It was an intimate snapshot of a sweet celebration: Minutes after the networks called the 2012 presidential election for Barack Obama on Tuesday night, the Obama for America campaign posted a picture of him hugging his wife along with a simple message: "Four more years." Within minutes, it became the most popular post in the history of Twitter and the most-liked image in the history of Facebook, shared more than 804,000 times, marked as a favorite by more than 289,500 Twitter users, and "liked" by more than 3.2 million Facebook friends.
The simple shot of a happy husband and wife was a surprise to people who may have been expecting a grand portrait of a newly re-elected president and his people. But no one was more surprised than the woman who took the photo back in August.
Scout Tufankjian, a photojournalist who has been focusing her lens on Obama's political career since 2007, told Slate's Julia Turner that she snapped the picture on the third day of an Iowa bus tour.
"It was the first day that the first lady had joined us so he hadn't seen her in a couple of days," she explained. "She came in on a bus that morning—it was the first event of the day—and they embraced on stage. Onstage in front of all those people."
"I decided to focus on them rather than taking a wider shot, because I think I'm not alone in finding their relationship to be totally aspirational," the newly married photojournalist said. "The obvious love and respect that they have for each other, and that the relationship is clearly one of equals, despite the fact that he's the president, is remarkable. So I wanted to focus on them as a couple rather than on them and the crowd, or them and their position."
Tufankjian didn't know that the campaign had used the picture as their Election Night victory image until a friend emailed her about it. It's unusual that such a personal shot would be used in such a high-profile way, but Tufankjian says it makes sense to her. "It reflects on the way that people feel about the Obamas as people, rather than as public figures," she said. "What the family is and represents to the country is as much a part of the president's appeal as his policies."
After she chronicled Obama's 2008 campaign, his campaign team hired her in August 2012 as one of their two official photojournalists. It's given her an opportunity to travel with the president and witness scenes that few ever get to see—like the moment a pizza shop owner in Florida gave the President a bear hug that lifted him off his feet.
The President is "so much happier and more relaxed" when he's with his family, Tufankjian confided. "He and the first lady are so focused on each other. The way that they play off each other and get energy from each other… when I was shooting the president during the 2008 campaign I would watch them greet each other on stage and I used to text-message my boyfriend, now my husband: 'Do you love me as much as Barack loves Michelle?' and he'd be like, 'Probably not, no'."
Still, she has hope. "The way that they relate to each other—they just celebrated their 20th anniversary—the way they enjoy each other and listen to each other, and the real respect that they have for each other is something I would like to see in my relationship twenty years from now," she said.