Photographers' Blog

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.

Sometimes the most simple images are the most effective in telling the story.

The “Western White House”

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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.

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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.