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Mar 10, 2007

Why Alan's Frustrated

(click all B&W for full size)

Last week, I offered you some images from Alan Chin's February 11- 12 campaign trip to New Hampshire.

In that post, I also noted Alan's frustration in covering the presidential candidates, especially his sense of feeling like a "paparazzo." Although Alan send quite a few photos, I only posted a few -- those that managed to capture  some "real life" in an otherwise suffocatingly-controlled situation.

In the past few days, I've had a chance to talk to Alan, and a couple other photographers, about the problem, and to consider the profound disconnect between being on the scene, as part of the show -- as opposed to encountering pictures in the media.

What it makes me appreciate, even more, is the power of the image to pitch a story -- even in the face of our cynicism.

What I mean is, even if we know these scenes are thoroughly staged, their supposed genuineness still coerces the mind into considering they still could be what they propose themselves to be.  (Of course, this is much less true with hardened media and political skeptics, like us, but the cognitive-perceptual impact on what is generally a skeptical public, I'm assuming, remains substantive.  ...Otherwise, I imagine we'd see somewhat less control.)

Chinnh2.07Hildeli1 Chinnh2.07Hildeli2

So, how do you inject more reality in the face of the "staginess?"

Well, to completely shatter the spell, one could simply let people see more of what disturbed Alan so greatly that weekend.  For example, you could show how the visual press is necessarily forced to traipse after candidates through parking lots, or how the media -- forced to whore for candidates posing as "just one of us" -- necessarily capture them (like animals in a zoo) in the generic deli.


A more subtle way to get under the contrivance might involve juxtaposing the visuals from multiple shooters.  (In the cases here, I provide you a "singular" shot off the newswire alongside Alan's comparable work product.)

From four or five different angles, of course, one gets a much better sense that the supposedly private, intimate cup of coffee with the local State Senator isn't exactly so intimate, or that the spontaneous friendly chat with the folks at the diner isn't all that spontaneous.)


Another value of the "visual check-and-balance" would be to put in context those photos more capable of actually slipping past our defenses.

By itself, for example, this shot of Obama above -- alone; having a conversation with a resident in her apartment window in Concord; in an alley; beside a building "reading" working class; looking up to the citizen; wearing only a sport coat while there's snow on the ground -- is the portrait of populism, compassion, humility.

It might have a different sense, however, were it more contextually sandwiched.  In that case, you might realize the scene slipped in as diversion, the visually-opportunistic candidate taking momentary leave of the roving, documentary pack.

>>Note: If you have questions or comments for Alan, he'll be happy to respond in the discussion thread. <<

Black and white photos © Alan Chin.  Used by permission.

(color images: Brian Snyder/Reuters.  Brewbakers coffee shop and downtown Concord, New Hampshire. Keene, New Hampshire February 11, 2007. via YahooNews.)


I share Alan's frustration. As a former national campaign reporter, I usually preferred press conferences over shlepping by bus through Nashua in order to stand in the slush in a designated place to record the same staged meet-n-greet as three dozen other reporters.

That said, that is the game now. They know that unscripted=falling-off-the-stage-during-a-pancake-flip-off and so you get nothing that hasn't been spec'd out and contrived. It's not new.

But I'm also down on the whole "retail politics" thing that New Hampshire demands as a birthright. The people there have been through this time and time again, and don't demand or reward anything different. So rather than be "retail" for New Hampshire, it because a movie trailer for the rest of the country.

The addition of new states to the early primaries -- and maybe even the someday removal of Iowa and New Hampshire's unfair power despite unrepresentitive population -- will likely get us earlier to the even less-spontaneous campaigning seen in the general election. Then, at least, the kabuki of coffee shop will be seen for what it is, and maybe something new will rise to fill the void.

But who can blame the candidates for doing this? The slightest mistep, the slightest affected accent, spilt mustard, single poorly spoken remark (save for the current presidents) are magnified so greatly that there is no real advantage for spontaneous campaigning. You're never off the radar. The threat of being genuine -- which is a boon to a reporters -- is that the positives don't come close to the negatives. In 2004 Bush spoke only to pre-chosen crowds of supporters. No chance for anything unscripted. Repetitious soundbites and carefully tested backdrops were used and reused daily. And what did America do? Re-elected him over the guy prone for talking too much, and too often off-script.

