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In the eight years that Pete Souza photographed President Obama, many of his images have gone viral. But one will go down in history as the most iconic.

Shot in the Oval Office on May 8, 2009, it shows Jacob Philadelphia, the young son of National Security staffer Carlton Philadelphia, touching the president’s hair. “[Jacob] said his friends had said his haircut was just like the president’s and he wanted to see if it really was,” Souza tells TIME in a video interview. “He asked the president if he could touch his head and the president bent over and he touched his head.”

For Souza, there’s no doubt that the image is one of the most iconic of Obama’s administration. “It’s kind of a grab shot but it just tells you a lot about him as a person that he would not only be willing to bend down like that but have this little boy touch his head,” he says.

The photograph is one of the many that show Obama interacting with kids. “A lot of staff people have had kids during this administration so he loves to invite [them] to bring their kids in to the Oval Office,” says Souza. “You can sort of see what he must have been like as a dad when Sasha and Malia were one and two based on how he interacts with these young kids now. Have you ever seen a picture of the president of the United States literally lying on the floor hoisting up a little girl, she has got her elephant costume on, or crawling around on the floor with Jen Saki’s daughter? It’s like a break in the day for him that he relishes and I think it tells you a lot about what he is like as a person.”

Watch the interview above.

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Write to Julia Lull at

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