Given the pandemic, and the lack of field work, this has been an interesting rummage of a year. An opportunity, as a photog, to dive into the archive of what you have created in the past, seeing as you are not so busy creating in the contemporary.
It’s a random life, this photog excursion. You take bounces, handle curve balls, rebound from setbacks, keep trying to accelerate your skills and create opportunities to use those skills. And, your archive is a roadmap of that very haphazard endeavor, with its equivalently random encounters. It’s like a very broad-based, lifelong photo album. And, truly valuable, not only as your own personal history, but potentially that of the people, characters and events of our times. Last week, Allen Murabayashi over at the Vision Slightly Blurred podcast cited the original of this blog, published in 2015, and a diptych tweet I did (see banner) in the course of a discussion of political photography. This is an update. Some of these pictures here have never seen the light of day.
Tomorrow we will vote. This blog is not about that momentous exercise of citizenship, or about partisan politics. Lord knows there’s enough of that already around. It’s simply about two encounters, long ago, and the utterly unpredictable collision course culminating on Tuesday.
Trump in ’87 for Newsweek, Biden in ’88 for People. Different magazines, different approaches. Trump was a week-long encounter, Biden just a day or so. Trump was in color, with lights and an assistant.
For Biden, I was alone, no assistant, no flash, working with window light. I’m a generalist, doing what the job requires, so I was comfortable with both approaches.
I think perhaps the stories, and the way I had to approach them, might have mirrored the men. Trump was in color, all glitz, powerhouse ego, and I did my requisite lighting and staging.
I met Biden at the station in Wilmington, and we shook hands and shared a Metroliner to DC and hence to his Senate office. Shot B&W, available light, all day. The Trump days were often set up and wait. With Biden, it was shoot and move, shoot and move, all day, camera bag over my shoulder.
I did have one spontaneous outing with Trump, when he took a limo out to the US Open Tennis Championships in Queens.
Trump gadded about in what he claimed at the time was the only non-military Puma helicopter in service in the world.
Biden had, well, the Metroliner. And some big windows, thankfully.
We spent a lot of time in the reception area in Trump’s offices, waiting to shoot scenes from his day. Trump had a former Playboy bunny as a receptionist, who evinced more than a passing interest in my very good- looking assistant at the time. We were setting up for the cover shoot and a maintenance guy came back with a note marked, “For Joe’s Assistant.” She didn’t know his name, but that really didn’t matter.
Then Senator Biden worked the phones, read briefs.
Trump was “The Donald” to Ivana, at that time. I never met Mrs. Biden.
Shot the cover below in about three minutes, with one 3×4 softbox, in his conference room. Not a good picture, but Newsweek was happy enough with it.
Biden had meetings and calls all day, even one, with former President Gerry Ford, which was fun to observe.
Two different people, two very different coverages, done in very different ways. The job of a photographer. You adapt. You keep your views and opinions to yourself and you cover the job. On those days, you simply observe the world you are assigned to, and you make pictures. In that tweet I made last week, I mentioned LIFE photog Bill Eppridge’s wonderful quote about what we do as photojournalists. “Reporters listen, photographers look.”
And those looks can stick with you, amazingly. These jobs were shot in the late 80’s! And soon one will be president.
What an intriguing and forever relevant thing we do, us photog types. Make pictures of our life and times, and the people who populate them.