Minneapolis photographer captures Obama as a young man

Lisa Jack didn't know she was photographing the first black president

"Hey, Barry!" Jack yelled out. "Senator!"

Obama left his entourage, came over, and gave Jack a big hug. They spoke for about five minutes, reminiscing about college and old acquaintances.

In February 2008, as the Democratic primary was heating up, Jack had a few friends over one evening. They asked who she was planning to vote for.

Barack Obama, Occidental College, No. 4, 1980
Lisa Jack/Contour by Getty Images
Barack Obama, Occidental College, No. 4, 1980
Lisa Jack didn't know she was photographing a future president
Lisa Jack didn't know she was photographing a future president

"I have to be for Barack," she said. "I went to college with him."

She told them about the photo shoot, but the friends didn't believe her.

"I have pictures," she said, and one of the friends dared her to dig them up.

Jack went down to the basement and found a single print—then the whole roll.

Last August, when Obama learned he'd won the Democratic nomination, Jack went to meet him at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where he was giving a national address.

Obama smiled broadly when he saw her.

"Hey, you guys, look—it's an old classmate," he said.

Jack asked him how she could get in touch with him in the future.

"You can't," he said, pointing at the dignitaries surrounding him. "This is my life now."

His words made Jack sad, as she realized that their random hellos would now come to an end.

Jack kept the photos to herself until after the election, not wanting her work to be used for political purposes. After Obama won, she called Time magazine. The photo editor told her that if she wanted money, a tabloid would pay more. But what Jack wanted was for the photos to be handled with dignity. Time published the spread in January 2008.

Jack's phone began ringing off the hook. In March, M+B Gallery in Beverly Hills offered to show the photos. They picked 21, which are selling for $1,000 to $4,500 for each image, in limited editions of 230. The exhibit opened in late May, and Jack spent a whirlwind week in California, fielding calls from reporters and appearing on television shows.

"I haven't seen a cent from it so far," Jack says.

But the attention has revived a dream. She's closed her St. Paul private counseling practice, hoping to fit more photography into her life. "At some point, somebody's going to see the other photographs and it will happen," she says. "I know it. It will just happen as it's supposed to happen."

She says she'd like to take photos of Tim Pawlenty—to use her lens to capture the personality behind the politician, as she did for Obama. With speculation swirling that Pawlenty will vie for the Republican presidential nomination, Jack could catch lightning in a bottle and photograph a second presidential contender.

"Governor Pawlenty is a gorgeous man. Unbelievably good-looking," she says. "Let's put him in a tux!"

« Previous Page