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College-era photos of Obama show a confident young man


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POSTED: Monday, June 01, 2009

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIF. » He was tall and stunningly good looking, a guy who could appear pensive and serious one moment and then, with smoke from an unfiltered cigarette swirling around his face, morph into the hippestlooking dude this side of James Dean.

Budding photographer Lisa Jack knew the moment she saw Barack Obama walk into the campus snack shop at Los Angeles' Occidental College in 1980 that she had to get the freshman in front of a camera.

“;I was doing portraits of fellow students, the cool people on campus,”; Jack recalled as she stood in a West Hollywood gallery surrounded by framed blackand- white photos of the president as a young man.

“;A friend of a friend said there's this REALLY cool guy, REALLY good looking, you have to get his picture.' And as he said it, he walked in. He said, 'Hey Barry, come here.'”;

Soon after, they had made arrangements for a photo shoot at Jack's small off-campus apartment, a nondescript hovel furnished with little more than a worn couch that had been salvaged from the side of the road and an overturned shopping cart that doubled as an end table.

The future president, dressed in jeans and a shirt with sleeves rolled up, arrived with his own props, including a leather bomber jacket, a wide-brimmed Panama hat and a package of cigarettes.

“;He had so much charisma, even back then, it was amazing,”; the photographer said, looking at a portrait of Obama, a broad grin on his face, one palm outstretched as though he's about to welcome a visitor. In another his head is tilted back, eyes closed, a grin again fixed on his face.

“;Some of these are goofy. He could be a goofball,”; Jack said.

In some images, Obama looks pensive and lost in thought; others show him in his classic cool pose, smoke swirling around his face; others, in the bomber jacket, hat off, reveal a medium-length afro.

She shot just one 36-exposure roll of film, going on to earn an A in her photo class. Then Jack buried the images away and moved on.

She had once dreamed of becoming a professional photographer but ended up teaching instead. After earning a doctorate from the University of Southern California, she became a psychology professor at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where she lives with her family.

Over the years, she has bumped into Obama from time to time. Not long after the photo session, she was vacationing in Hawaii when she ran into him at a nightclub. Three years ago she dropped by his Senate office in Washington, D.C.

“;He was a rock star by then,”; she laughed, but he still broke away from a group of people to spend a few minutes reminiscing about old times.

As Obama's political star rose, Jack realized her photos had historical value. But she resisted going public before the election, fearing opponents would try to use the images of a lighthearted, youthful Obama to portray him as immature. “;Can you imagine what somebody might have done with one of these?”; she asked as she looked across the spacious M+B Gallery in West Hollywood at a picture of Obama taking a long drag off the stumpy remains of an unfiltered cigarette.

After the election, Jack contacted Time magazine, which used some of the photos to accompany its cover story on Obama's selection as Person of the Year.

The gallery contacted her and quickly arranged the exhibition, which opened yesterday and runs until July 18. Copies of prints are for sale, starting at $1,000.

“;We were blown away when we saw them,”; said gallery director Shannon Richardson. “;There's so much imagery of Obama out there, but nothing like this, nothing of him in photos like these as a young man.”;

Jack said the attention has gotten her to thinking about the road not taken. “;I'm a 49-year-old woman who wanted to be a photographer, and now I'm getting my big break.”;