Political Campaign Photography 3

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By the same token there are characteristic moments in the work of the candidate that will best lend themselves to picturing the political campaign.  Certain events take on heightened significance, assuming ultra-representational status.  Candidates address (potential) voters, from platforms or stages, set higher than the audience.  The candidates stand at microphones or at lecterns.  They also shake hands with the citizenry, converse one on one, and occasionally even listen to voters’ personal concerns in intimate conversations.  In almost all of these circumstances what’s most important is that the photographer is being charged with the difficult work of making visible the act of speech.  Candidates talk.  That’s the active part.  The fact that they are also frequently required to listen to voters will occasionally figure in the imagery of the campaign but candidates, their staff, and the media alike all tend to favor the active voice rather than the passive one. Political campaigns are about verbal exchanges with citizens.  Typically the more heated that exchange, the more likely this will be the image that appears in the morning paper or (as would be the case today) wind up posted online.

In some cases political campaign photographers will try to demonstrate the quality or character of that speech between candidate and voter.  It may be pictured as a one-way monologue boring the yawning listener, or as a rousing call to action that has the audience on their feet in excitement.  In either event the photographer is trying to show the effect of the candidate’s speech on the audience.  Just as often a photographer will attempt to capture the intensity or the passion of the candidate – shown pointing an accusing finger, or making exclamatory emphasis with their hands, or furrowing a determined brow.

Even in 1952, in the small state of New Hampshire, no presidential candidate was going to shake the hand of every voter, nor address all of its citizens.  Campaigns are, in fact, larger than the candidate, requiring the work of minions, seconds, staff, officials, factotums, and volunteers.  Presidential campaigns have to marshal scores, if not hundreds of people to wage a serious candidacy in New Hampshire.  Each of these field workers is a representative of the candidate and a liaison with the population.  This is the complexity of political campaigning that doesn’t often make it into the photojournalism that documents it.