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

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.

The “Western White House”

Crawford1

Every year since he took office in 2001, President George W. Bush has taken a summer vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, a small town that has come to identify itself as the “Western White House.” This year was different, though. Only once during his 13-day vacation in Crawford did Bush appear before the news media and only once did he use Texas as a base to make a daytrip. The president was rarely seen, even though his name and face is everywhere in town. Crawford brimmed with White House personnel, Secret Service agents and members of the media even as Bush remained out of sight.

Crawford2

It made me think, what will it be like for Crawford when Bush leaves office next year and life returns to some sense of normal?

I took the opportunity to explore the town a little bit, as it was only my second visit. I did, in fact, find images of the president everywhere — in life-sized cardboard cutouts, hot sauce bottles, coasters, mugs and glasses. There were even bobble head dolls, paper dolls and action figures. I found a town that was very proud to have Bush as their neighbor, but a little tired of the traveling circus that comes with him. I was told that the mayor never gives interviews and the manager of the local coffee shop didn’t want to talk to me either.