So, while I share Alan's frustration, and genuinely appreciate his photos and comments -- it makes perfect sense. However, until the market changes for this current brand of "retail politics," it won't (and why should it?) change.

Could I make a suggestion? Perhaps, Alan should take a series of close-ups of just the faces of the candidates, in all kinds of situations, and juxtapose them with the long-range photo showing the context. If there is a mask of "interest and concern" that can be worn throughout, by the candidates, then you have either the world's greatest actors or someone who is genuinely interested and concerned. Also, look at the shoulders. That's where some of the tension is when the candidate is ready to "move" because it's becoming uncomfortable.

Question for Alan.
When you're there in person, does the Obama campaign appear AS scripted, or AS staged as the Clinton campaign? Hillary has a lot of experience interacting with and manipulating media exposure. We tend to give Obama some benefit of the doubt, thinking (hoping) that as a relative newcomer he is more genuine. Still, the cynical part of me suspects that as an apparent contender, Obama must be exercising a level of craftiness which is more or less on a par with the more experienced candidates.

ALL of the political campaigns, Obama's included, operate in more or less the same way when it comes to their desire to "handle" the press and set up situations that they think will make them look good.
Usually it's some 22 year old, earnest, humorless campaign worker assigned to wrangle with the group of older, cynical, and jaded photographers.

If anything, Hillary Clinton's campaign is easier to cover because she already has Secret Service (as a former First Lady) and they are more professional and relaxed than private security companies.

The photographs above of Obama in the diner above look almost identical because that was one angle that we were allowed to get -- six or seven photographers packed into one corner by several of the campaign kids -- while he has his "private" and "real" moment with New Hampshire voters.

As I originally commented, I understand that there is SOME need for order and security and not having everyone break bones in some mad rush -- but the degree to which everything gets scripted and controlled seems excessive to me -- Eric (Lettuce) above comments that this may be caused by the audience as much as the campaigns, and I agree with him...

...because, were this taking place in most other parts of the world, there would be fewer journalists, and the crowds would be a lot less controllable. There would be a lot more screaming and pushing and chaos, all wonderful excitement for a photographer, rather than nice middle-class people coming out to see the candidates and ask them questions about health care or taxes.

But we are who we are, as a society, so it may be naive of me to imagine something more dynamic or unpredictable. I love the story of Robert Kennedy's last campaign in 1968, when he would shake so many hands each day that, by evening, his own hands would be chafed and bleeding. And if you look at the photographs of that campaign (the gold standard in American political photography), you see a desperateness, a yearning, a passion, that seems entirely gone from American political life, even though the issues that we're facing today are no less pressing than those of '68. But what do I know, I wasn't even born yet!

The close-ups of faces is something that does get done a lot in campaign photo coverage -- David Douglas Duncan in 1968, more recently Alex Majoli in 2004 -- and I have focused on that sometimes as well. But like the effort to provide a big, wide, perspective, the emphasis on faces hides as much as it tells, also.

The first photo almost looks like Hillary is getting her fortune read by a fortune teller....

I think that this situation is a function of the way public space doesn't exist any more. Where else is there to meet except in Wal-Marts, private Hotels or convention centers? The means of contact between canidates and 'the general public' require staging because there's no place for them to casually interact in the first place.

Also, I don't believe that most people believe these photos are genuine. However, the effort and campaign to stage them have become a standard to evaluate the canidate's public message in the first place: unless they produce the facade, they won't be taken seriously as a canidate.


Don't candidates get weary of all the posing after a while? I get the impression that they are just as tired of it as the photogs and reporters; the only ones who aren't tired of it are the people coming out to see the Rock Stars, up close and in person. Maybe that's how a political campaing should be managed; as a rock star moving from gig to gig.

Anyhoo, the posed pic of Obama in the coffee shop/deli reminds me of the old TV Show "Police Squad" where the actors froze for the credits while things around them kept happening. One time, the criminal they were booking realized no one would stop him and split and another time coffee spilled over the edge of a cup.

Yet looking at the practiced expressions (especially Obama - I think he isn't as experienced at holding his face steady as Clinton is) made me think of the one ending where Frank Drubbin and his colleagues had cracked a joke and were laughing uproariously and froze in that position while the credits ran. After about ten seconds, the expressions began to fade, someone unfroze to lick his lips, eyes began to look around - it was hilarious!

donna beat me to the comment. My very first impression of that top photo was that there was a seance underway or something of the sort.

