Photographers' Blog

Riding with Obama – Trick or Treat

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day November 4. He and his colleague Brian Snyder traveling with the McCain campaign are posting daily photographers blog entries sharing their experiences and favorite pictures of the day from their campaign coverage.

TRICK OR TREAT! – Obama brings Halloween home.
Following a Halloween pumpkin shopping spree in Florida on Thursday (previous blog entry), U.S. Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama brought it home on Friday to celebrate Halloween with the family in Chicago. After carrying his pumpkin off the plane, Obama was soon spotted walking down the street in his neighbourhood, with his 7-year-old daughter Sasha in her ‘corpse bride’ outfit, as they went to visit with neighbors at a Halloween party.

The Obama ‘protective travel pool’, introduced only in recent months, now travels everywhere with the presidential nominee, a tight group of journalists, photographers and a television crew – with one spot being reserved for a Reuters News Pictures still photographer. The protective pool, similar to that of the U.S. president as part of the White House coverage, is in place in the event of news occurring that would require a presence of the media to record it, such as a presidential or candidate statement on an overseas crisis, or after all of the past attacks on U.S. presidents and U.S. presidential candidates, an attempt by someone to harm the candidate. For the most part however, it is just an exercise in endless patience.

Participation in the protective pool requires hours of patiently waiting for any chance of news and always requires an extremely early morning wake up time, even when the only thing to cover is the senator traveling one mile from his hotel to a local gym in the wee hours of the morning for a workout before starting his official engagements for the day. As with some recreational presidential movements in the Bush administration, Obama gym trips are “off the record” and not something we can photograph, a rule ordained by this particular campaign. We are there just ‘in case’ a newsworthy event or occurrence develops to cover that is not planned. If something truly striking or newsworthy other than him just walking in and out of a gymnasium occurs we will certainly photograph it and have pictures of it on the wire within minutes regardless of the “off the record” rule.

Another example of this protective coverage that rarely produces newsworthy pictures is when the president (or in this case the senator) goes out to a dinner at a restaurant or private home and the White House or presidential campaign media pool sit in a van outside for hours at night while our subject is inside enjoying his meal. A good suggestion for those wanting to experience this hurry-up-and-wait existence – be sure to bring an iPod and/or a good book!
Not expecting to see Senator Obama during his few precious hours at home with his family for Halloween on Friday, which is a much needed break from his busy campaigning in the remaining days of this election, the protective pool stood by just down the street from his house, now a miniature fortress of U.S. Secret Service roadblocks and fences in an upscale Chicago neighbourhood. As Halloween night unfolded, cute little kids started wandering around the streets with their parents, knocking on doors and seeking candy and chocolates from generous neighbours. In a departure from the norm of kids dressed as ghouls and witches, we couldn’t believe our luck when a boy came on the scene, dressed as none other than Barack Obama. Bored and looking for something to do, some local press and the Obama press travel pool pounced on the chance to ‘interview’ the boy, who took it all in his stride and asked people ‘Can I count on your vote?’

Riding with Obama – Halloween – Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere!

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day November 4. He and his colleague Brian Snyder traveling with the McCain campaign are posting daily photographers blog entries sharing their experiences and favorite pictures of the day from their campaign coverage.

Pumpkins, pumpkins everywhere! It’s Halloween on the Obama presidential campaign trail.

One of the quirkiest American traditions I know, which, as a child growing up in Australia I didn’t really experience and therefore still find a little hard to understand what it’s all about, is Halloween. A custom brought over to the United States in some version by Irish immigrants in the 1800′s, Halloween had its origins in a Celtic end-of-harvest festival celebrated by pagans, and in its modern form invokes ghoulish-themed activities such as trick-or-treating, ghost tours and the carving of jack-o’-lanterns from giant pumpkins.
Every four years the paths of Halloween traditions and the U.S. Presidential election collide and so it played out once again in front of the cameras Thursday, during our travels with Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama in Florida. Following a campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, we passed by the United Methodist Church’s pumpkin patch and stopped by for Obama to buy a couple of pumpkins.

Riding with Obama – Bill Clinton

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day.

Bill Clinton finally stands on the same stage with and endorses Barack Obama in the flesh – just days before election day.

Once a political foe of Barack Obama as the former president actively and energetically embraced the presidential primary campaign of his wife, Hillary Clinton, it was only a matter of time before former President Bill Clinton had to rally in person behind the Democratic party’s presidential nominee, Barack Obama.

Riding with Obama

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day.

The hardships that fervent supporters of political candidates go through to catch a glimpse of their man in public are sometimes amazing. In blustery rain, bordering on freezing sleet in the Pennsylvania college town of Chester, thousands gathered from the dawn hours to score a prime position in the front row of an outdoor rally with Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama at Widener University. The conditions were so poor that in a gesture of compassion, Obama brought the event forward by about an hour so that the poor soaked and freezing souls could shorten their waiting time to hear his stump speech.




To protect our cameras from the conditions, a couple of plastic hotel laundry bags and some duct tape were employed as makeshift rain covers for our gear. Even though I go into covering all the events as if they were my last, I remember that no picture is worth a drowned camera which no longer functions! Without working equipment,  a photographer is relegated to being just a spectator to history.

Riding with Obama: Backstage

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day.

It is on extremely rare occasions that individual wire service photographers get exclusive behind the scenes access with the U.S. presidential candidates for even just a few moments during the 2008 campaign. When we do it represents a fleeting chance to grab a few unguarded moments where the candidates are more relaxed and less wary of scrutiny away from the glare of the lights and the constant presence of dozens of intrusive cameras and microphones. When you cover the same man, day in and day out, with most of the time spent jostling with dozens of other photographers to get essentially the same shots from the same positions, any chance to get a few exclusive unguarded moments with just the candidate and yourself is a huge bonus.

Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama backstage before a campaign appearance in Pittsburgh, October 27, 2008.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

One of those rare opportunities occurred Monday night as I requested and was granted access backstage and behind the scenes with the Democratic Presidential nominee, Senator Barack Obama before a campaign rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Riding with Obama

Reuters Washington staff photographer Jason Reed is traveling with the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama through election day. It was almost four years ago when I took my first picture of a mostly unknown newly elected freshman U.S. Senator from the State of Illinois, an up-and-coming figure who now, in just a few short years has gone from political obscurity to possibly becoming the next ‘leader of the free world’. It was the first week of January 2005 and George W. Bush had just been reelected to his second term as U.S. president. I was sent to Capitol Hill to photograph all of the new U.S. senators being ceremonially sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney. Before I headed up to the hill the editor giving me the assignment told me to be sure to shoot and transmit pictures of an up-and-coming Democratic star being sworn in that day who I had never heard of before. His name: Barack Obama. Senator Obama stood out that day. He was being sworn in as the only African American in the 100 member U.S. Senate and only the fifth African American senator in U.S. history. In the couple of years after that I saw and covered Senator Obama sporadically, as he questioned appointees at Bush administration confirmation hearings, appeared with actor George Clooney to talk about Darfur at the National Press Club and joked around with Republican Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) before the start of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Iraq. On an arctic-chilled day in February 2007 I photographed Senator Obama as he announced the start of his candidacy for and campaign to become the President of the United States on the steps of the Illinois state Capitol building. I then traveled on to Iowa with the Senator as he started to lay the groundwork for his historic primary win there that would take place almost a year later. Now, going into the final week of the election, I have lost count of the days, weeks and months that I have traveled on the Obama campaign plane, following the Senator’s every move. The campaign has been transformed from humble beginnings, listening to the heartbeat of American voters in coffee shops across the country, where the campaign had a more grassroots feel, to the general election campaign of the Democratic Party’s nominee for President. Obama now travels in motorcades everywhere, has a campaign plane of his own, complete with a large team of Secret Service agents and a growing traveling press corps, and now can draw crowds of up to 100,000 people at his campaign rallies. The eyes of the world are now on Senator Obama and his rival, Republican John McCain. With Obama alone, there are at least 12 photographers from the news wires, newspapers and magazines now crammed into the back of his plane, competing for the best images from each and every event as he travels from coast to coast, pushing for every last vote that he can win.

My favorite picture from the past 24 hours was a general view of Obama as he arrived at a rally in Denver, Colorado, where the largest crowd ever assembled for one of his rallies had gathered to see him. An independent count from a police chief in Denver had over 100,000 people at the downtown rally. From the moment our bus rolled up we were all impressed by the size of the crowd and the scope of this event, and the photographers all set out to find an angle that would produce a telling moment and image that captured the event. This picture is a simple overall composition that easily shows the scale of the event.

McCain moment


The third and final debate between the 2008 U.S. presidential nominees had just ended. Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama and Republican nominee Senator John McCain had just shaken hands moments before and turned away from each other, when Senator McCain suddenly lunged forward with his hands out in front of him and stuck out his tongue.

It appeared to me that McCain was reacting to moderator Bob Schieffer informing him that he was headed the wrong way off the stage, that he was not supposed to be following Senator Obama, but was supposed to be heading towards his own wife and family around the other side of the table.

In any case, when I saw McCain lunge and his hands start to come up I hit the shutter and made two frames before it was over. Some other photographers who were there expressed surprise when they saw my picture and said they had never seen it happen at all and asked when it had occurred. When I saw the television tape of it later on the news I too was surprised at how momentary and fast the move by Senator McCain was. Strangely enough Senator McCain again stuck his tongue out in a similar way 3-4 minutes later while standing between his wife Cindy and Senator Obama at the front of the stage, a moment captured by my colleague Shannon Stapleton and other wire service photographers in attendance and once again shown on national and international television.

There is always one (but in this case two)… Part two

It didn’t take long this time to find a photograph that leapt off the screen. I had intended to select the one image from the Reuters daily file that knocks your socks off. The problem is I found two!

Of course Barack Obama’s speech at the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park in Berlin has to be a contender, for the subject matter if nothing else. But subject matter is not enough. Jim Young’s picture does the trick. It is not the conventional shot of a politician talking from a dais. The composition is pleasing on the eye; it contains, in a very simple way, all the elements necessary for a news picture and, despite the fact it is almost a silhouette, the figure of the U.S. presidential candidate is unmistakable.


The other photograph is an absolute winner, and much more of a silhouette. Of course animal pictures are always popular, but Radu Sigheti’s picture of a giraffe in Kenya, with birds sitting on it’s neck, is just a very simple and elegant image that speaks for itself.

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