I had an interesting experience about a month ago, before the election. My assignment was to photograph a candidate for one of Utah’s congressional seats campaigning door to door. He was supposed to be out in a suburban neighborhood knocking on doors to explain his views and ask people for their support on election day.
There was a little mix-up on the time and location, mainly the location, so by the time I found the candidate he was inside the last house of a cul-de-sac after having visited the other homes.
Before I could go in, one of his staffers met me on the sidewalk and had me wait for the candidate to come out. And then a photographer for the other newspaper in town came out. That’s why they were holding me back, they wanted her to get her photographs. No problem. I started talking to her and found out she had just photographed the candidate visiting each home in this cul-de-sac. She went on her way.
Now the campaign staffer started explaining to me what was going to happen. He said the candidate would like to re-visit the homes in the cul-de-sac so I could photograph him interacting with these people.
Can you hear the red flags snapping up to attention? We were here to photograph some real campaigning, and this staffer wants me to photograph some fake situations, set up and staged for the camera, with families they have handpicked for the situation. I stopped him and said that we were expecting to photograph the candidate actually campaigning, and that I couldn’t photograph a staged situation like this. It had to be real.
To my surprise, he didn’t get it. In my mind, his suggestion of having the candidate fake his way through a series of visits with selected families was a clear violation of standard journalistic ethics. There was just no way I could photograph this.
It took a good five minutes for me to explain to the staffer that his proposal wouldn’t work for me. I don’t know if he ever fully grasped what I was saying, or why I couldn’t shoot his plan, but the candidate had no problem knocking on some unfamiliar doors and meeting some voters. He was actually very friendly and accommodating, and to be clear, he never suggested anything untoward. That’s what we did and those are the photos you saw in our paper. A true situation.