Riding with Obama – A Final Look Back
Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed has been traveling with the campaign of Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Barack Obama. He and his colleague Brian Snyder traveling with the McCain campaign have been posting daily photographers blog entries sharing their experiences and favorite pictures of the day from their campaign coverage.
In the past year and a half I have been priviledged to have a front row seat to American political history – on a personal journey as a Reuters photographer on the road to the White House with Barack Obama.
In the first 24 hours that we have all had a chance to absorb the historic election of Democratic Senator Barack Obama to become the 44th president of the United States, I have finally had time to catch my breath after an incredible 21-month journey photographing his unlikely rise on the political world stage, alongside my Reuters photographer colleagues. From the very earliest beginnings of his campaign, at his announcement speech on those frozen steps of the State House in Springfield, Illinois to the grand stage in Chicago’s Grant Park where he delivered his victory speech last night, I feel incredibly privileged to have gone along for the ride and witnessed one of the great ascensions to the U.S. presidency in history.
Of all of those who aspired to the highest office in the land, from the early days when we chased many Republican and Democratic candidates from coffee shop photo-ops to town halls across the state of Iowa, it always seemed to me as a photographer that it was Barack Obama who stood out from the crowd. This was not at all just because of the color of his skin, although the press has made much of his race as the first African-American candidate to go all the way to the White House. When I was taking pictures, it was in observing his quiet grace, the way he engages people from all walks of life and of course his famous ability to crystallize into words the hopes and aspirations of millions through his campaign for ‘change’. The reactions he evokes from his followers and supporters are like no other recent candidate’s I have seen. I have tried to convey this through my pictures on the wire.
On the eve of the election on Monday night, the very day that he had just lost his grandmother to cancer and on the back of his final grueling campaign push through Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in one day, Senator Obama walked to the back of his plane en route to Chicago and personally thanked every one his staff and then the independent traveling press corps for their hard work during the collectively long journey to election day. I thought that showed a lot of character and class. The long, arduous road to Washington appeared to have taken its toll on Obama himself just an hour before our encounter with him on the flight, as he showed a rare display of emotion and broke down in a few tears as he mentioned the death of his grandmother while addressing one of his final campaign rallies.
We have made many classic images of Obama at campaign rallies which, with the help of the campaign prop department and lots of red, white and blue flags, show Obama looking presidential as he speaks at the podium.
But among my favorite pictures are those that show the human side of the story, the faces of the people who waited up to six or seven hours to watch Obama walk onto the stage and chart a path for the country over the next four years. Often, I would come across people from all walks of life who appeared mesmerized by Obama’s words as he addressed rallies, spoke in Union Halls and bumped into people on the street.
It has been once-in-a-lifetime experience documenting the presidential campaign of Senator Obama, but while it’s easy to think that the road to the White House has been covered and it’s all over, the focus is now on the coming transition period until he is sworn-in to office on January 20, 2009 and then the critical first 100 days of his new administration. The American people and the world will be waiting to see how or if Obama can start delivering the change that they put him into office to create. He now has to prove that he can live up to the lofty expectations of an American public weary of a floundering economy, a war in two countries and other political strife. Reuters photographers will be there every step of the way to record the key moments as history continues to unfold before our eyes and our cameras.