Obama Freshman Photos on Exhibit in L.A.

Earlier this week, Lisa Jack '81 was worried that no one would come to the opening of her show of never-before-seen photographs of President Barack Obama as an Occidental College freshman.


But then the media coverage began -- a major story in the Los Angeles Times, an interview on the Today show, in other national and local media, and in the blogosphere. Eager crowds packed M+B Gallery in West Hollywood at last night's opening reception, lining up outside before the doors opened and lingering long after the official end of the evening. "Oh my God, they just keep coming!" Jack said as she signed posters and posed for pictures.

Among the guests at the opening were Dan Fineman, professor of English and comparative literary studies, for whose photography class Jack took the photos of Obama; old college friends, including Eric Moore '83, Robert Marquez '81, Barbara Novinger '81 and Lisa Mandel '81; and actor Roger Guenveur Smith '77.

Jack was seeking subjects for a portrait project in 1980 when she was tipped off about a charismatic freshman named "Barry" Obama. When she asked him if he’d like to participate, he said, "‘Sure, I’d love to do that,’" she recalls. "He was very cooperative and interested." She took just one roll of film during the hour-long shoot at her apartment near campus on Hazelwood Avenue. The exhibit features 21 of the 36 photos she took of the "friendly, congenial" young man.

After the shoot, the negatives would remain locked away for the next 28 years. At first worried that the images could be used against President Obama, Jack realized they revealed nothing other than being young and self-conscious, and that they offered a unique glimpse into how the man who made history went from being "Barry" to Barack.

A selection of Jack’s photographs was first featured in Time Magazine’s December 2008 "Person of the Year" issue, which chose the newly elected president as its honoree.This exhibition marks the first time these rare photographs have ever been printed and put on display. (Prints will be available for purchase in limited editions of 230 for each image.)

"I love the photographs," says Jack, now a therapist in private practice and a psychology professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. "They’re the only ones like this in the world. I think they show a unique time in history. They had to come out. I wasn’t going to hide them away."

As for his skill as a model, Jack calls Obama "great, a natural. Almost every shot on that role is amazing. His charisma and charm came out. I think he’s the best-looking man alive."

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Obama described Occidental as "a wonderful, small liberal arts college.The professors were diverse and inspiring. I ended up making some lifelong friendships there, and those first two years really helped me grow up." 

"Barack Obama: The Freshman, Photographs by Lisa Jack" at M + B Gallery at 612 N. Almont Drive in West Hollywood runs through July 18.

For more information on the free reception or the exhibit, go to www.mbfala.com or call (310) 550-0050.