As for the juxtaposition of the two photographs (sixth and seventh in the order given): the seventh photograph, the black-and-white one, doesn't look too much at odds with the first except that there are two persons--one immediately to Obama's right and behind him, the other seated with white cowboy hat almost at the right edge of the photo--looking almost directly away from Obama. What's that about?

the dilemma is this pre-conceived conceit that what some political candidate says, or what she looks like in the process of a campaign : IS NEWS.

the "straight PR shots" are more akin to visual stenography than photography. occasionally you get (lucky) some "special effects" like: the shadow of the speaker 'encroaching' upon the background map of Latin America; or a "halo" of some seal of office, etc., around the speaker's head; or an expression (which may or may not be characteristic of some widely held illusion of "who we think this person really is.")

but in the main, the purpose of campaign photography is P.R. = relating to the public = to document the presence of some ONE in some PLACE (and so it should include some visual clue as to WHO and WHERE, thus) and nothing more. essentially the press corps is as some herd of NASCAR fans, watching what is for all intents and purposes a meaningless BLUR of a race, waiting for some accident to happen.

yes, one could turn the camera on to the PR process itself; i mean, that is one story, though self-reference is essentially narcissism, yes? And we end up (not unlike American TV "news") viewing The Press interviewing The Press about ____; eg., "What do you think about the issue of warrantless wiretaps?" when, in fact those press persons the interviewer and interviewee know nothing more than any other well-informed citizen, albeit unusually fit, well-dressed, clean and articulate ones.

BAGman suggests "juxtaposing the visuals from multiple shooters" (but i find Michael's choice of visuals to illustrate this idea wanting). What you're striving for here is something akin to the technique often seen on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, where a spoken phrase (or visual gesture) en video is "echoed" by many different politicians and/or pundits, at different times ~ the Cut & Paste collage reveals the existence of a Talking Point, thus.

a seeming monotonous montage of the candidate repeating "_____" over and over in the same posture, at different times / in different places ~ in a sense this collective impression, this time compression : THE PERSON *IS* THEIR PRODUCTION.

elle est celle qui elle feint pour être

But if Mr. Chin wants his soul back from his Faustian bargain, then he's got to go off the trail, eschew the candidate altogether... and start photographing the reality of the people who live in all these cities and towns : a candidate is a performer : persona no existe.

the question is not, "Who is she?," Alan.

the question is, "Who are you?"


Your reference to 1968 is a great one. I hadn't really thought of that campaign in "images" recently -- mostly just in terms of politics and electorate. You are right, there was a real passion in 1968. I think the problems of 1968 did seem more pressing -- there was a war on, one where scores more soldiers had died -- one in which we were beginning to see as a loss. There was no reference point for a disaster like that. The country had lost a president recently, and even though LBJ had been re-elected in 64, he was still seen as a filler by many Americans. Kennedy had grown to superhero heights -- not just among Democrats but with the vast majority of the electorate. There was a desperateness in both parties -- the burgeoning anti-war and advanced civil rights movements were seeking new leaders to create a new land -- and Nixon and the GOP were fully convinced, especially after the Goldwater shellacking, that the country might be in its most perilous state since the Civil War.

So take that anxiety, that passion, that drive -- and look where it ended up.

Kennedy's death made it seem like any major leader could be felled -- and it was the beginning of the time when security truly trumped access in campaigns. Then Humphrey becomes the candidate without entering a single primary. He was a good campaigner, and nearly beat Nixon.

So Nixon learned for 1972. Forget even the Watergate break-in, that made politics a cloak-and-dagger operation. Look at the front-runner Muskie -- his wife's past dug up in a way previously unseen in civilized campaigns, and an errant slowflake during his press conference on the subject, makes it look like he was crying. The media, with Nixon's help, explodes on that fact, (maybe even Nixon began the rumor) but either way, his candidacy was done. Bring on the recently-deceased Eagleton, at one point McGovern's VP. In Drudgereport fashion it comes out he was treated with Electro-Shock therapy and he's replaced with Shriver.

McGovern loses in a landslide, a war hero who is now synonomous with failed Democrats who didn't have the toughness to run for president. From there we get Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, Kerry... werne't they all tarred by gaffes and misteps, some real, some manufactured, all damaging?

