OF PICTURES AND POLITICIANS

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With a Chinese lion looking on, Liberal leadership candidate Paul Martin plays cymbals with the White Eyebrow Martial Arts Club drum group in Calgary. Grant Black / The Calgary Herald

It should come as no surprise that the new president of the United States asked television technicians to replay his interviews without the sound.

Why would Donald Trump do that? My guess is that he knows the powerful impression images make with viewers – impressions that trump anything he said in the interview. And he’s acting. Practicing to perfect the gestures and expressions of his lofty office.

Savvy politicians know that voters don’t vote with their heads. They vote with their hearts. Emotions over facts. Images – still or moving – speak directly to the viewer.

Remember the picture of Stephen Harper wearing a misshapen cowboy had and a too-small leather vest during The Calgary Stampede a decade ago? Nobody remembers what the prime minister said that day. The photo, by my former Calgary Herald colleague Mikael Kjellstrom, shows a nerdy Harper looking decidedly uncomfortable. You can see it at http://www.mikaelkjellstrom.com/photojournalism/stephen-harper-photographer-mikael-kjellstrom-10_4_48.html  That photo, and others, show Harper as tense, awkward and shy.

Contrast that to pictures by White House Photographer Pete Souza. His favourite photos of 2016 of President Barack Obama, at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/31/barack-obamas-2016-year-photos-pete-souza/  show a loving family man, comfortable with children, colleagues and heads of state, yet serious about the serious business of running a country. He’s genuine.

Smart politicians are hiring photojournalists to make real, honest and spontaneous photographs of them on the job. Calgary photojournalist Chris Bolin worked for Danielle Smith and the Wild Rose Party, documenting the photogenic and media savvy former newspaper columnist during her brief time leading the party. He continues to work for the party, covering leader Brian Jean.

Recently, former Globe and Mail photojournalist John Lehmann left the paper to freelance. The B.C. Liberal party is one of his main clients where he covers premier Christy Clark. His loss to the newspaper business is her gain. Justin Trudeau’s photographer Adam Scotti was featured in a Globe and Mail story recently and has very close access to the PM. You can see his pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adamscotti/

Critics claim that this represents the victory of style over substance. They are wrong. Photographs use a different language. Pictures use the language of light and moment, expression and composition to speak. Yes, the concern remains that photojournalists working for politicians won’t release unflattering pictures. But look at a few of the thousands pictures of Obama posted to flickr.com and you can’t help but get a good feel for his personality.

 

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Paul Martin Senior. Grant Black / The Windsor Star

Many years ago I saw Paul Martin, the elder statesman of Windsor politicians on the periphery of a press conference. Martin had been a Windsor lawyer, MP, cabinet minister and Canada’s High Commissioner to Great Britain. In his retirement he was working on his memoirs, but often attended events in the community.

He stood in strong, contrasty light. Imposing, dignified, a lion in winter. I changed to a telephoto lens, snapped the picture without him knowing. The Windsor Star archived the photo and published it the day he died.

 

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Paul Martin Junior plays a drum. Grant Black /  The Calgary Herald

Fast forward over 25 years and I’m covering his son, Paul Jr. in Calgary, campaigning at the Chinese Cultural Centre. It’s routine. He’s shanking hands and chatting with people, he makes a brief speech. There are about a dozen reporters, TV cameramen and a couple of other photographers. The reporters need their quotes, so his handlers announce a scrum in another room and everybody leaves.

I stay with the candidate. The White Eyebrow Martial Arts Club drum group starts to play, Martin climbs on the stage and joins them, playing a drum and cymbals with gritty determination. He’s having fun, taking a break from the routine of the campaign trail, enjoying himself with supporters. Showing his real self, being genuine.

You can see more of my work at www.grantblackphoto.ca

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3 thoughts on “OF PICTURES AND POLITICIANS

  1. Grant, as political junkies and people watchers, a picture’s worth a thousand words and captures the personality of leaders. Some of my prize possessions
    are the photo journals from my tenure at SickKids. Thanks for sharing this insightful and fascinating blog and for showcasing your talents and the talents of your colleagues.

    Be well. Mary Jo

  2. Grant, Thanks for the commentary. One pix I remember was the shot of a then-candidate missing a football pass on the tarmac by the campaign plane. I think it cost him the election. Can’t remember the candidate or the photographer, but remember the picture clearly.

    I think that proves your point. best, jcp

    • Hi John …. that picture was of Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield, who has been called the best prime minister that Canada never had. Canadian Press photographer Doug Ball made the shot, handed the film off and didn’t see the fumble picture until it ran the next day on the front page of the Globe. It undoubtedly changed the outcome of the election.

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