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Lauren Fleishman

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If 2011 was a year of simple, powerful narratives — of revolution and sweeping change — 2012 was when things got a lot more complicated.

The aftermath of the Arab Spring’s upheavals saw uneasy transitions toward democracy. The exhilaration of freedom dissolved in the face of new struggles and contests for power: in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, the streets are once again filled with protesters angry over the advent of religious radicalism, the return of authoritarianism and the unemployment and tough economic conditions that remain. In Syria, peaceful demonstrations in 2011 morphed into a bitter, bloody civil war that has claimed over 40,000 lives and rages on. Hostilities between Israel and its adversaries in the occupied territories were once more renewed as the peace process collapsed and the road map to a two-state solution looked to have been crumpled up and tossed away. And in the U.S., a seemingly endless, costly election cycle served only to restore the status quo: the re-elected President Obama faces many of the same challenges and obstacles he did before Nov. 6.

Throughout 2012, TIME’s unparalleled photojournalists were there. We stood within the tumult of Tahrir Square and shared moments of quiet with the world’s most powerful President. We documented both the ravages of war on Syria’s blasted cities and the devastation nature wrought on our own backyard in the Northeast. At a time when so much hangs in the balance, bearing witness can be the most essential act — and that’s what we do.

Ishaan Tharoor

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Election Day is going to come quicker than you know.

Long the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney has been gradually building momentum towards Nov. 6 since clinching the party nomination on May 29. Now, in the throes of virtually non-stop tours around the U.S. with running mate Paul Ryan, Romney moves to the next stage of his campaign next Monday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. 

Photographer Lauren Fleishman has watched Romney’s campaign evolve since she first began covering the former Massachusetts governor for TIME. Traveling with him through more than ten states since March, Fleishman became aware of how the Romney-Ryan team began to pull out the stops as the Republican National Convention loomed closer on the horizon.

This past week, as the Romney motorcade raced through Boston, New Orleans and Long Island, N.Y., TIME was granted some rare moments of behind-the-scenes access, as Fleishman tagged along with him at work on the campaign plane, and at a private luncheon with supporters.

(See more: Paul Ryan’s Life and Career in Photos)

The Romney camp, eager to reach crucial members of their party before the 2012 convention, had ratcheted up their game. Campaign events seemed grander; crowds swelled in front of more-energized-than-ever candidates. And, in as controlled an environment as the modern political campaign allows, Romney exuded a new spirit—that of Paul Ryan.

“Now that he has a running mate, the crowd gets really excited—it feels like almost twice the energy,” Fleishman said.

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City. See her previous coverage of Romney on Super Tuesday here.

Related: The Rich History of Mitt Romney

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In the days leading up to yesterday’s Super Tuesday primary contests, Republican candidate Mitt Romney set his sights on Ohio, a swing state that has played a crucial role in recent presidential elections. Photographer Lauren Fleishman, who was photographing the candidate for TIME, did the same.

“I have been here before. It’s what I remember,” she says of the state, where she previously spent time working on an extensive personal project about the Amish. “The landscape still looks the same.” And, although the photographer was focused on a different kind of Ohioan this time around, she found that, while Romney was the star of the scene, the people of Ohio were still the highlight of the trip.

Photo opportunities with Romney were highly controlled—something that Justin Maxon, who was also photographing Super Tuesday for TIME, found to be equally true for Rick Santorum’s campaign. It was especially so after when Fleishman left her car to join the official campaign bus. The increase in access, the backstage passes, was paid for in limitations on where and when the photographer could stand and shoot. Taking those photographs was an artistic and technical challenge—how to make a good picture when you can’t get close enough?—but Fleishman found that the people who turned up to see the candidate were the real source of interest.

For example, at a factory in Canton, Ohio, on Monday, Fleishman turned her camera to the workers. “They were in their work outfits, which is just jumpers and construction hats, because they went to work on a Monday and a lot of them, I was told, didn’t even know that there was going to be something going on,” she says. “For me the most exciting thing is getting to see the people from each town come out, and to speak to them and to see their faces.”

From Dayton to Youngstown, each town had its own character—and each town had its own characters. Each campaign event presented the photographer with one group of people that made up one piece of Ohio. As the campaign bus traveled through the state, the photographer was able to put those pieces together, many portraits of people becoming a portrait of a state. And yesterday, anticipating leaving the state to join Romney as he waited for the day’s results in Boston, Fleishman hoped that her photographs from Ohio would show the state itself as a part of a larger puzzle.

“You get these little glimpses into different towns,” she says. “I want the photographs in some way to show a portrait of America through the candidate.”

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City. See more of her work here and her last post on LightBox here

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When Lauren Fleishman’s grandfather passed away, the photographer found a book next to his bed filled with dates of birthdays and anniversaries. Tucked within its pages was a love letter he had written to her grandmother during World War II.

“I read the letter and thought about the importance of histories,” Fleishman says. “I wanted to work on a project where I could almost save these histories.” Three years ago, she began photographing couples who have been married for more than five decades, and has recently started a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter that’s designed to bring the project to an end. Fleishman says she’ll feel done when she shoots as many portraits as she can, and that the project will evolve into a book.

Although Fleishman’s background is as a photographer, she taught herself how to conduct an interview in order to also record oral histories of those she photographs—couples she meets at supermarkets, on the street and through their grandchildren. It was the first time she had interacted with her subjects so extensively, erasing the usual boundary between photographer and reporter, and she says the in-depth working process has been both rewarding and necessary to her archival goal.

“I tell the couples, ‘I’m taking the photograph but you are writing your love story,’” she says. “And a lot of the things that they’re talking about, I get the impression that they haven’t thought of these things in years.” After 50 or more years of marriage, a first date can be a hazy recollection—but Fleishman has found that the process of remembering can bring out a deep tenderness between spouses, a visible expression of love that she can then capture on film.

She limits herself to two medium-format rolls per couple, forcing herself to wait for those instances of intimacy. It’s a skill she says is related to her work as a documentary-style photographer, where her subjects did not pose. Within the confines of traditional portraiture, the spontaneous moment may be smaller—“like the way that a wife will touch her husband’s face,” she says, “or the way that they’ll kiss”—but the moment comes nonetheless.

The twin acts of remembrance and preservation, the interaction of which allows her to capture emotion, are key in helping Fleishman make good on her original intent of saving romantic histories. With such long-term couples as subjects, it’s not surprising that some of the individuals in her portraits have died since she met them, lending another level of significance to their images and voices. “The best thing for me is to get phone calls and letters from the spouses who are still alive, thanking me for recording them,” Fleishman says. “It’s a document.”

It’s also a lesson for lovers of all ages. Fleishman says that when she began the project, she was looking for the secret that these couples all seemed to know, the most important rule for a lasting relationship—but now she thinks that secret doesn’t exist. “I thought that there would be one common thread that kept them all together all these years,” she says. “There really isn’t. Everybody is just so different.”

Lauren Fleishman is an award-winning photographer based in New York City. To learn more about Love Ever After and donate to her project, visit her Kickstarter page here.

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