"It's almost like after the prom," photographer David Hume Kennerly said, describing the president's gesture to give up his coat. "I love that about him %u2014 that he would do that. It's a genuine moment."
The exhibit, "I Do Solemnly Swear: Photographs of the 2009 Presidential Inauguration," includes two slide shows and more than 30 framed color and black-and-white photos, beginning with Obama's whistle-stop tour from Philadelphia to Washington and ending with the his first full day in office.
The photographs were selected from thousands of images taken by two dozen photographers given access to inaugural events by the Presidential Inaugural Committee for an official inaugural book, and by Smithsonian and amateur photographers.
"Millions of people traveled to Washington to witness the event and record what they saw, making this the most photographed inauguration," museum director Brent Glass said.
Photos at the exhibit show Obama looking up at the official portrait of President John F. Kennedy, sitting side-by-side with Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office and strolling hand-in-hand with Michelle Obama down Pennsylvania Avenue during the inaugural parade. There are also images of crowds gathering before sunrise on the frigid National Mall and of the outgoing president, George W. Bush, leaving the U.S. Capitol in the Marine One helicopter.
Besides Kennerly, who was the official White House photographer under President Gerald Ford, there are photographs by President Bill Clinton's official photographer Robert McNeely and Obama White House photographer Pete Souza.
Among the highlights is a close-up photograph of Obama taking the oath of office, his hand resting on the same Bible that Abraham Lincoln used when he took office in 1861. The Bible links the first black president to the man who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, freeing the slaves.
Freelance photographer Karen Ballard said she deliberately focused on only Barack and Michelle Obama when taking the shot, leaving out Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and the throngs of spectators surrounding them.
"To me, ultimately, it was about Michelle and Barack Obama and this moment," Ballard said.