If 1968 is the gold standard of photography, 68 was the beginning of the end of unscripted politics. The outcome of 1972 sealed the coffin shut. The zombie comes out from time to time, Howard Deans or McCain version 2000 -- but in the end, they all fall victim to the pitfalls of public campaigning. So why shouldn't the scripted versions win the day? Sure, journalists and photographers are shunted to the side -- what are we but playing "gotcha" with the campaigns, trying to find something special, unique -- and maybe embarrassing.

Sure, there is the noble desire to be a real journalist, to use words or photos to inform democracy. But there are more of us who realize if *we* are the ones to catch the big mistake -- or the big triumph, true -- we'll, for lack of a better term, win. It is paparazzi -- that's what sells.

We'll see it change, certainly. It always does. Maybe we'll see a grassroots politician rise up over the elites -- or a population that rejects the scripted Clintons and Bushes for a candidate not afraid to do a Dean Scream when the moment is right.

But it won't be this election, or the next. We still like Anna Nicole or Britney stories more than ones about people who do well...

I don't get the point of this post.

Isn't "the campaign trail" by definition a "staged" event?


There seems to be allot of effort and wasted energy centered on 2008 as if the next two years under the iron heel of George W. Bush is somehow over and past. This is not our typical lame duck President on a world wind tour promoting American interests and thanking favored allies (though 'W.' is currently being burned in effigy across South America) or building a legacy in the eyes of the poor, seniors, minorities, women or the sick nor laying out architectural detail for a library. The worst is yet to come...

I'd recommend far less concern and concentration on an undeterminable future and more worry for the here and now. The Iraq War worsens daily as the 'Surge' fails, peak oil here/gone Ghawar bone dry, Iran being staged for imminent attack, the US economy on the verge of collapse and our society appears to be disintegrating all the while some here march trance like towards the respective alters of Hillary or Obama.

If things continue to spin out of control for the Bush's there may not be a 2008 Presidential Election as domestic martial law will be enforced/elections suspended to control the inevitable anarchy and chaos wrought on by a world soon to be engulfed in flames.



wawawa, I beg to differ. There's no inherent reason why the "campaign trail" needs to become a staged event. These candidates, in their desire for power and seriousness of purpose, in a democracy, are vying for the ultimate position of authority and prestige. We, the voters, are supposed to intelligently decide. I, as a photographer and member of the press, am supposed to help this process by transmitting the experiences and sights of a dozen or a hundred people out to thousands and millions...

...and the more honest and less staged this process is, the more spontaneous, unscripted, and unadorned that it is, the better. And it is, to a certain degree, still possible. Unlike George W. Bush's pre-selected audiences, anyone can attend an event with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. At this point there are no metal detectors, no price of admission, no vetting. And if you don't get a chance to ask a question or make a comment during the public part of a mass meeting, chances are that you can go up to the candidate afterwards and get a minute or two of their time. Obviously a minute or two is not a whole conversation. But at least it's usually straight -- you go up there, say what you have to say -- and you'll get an answer or response, however sound-byted or evasive it may be.

So as a photographer, I just want to watch this, no more, no less. I feel like a papparazzo when all the handlers and media people relentlessly want me to stand only where they want me to stand, shoot only what they want me to shoot, and basically be nothing more than an unpaid propagandist for their campaign. They, and the public, would be so much better served if they left us alone, and stopped worrying so much. To be fair, not all campaign media people are obstructive. Some can be very helpful, and understand what we are trying to do. And of course it is a stressful job for them. But I wish that they would all get into the spirit as well as the letter of democracy a bit more, to let the chips fall where they will. I wish they had a bit more courage, to confront gaffes, accidents, and mistakes, and move on, rather than go insane trying to cast their spin all the time.

MonsieurGonzo, you make some very good points. Compared to the real political photographers I spend very little time covering campaigns. A week in 2000, three weeks in 2004, a little bit now and in this year to come. The frustrations I have (which Michael Shaw here has perhaps made a bit too much out of...) lead me to not become too immersed in this. Ultimately I am more interested in other aspects of photo-journalism...but, as these campaigns ARE important, and DO determine or reflect so much, I feel obligated, rank amateur though I may be in this arena, to bite and nibble...ultimately, I couldn't agree more that photographing the reality of American lives in ordinary places is far more important, and honest.

Hmm, when I took portraits, I would position my subject(s) "within the frame" and then step out from behind the camera myself. I would engage the subject in conversation and hit my cable-release whenever I felt a spontaneous, candid moment presented itself.

Still..., how much--I wonder--of the campaigns are just red-herring stageplay? I hate being so cynical, though.

~ ~ ~

Nevertheless, I sent $50 to your post office box today. Keep up the good work!

It seems like one way to deal with this situation is to make the stage the subject of our images. There is still an unwritten pact between the press and politicians to bracket out everything spontaneous. During the 2004 presidential debates, for example, a European photographer snapped pictures of Bush getting his makeup applied. The Bush campaign condemned this and the photographer apologized. Yet isn’t this a more honest form of photography, rather than hiding the staging expose it. This was truly a radical image because it worked outside of the unwritten pact and that is exactly why it got smacked down.

p.s. Didn’t Bush announce the beginning of the war in Iraq on a set designed by a Hollywood producer? Or was that is father with the Gulf War? I can’t remember. But wouldn’t it have better if, paparazzi style, someone had snuck in and photographed the construction of the set rather than just the performance that took place there?

Alan Chin, "staged" means "produced for public view." That's the whole point of the campaign trail. To expose the candidate to the public. So candidates dress up and speak to crowds of complete strangers in unfamiliar towns day in and day out. Maybe you speak in front of hundreds of strangers every day in towns you've never been in before, but I don't. I can't think of anything less like "real life" than public speaking.

It's all so tired and contrived this 'meet the folks' campaigning. The life has been sucked out it so long ago it makes the mummy of Ramseses the Great look healty and vital. Yeah 'Kabuki' - everyone is just going through the motions and playing their parts.

Alan, forgive me for doing the quote and response dance. I think here it's just the best way to organize my own thoughts and response.

Alan wrote, There's no inherent reason why the "campaign trail" needs to become a staged event.

Actually, I think you've contradicted yourself because just a few lines down...

Alan wrote, I, as a photographer and member of the press, am supposed to help this process by transmitting the experiences and sights of a dozen or a hundred people out to thousands and millions...

And that is exactly why everything is scripted and staged. I'm sure you realize that and while I agree with your statement that it shouldn't be that way, it does, in the context of the world we live in, need to be that way.

As many others have pointed out here, the entire situation is removed from reality by several layers. The only way to avoid is to not stand with the other media photogs and shoot what you want, if you can. And I say not because I question your ability but question whether or not you would be allowed to at all. There are very good reasons, from the candidates perspective that reality is not what you are offered to shoot. I don't begrudge them that as much as I think, perhaps like you, that it is an affectation that doesn't help us, the citizens of this coutnry.

Alan wrote, And it is, to a certain degree, still possible.

I would have to disagree with you and say you're 100% wrong. That is unless you can actually get away with it. And you know you won't be helping the candidate in shooting from a more honest perspective. That's exactly what you're (quite correctly) complaining about.

Shooting "honestly" isn't possible of the context we live in.

Alan wrote, They, and the public, would be so much better served if they left us alone, and stopped worrying so much.

I hate to keep harping on this but I think you're just missing it (while you do make a lot of other, quite accurate appraisals). What you suggests better serves the public but not the candidate. What serves the candidate best is to do exactly what they want you to do, stay on message, get all the required shots in the approved manner and nothing more. Anything else, again, from the candidates perspective is a crap shoot and people running for president seldom get elected when they throw their fates to the winds.

It's a bloody shame but there it is anyway.

Alan, thanks for your efforts but don't waste your time thinking that you can pull a rabbit out of a hat when the entire show, props and script is being written not for your benefit, but for that of the candidate.

I do think we could be better served by our media but it's not going to happen. So I think the better question becomes, how can you subvert that? How can you get inside the guard and still deliver images that do really tell the tale of the campaign and the candidate? I don't know the answer myself but I do know that there are mechanisms in place to make sure this doens't happen and while I disagree with them in principle and practice, I do understand why they are there.

Looking at the different sets of pix - Clinton and Obama - Hillary is isolated in hers while Barack is surrounded by adoring fans in his.

This is similar to the previous post.

And I agree with ice weasel's question about subversion, but then I am a big fan of subversion in general.

And thanks to Eric (Lettuce) for the history lesson; I was four when RFK was shot and remember the events mentioned but from a grainy, out of focused place of childhood memories.

Thanks very much to Alan for the valuable insights.

"What you suggests better serves the public but not the candidate. What serves the candidate best is to do exactly what they want you to do, stay on message, get all the required shots in the approved manner and nothing more. Anything else, again, from the candidates perspective is a crap shoot and people running for president seldom get elected when they throw their fates to the winds."

I absolutely, unequivocally disagree with this. If a man or woman is, in their own perception, strong and smart and wise and fast and seasoned enough to run for, and assume that they will be good at, being the President, then he or she should be confident, bold, brave enough, to stand on their strengths, to be straight, and to be judged accordingly.

And I say this not as idealism, but as analysis of democracy, and as not assuming, as a lot of people seem to, that the average voter is an idiot, and that the American people are stupid.

We are not, and nor should the media and press stop trying to see things as honestly as possible. I am NOT "missing" it at all. Quite the contrary. I continue to believe in and have some faith in this system of ours. Obviously it's easy to be cynical and not trust anything, and to perceive that "spin" is everything.

But it isn't, really, as our current President is finding out. No amount of "staying on message" changes the reality of facts and of decisions made, of real consequences as a result of politics.

I agree that I and my colleagues cannot pull rabbits out of hats, and I, too, understand why they do it, as ice weasel so well described. But I refuse to accept that we would have a worse system for the candidates if they would be less controlling.

Isn't the candidate better served by being seen as who they really are, what they really stand for?

Isn't the candidate better served if cynics, doubters, critics, and observers like all the intelligent people reading and commenting here are less jaded, more willing to listen to the candidate's message?!?

Isn't the candidate better served by being unafraid of how photographers portray them? I mean, one minute a candidate can look like a rock star, the next moment like a plastic blow-up doll. Such is the pliable and malleable and accidental nature of photography. Let the humanity rather than the pretense emerge.

In the end, if they did that and I want to bring up that coverage of RFK in '68 again -- you'd get pictures like that and not like these pictures of mine here -- what could possibly serve them better than that?!?

What helps us helps them. To think otherwise is for them to insult their own intelligence, and ours also.

Alan, you and I, we agree on so many things. We really do. And I wouldn't condescend to describe your hope in the system as idealism. In fact, let me go further and say that more idealism is what this country needs. Less deal brokering and more principle would go a long way.

With that said, unlike you, I do think a far too large a group of citizens are dumb, either self-induced or just not up to the task. Another large group are too lazy to be involved. And I think the media, the candidates and in the interest groups that sponsor both are well aware that a little propaganda (or a lot) goes a lot further than some hard honesty. Can we really ignore the message of history and not say that in more than 50% of the cases, we elect people who all too accurately reflect our own moral problems and ethical challenges. At least 50% of our elected are filler. They look good on TV. They go to the right church. They've managed to keep their own skeletons better hidden than most of us. And perhaps it's the lust for power, not altruism, that motivates these politicians more often than not.

So while I envy your optimism, I don't see the political realities we live with changing. I wish it were enough that our elected officials could be honest with us, could be more open and candid. But if those same elected officials wish to stay in office they know that reality is only popular on networks shows. What American voters want is hyper-reality. They want an abstraction. They want ideal. No one, not a single person in this coutnry, I would put forth, believes that they would have really preferred to "have a beer with george bush" more than John Kerry. But it sounds good. It's easy to say and repeat and Kerry was as easy to skewer, for all the wrong reasons, as Al Gore was.

I know that my opinion of others speaks to how I view myself. While that reality makes it more painful, it doesn't make my view less accurate.

But enough of that. I really wanted to explore the idea of being a subversive photographer on a campaign. And then I thought about the idea and really, how subversive could one be? The first time you published something that was too real, too off topic, you'd be gone, right? I mean to say, I assume that unless one has behavior like that of a ninja, you're really just forced into doing what they want, aren't you? That's what you seemed to be saying above. So if that is the case, what's the next step? What are the cracks in the armor that might allow a little light to shine inside these campaigns and reflect back to us some information? Do those cracks exist?

Alan, thanks again for responding. I really enjoy seeing your work here. I look forward to seeing more. I hope we see more from you and through you.

I'm enjoying this discussion, and don't have much to add.

To me, Alan's photos of Obama don't give a different impression than the ones taken from the newswires. He seems likable and surrounded by people who are excited about him.

I doubt if any candidate thinks it would be better if the public saw the real person underneath. Real people make mistakes, get angry, say things they regret later, and sometimes don't look so attractive. Obama says lives were wasted in Iraq and has to go back and apologize for misspeaking. Howard Dean screams and, according to the conventional wisdom, that's the end of him. It's absurd... but I can't imagine having to watch your every word or facial expresssion like that.

Alan Chin, I think your work is great, but you impose your views on your subject matter. You say in your last post: "he or she should," "be judged accordingly," "We are not, and nor should," "I refuse to accept."

Therefore you are not sympathetic to the people you are photographing and therefore you are frustrated. As an artist, you should know this.

"Let the humanity rather than the pretense emerge." Hello? Pot calling kettle? Who are you to be so judgmental and demanding? Where do you get your sense of entitlement? As an artist, I mean. If you don't like them, don't vote for them.

Maybe the photographers in 1968 were more sympathetic to their subjects than you are.

I am very late to this thread, but I would be very curious to see some pictures that Alan Chin admires from the 1968 campaign. It might help educate my eye. Perhaps in a later thread.

It seems to me that 1968 was an unusual campaign year because--as Eric points out--there was so much passion in the electorate. That was the year that college students went "clean for Gene" and were clubbed on the head at the Democratic convention in Chicago. That was the year that Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assasinated, and Joe McGinnis wrote the best-selling "The selling of the President, 1968" about Richard Nixon's campaign. There were many unscripted moments that photographers could capture because the situation itself was turbulent. People were exposed.

Lessons learned in 1968: try to keep candidates alive--a good thing--and treat politics as a marketing campaign. But both forces lead to campaign scripting.

Other things that occurs to me is that the US has a significantly larger population since 1968: 200 Million people then versus 300 Million today. That means many more people to please and larger crowds and more TV stations, more photographers, more journalists, more of everything. Only the population of NH and Iowa have remained more or less the same! And in 1968 the US media still had multiple owners and independent media outlets, whereas today, as we all sadly know, five companies control nearly all the media.

I would be curious to know how it works now. How many photographers were present on the occasions when Alan Chin took these pictures? It seems to me that if too many photographers/journalists try to squeeze into a cafe to compete for the unscripted moment, what you have is chaos, not verite. I wonder if local stations/papers did most of the coverage in 1968 so the photographer to candidate ratio was closer to 1:1?

Finally, it occurs to me that we are very early in the campaign season. Too early perhaps. Ambitious candidates are out practicing their moves, but electorate interest is fairly low. At this stage, everything is scripted, but over time, as things heat up, more and more will be unscripted. Events on the ground will start to break message control. I think 2004 will be the last campaign when the media will allow Rove-style candidate marketing.

The thing that strikes me about these pictures of Hillary and Obama is that they look like they are practicing their roles. Alan Chin may be frustrated that it is so scripted, but I wonder if Hillary and Obama are not having the same frustration. I have to believe that Clinton and Obama would also like to have authentic conversations with the voters.

wawawa, very salient points indeed!

Of course on this blog I'm allowing myself to think aloud, I claim no more authority or wisdom on these matters than the next person, and I apologize if I come across as sanctimonious or full of myself. That defeats the purpose and legitimacy of anything I'm trying to accomplish, which, after all, is to get these pictures out there, and to get a conversation going.

I have to factor in my own innate cynicism, and the question of sympathy is an key one -- I'd like to comment on this: covering a campaign, any campaign, is a bit like embedding -- and any time you embed you give a measure of sympathy to the people you are covering. Along with that, however, is also the contrary impulse of rebellion, and to be instinctively against "the rules," because you want to maintain some distance, and not drink too much of the Kool-Aid. So this dynamic, ideally, results in some balance and fairness. And this is true for me regardless of how intrinsically I may be biased towards or against any particular candidate.

PTate, yes, most of the time there are at least five or six photographers, if not more, around (AP, Reuters, maybe a local newspaper or two, maybe Time or Newsweek, the NY Times, the Wash Post, maybe one or two agency photographers like myself). But most of the photographers are fairly experienced, and fairly polite and helpful both to each other and with the people "handling" them. It doesn't look like that because it's a pack of long lenses protruding and flashes popping, photographers on top of each other, but actually we try to be decent and not get too insane. Sometimes it's just a couple of us and of course that's a lot better...

