Posted in Industry Insights

For photographers on campaign trail, a search for ‘unscripted moments’ and access to candidates

, by Lauren Easton

Ahead of Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Virginia, presidential campaign photography was the issue in question.

Santiago Lyon, AP vice president and director of photography, and AP staff photographer David Goldman led a lunchtime discussion about access to the candidates, the impact of tech developments and the role of photojournalism. The conversation, moderated by Longwood Chief of Staff Justin Pope, was scheduled in connection with an ongoing AP photo exhibit at the nearby Longwood Center for the Visual Arts.

From left, AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon, AP photographer David Goldman, Longwood Assistant Professor Mike Mergen and university Chief of Staff Justin Pope discuss campaign photography at the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts in Farmville, Virginia, Oct. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The photojournalists agreed that access is more elusive than ever.

“Especially in this campaign you are very restricted, you’re kept very far back. It’s unfortunate,” said Goldman, highlighting the striking differences between covering campaigns past and present. “There was no separation. You could get in there and shoot over somebody’s shoulder and shoot right next to them. It was amazing. That kind of access is long gone.”

He added: “The connection between the candidates and the people was just so much more visible and it’s very hard to find that today.”

This 1979 image of President Jimmy Carter during his re-election drive in Bardstown, Kentucky, is held up as an example of access to the candidates rarely seen anymore. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty)

“I think it’s fair to say that access under the Obama administration has been less forthcoming than any president in the last 15 or 20 or even 25 years, which is very surprising,” Lyon said. “But one of the reasons for that is this administration and other officials realize they don’t need the media as much as they used to and they can reach the public directly.”

Lyon continued: “It’s a critical issue. If information is controlled entirely by the protagonists of the stories, well then how do you know what’s really going on? If everything is being prepared and sanitized and presented in a rosy way, wither journalism, wither holding our public officials accountable.”

In addition, advances in digital photography have created an abundance of images, essentially changing the role of photojournalists.

“They’re not just photographers but they are, in fact, publishers in the sense that they are the ones selecting the imagery and starting the process by which it reaches the general public,” Lyon said. “And for that, what’s important is diversity. Diversity of content.”

“You’re trying to make intimate photos and you’re trying to find moments, unscripted moments, which are very, very hard to come by,” said Goldman. “Your job is to sort of convey to the people who aren’t there what it feels like to be there, and that’s the challenge. You have to do that through a picture.”

Social media is also changing the game.

“People are engaging with images for just a second or two,” Lyon said. “The mystery that the media industry is trying to figure out right now is, ‘How do we make sense out of all this and how do we remain viable?’ And for the consumer it’s, ‘How do I make sense out of all this? How do I know what to look at?’”

The AP exhibit of campaign images, “Citizens and Leaders,” will be on display at the Longwood museum through Oct. 16.

Watch Santiago Lyon discuss the challenge of creating iconic photographs in the digital age below: