to being busy with “other things”; but it was fun to see him and I appreciated being acknowledged by such a cool, handsome guy. That was the last time I was to see Barry for over 25 years.

I was in Washington, D.C. three years ago and stopped by Senator Obama’s office to say hello. I was leaning over a railing in the hallway of the Senate building sightseeing while he was engaged in a legislative session. When I looked up, I saw him walking down the hall toward me surrounded by an entourage of people. I yelled, “Hey Barry…Senator Obama.” He looked over and knew exactly who I was. He left the entourage and gave me a big hug. We spoke for five minutes about old acquaintances and what we had all been like in college. I was impressed and touched that this most extraordinary man stopped what he was doing to take the time to reminisce with me about earlier days.

I next saw Senator Obama on June 3 in St. Paul, at the Xcel Energy Center, when he learned that he was to be the Democratic nominee for President. I won’t share how I made it into the bowels of the building, but I bet the Secret Service guy remembers me.

Yet again, when Barack saw me, he smiled widely and said, “Hey you guys, look. It’s an old classmate.” He conveyed a genuine response of happiness when he saw me, and asked what I was doing. When I asked how one could get in touch with him in the future, he replied, “You can’t.” He looked around, pointed at all the dignitaries, and said, “This is my life now.”

I must admit I felt a bit sad about not being able to participate in our once-a-decade hello. At the same time, I was amazed that on this most historic of evenings, he took five minutes to say “hey” to me, an old acquaintance, who took his photo many years ago.

It’s exciting to see someone I went to college with become President of the United States of America, especially someone who was so genuinely nice and sincere. I would be lying if I were to say I knew him well; but like so many of us in this country, he has had a profound impact on me. I feel honored to have known him and to have been the “keeper of the photos from such a long time ago”.

I wish President Obama the best in these most trying of times, and I thank him, from the bottom of my heart, for his sincere kindness every time we have spoken.

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