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For years, TIME has created some of the most memorable campaign photography, from veteran political photographer Diana Walker’s coverage of five administrations to Christopher Morris’s eight years with President G.W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2008, the tradition continued with Callie Shell’s intimate documentation of Barack Obama’s campaign and eventual presidency.

This season, we looked for ways to continue the legacy of TIME’s political coverage during the 2012 elections — to jump start the traditional approaches to covering campaigns that are moving further and faster from the familiar political cycles of the past decade. We looked to commission photographers with fresh perspectives who could re-envision the spectrum of American politics.

The candidates kicked off their campaigns in Iowa, so we sent Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjork, known for his work photographing the ironic and often-absurd landscapes of suburbia, to document the caucuses. His first time covering American politics, Tunbjork photographed the strangeness of these early events in the frozen Iowa landscape.

We continued by commissioning work by Ricardo Cases, Lauren Fleishman, Justin Maxon, Brendan Hoffman, Lauren Lancaster and Peter van Agtmael — selecting each of them for their different visions as photographers. And each returned with photographs that reflected a diverse visual vocabulary looking beyond the political staging.

We also encouraged veteran political photographers like Christopher Morris, Brooks Kraft, Callie Shell, Andrew Cutraro and Danny Wilcox Frazier to experiment with their coverage. While on assignment, all noted how different the political landscape felt visually since the last election. After Obama’s first 100 days in office, the White House dramatically cut down on photographers’ access to the President, instead releasing images by Pete Souza on their own Flickr page.

The Romney campaign also carefully controlled photographers’ access this election, allowing very little intimacy with the candidate until the final weeks of the campaign, and then only rotating the traveling pool behind the scenes.

In the same way an undecided voter tries to see behind the political facade to judge the true character of the candidate they’ll vote for, our photographers too worked relentlessly to break down the constructed photo-ops and reveal to our readers a sliver of their personality.

The media dissected the Republican candidates one by one before a frontrunner finally emerged. As Mitt Romney became the GOP  frontrunner, we turned to photographers who could capture the candidate’s personal side. Lauren Fleishman documented him (along with running-mate Paul Ryan) for weeks on end, through ten different states. Fleishman’s photographs reflect the nuances of the conservative values shared by he and his wife, Ann.

As Obama started to step up his campaigning, we assigned Callie Shell to follow the President. Documenting his travels the week before the DNC, Shell showed readers a side to the President that had felt absent for a long time. A warm photo of Obama leaning against a high-school gymnasium’s wall before a rally made the cover of our magazine at the DNC the following week.

We’ve attempted to present readers with photographs that document a very specific time in our country’s history—a time where we face numerous worries and frustrations about America’s political future. Although this election may reveal how radically divided we are as a nation, the future will be the ultimate judge of how important this time of recovery continues to be. We hope to provide the lasting record.

Paul Moakley is the Deputy Photo Editor at TIME. 

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In the summer of 1964, Arthur Tress, a world traveler at all of 23 years old, took a bus from Mexico to San Francisco to visit his sister Madeleine. Tress’ journey had taken him from Paris to Egypt, where the young photographer shot images of a country evolving under former President Gamal Nasser. “I began thinking of it intellectually as a visual anthropology,” Tress told TIME, “to try and hint at the different layers of culture that were existing simultaneously.”

Tress took this same approach with him to San Francisco, trying to create a collection of images that would reflect the old and new aspects of the city. “I was thinking as a kind of amalgam, all these little bits and pieces, almost as if you’re making a collage—a symphony of the city,” he says.

The summer of 1964, it turned out, was a fascinating time in San Francisco. The beatniks had left; it would be three years before the Summer of Love would come to the City by the Bay. The country was still reeling from the Kennedy assassination, and Tress arrived just in time for the 1964 Republican Convention, where Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was transforming the conservative movement. In August, The Beatles returned to the U.S. for their second American tour, and San Francisco saw its first Civil Rights marches, challenging the status quo. “I didn’t photograph the demonstrations so much as the people watching the demonstrations,” Tress says. “They were kind of frozen in this very beautiful Northern California, light. Almost like a stage set. I was focused on different kinds of people—more liberal; more conservative; different classes of people in one photograph.”

The images Tress made that summer went on display in California and Mexico, but were then largely forgotten. He went on to garner acclaim for his staged surrealism, showing collections at museums such as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of Art, as well as the Center for Contemporary Photography in Chicago and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. When Madeleine died in 2009, Tress found the cache of prints from his youthful summer among her possessions. The collection, Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964, will be shown at the Fisher Family Gallery of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from March 3 to June 3, 2012, and James A. Ganz, curator of the Meuseums’ Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts has published a book of Tress’ prints along with an interview with the photographer.

The photographer says that the viewer can see a youthful Tress, “trying to go beyond mere photojournalism and make a larger statement about changing American values and culture” in the images. He certainly succeeded, capturing history as it moved across fault lines during one summer in San Francisco.

Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 is on view at the Fisher Family Gallery of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco from March 3 to June 3, 2012.

Nate Rawlings is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @naterawlings.

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This month tensions between Iran and the West escalated in a standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. The death toll rose in bloodshed touched off by protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Meanwhile in the U.S., Republican candidates faced off on the campaign trail and in a series of primaries as the GOP convention inched nearer.

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Spanish photographer Ricardo Cases is known for his signature bright colors—colors that were on vivid display in his most recent book, Paloma Al Aire, which captures the traditions of pigeon racing. This week, TIME asked Cases to turn his eye to a different kind of sport: politics.

The photographer traveled to Florida to cover Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary, which Mitt Romney easily won. Although Cases had never photographed American politics before, he said he found the atmosphere one that was well suited for his photographic process.

“Florida has everything I need to work: color, color, color, good weather and all the consequences of these four factors in the development of the society,” he said in an email to TIME.

Cases was not very familiar with the topic he was sent to shoot, but he didn’t need to do much preparation to capture these vibrant images of candidate former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the voters he hoped to persuade, as well as events for Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. In fact, Cases said he rarely does much preparation for a shoot, preferring to rely on randomness as a catalyst for his pictures. “What stimulates me is the freshness of the first encounter with a new place, with a new people,” he said. “I think that chance is a great tool for a photographer.”

And now that he’s experienced that moment with birds and politicians alike, what’s his take-away for the future?

“It’s easier to work with politicians,” he said, “because they can’t fly.”

Ricardo Cases is a Spanish photographer. See more of his work here.

Interview with Ricardo Cases translated by Javier Sirvent.

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