...and it's true, when I think of RFK I am thinking of peak moments like when he gave the speech in Indianapolis the night the MLK was killed, moments so filled with drama and tension which we have not yet seen on this campaign. Although 3000+ American dead in Iraq is no small potatoes!

Alan, I find your photographs fascinating. I know it's a pain and I'm sure alot of the scripted campaigns came as a rusult of two things. The country has become alot more dangerous and the Reagan controlled campaign. Well, three: 24 hr. news.
I do like the one of Obama in the alley talking to the lady. Was it really scripted or a candidate trying to get a little breathing time?
You said in one of your posts that during the RFK campaign there was alot of hunger and yearning - I expect this is from the faces of the people. I do know there is that same feeling today. I listen to Washington Journal on cspan alot of people lately sound forlorn. Unhappy and wishing and hoping. Wanting to dream again. I see that in some of the people's faces of pictures I've seen but, It depends on the candidate. I see different looks in different campaign pictures.
alot of republican ones there is resignation and no happiness.
I see alot of upbeat and smiling faces in the Edwards ones.
I see alot of doubt and thinking and skeptical(?) maybe in the Hillary ones. Sometimes I see like the ladies being like at a get together trying to cheer on. I don't see excitement.
In the Obama ones I see the same thing I saw when I was in Springfield on the day of his announcement. Those cold faces. Alot of people struck me as excited and hopeful. And cold and red.
This woman in front of me (we were where we couldn't see him) and she weaved thru the crowd to catch a glimpse and came back thru. she was maybe in her 60s or 70s and I asked her if she saw him. she was in wonder and said yes. That look would have been wonderful for you to catch.

I forgot to ask you something. What are the candidates really like who you shoot? Are they so distant you don't know or somewhat nice to you? Just kinda curious what some of them are like. Grouchy? I bet tired.

The Bag's done a super setup on this one!

My first take on the top photo of Hillary was how did they get that intimate photo without her getting annoyed. LOL! When you study the B&W it becomes apparent that she is stationed there by her handlers, and one person per is allowed for 15 minutes of fame (or probably 15 seconds).

Again, what a difference between the color and B&W shots of Obama at the deli. It looks like "someone" has cropped out all the black faces for the color shot (no pun intended). Frankly, I prefer the B&W in both cases, but more on that later, maybe.

I sympathize with Alan and his difficulties at getting the shot. Years ago I went to some camera clubs and they were mostly (maybe still are) men of a certain age all trying to get a shot of the scantily clad model of the day. I called them gang bangs. It sounds like the campaign trail is a lot like that, just different models. It almost makes one wish for the days of campaigning from the caboose of a train moving through the countryside.

Alan mentioned the RFK campaign and I remember photos and video of him greeting people all the way to the shot that killed him. That is probably why things are so scripted today. Perhaps the politicians are afraid of the people. Eric said there was a desperateness then. I think there was still hope then. Now we have seen all our struggles on the left taken apart, no smashed to bits, by this (and previous) administrations. Isn't it possible that both the voter-citizens and the candidates are walking though the roles dictated by some formality of which we have now become aware and must play it to the end? Like actors in a Fellini film, we are unable to stop ourselves or to change our destiny.

Eric said: "...If 1968 is the gold standard of photography, 68 was the beginning of the end of unscripted politics." It was also the beginning of the end of the democratic party. It just never recovered. Kill one president, kill his campaigning brother, and voila', a silent coup. Jimmy Carter was just a hiccup. Clinton a republican in democratic clothes. And not a very good one.

Alan said: "Isn't the candidate better served by being seen as who they really are, what they really stand for?" I wonder if we had seen who GWB really is in 2000, would he have been able to steal the election? Of course, a good, well-meaning, intelligent candidate may be better served. But how many of them run for office? Remember when the FL supreme court ruled that the votes must be counted (in 2000), the cameras shone on GWB and his temper slipped thru his facade. Suddenly he was a 2-year-old stomping his foot in a tantrum and immediately covering up his emotion by that little smirk. Had we seen this in October, would he have gotten as many votes?

Would being subversive, perhaps, be shooting the people/crowds around the candidate, but not the candidate? Maybe I'm just a cynical old fart, but has it occurred to anyone else that Obama and Hillary may have cooked up this "rivalry" between them just to get some press for her and soften up his chances for later?

Et, MonsierGonzo, you have given me something to think about, as always.

BTW, been having computer problems; trying to post for 10 days.........hope it's fixed now....

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