Election time nears.
What does that mean? That thousands of public relations experts across the country are doing their best to filter the news you get regarding the issues they are paid to control. Money spent hand over fist on image. And important to this blog, they are doing their best to control which photographs are taken and which are published.
At the Tribune, we do our best to give you an unfiltered view at the issues. We try to get around the handlers. We don’t photograph contrived situations or set-up shots. If we can’t photograph a real situation, we usually end up with a portrait of a candidate. I wrote about this last time, when a candidate thought he could set up a fake and friendly door-to-door situation.
I had a recent freelance job. A publication wanted photographs to go with a story on an sharply-divided issue that Utahns will be voting on this November. The editor hinted that access could be very limited due to a very protective flack.
I arrived at the office and the flack was summoned. She explained to me that there was a meeting going on, and as soon as it broke up I could photograph volunteers carrying campaign signs to their cars. And that is all I would be photographing.
Not great, I thought, but at least it’s something happening that’s real.
Then she says, “You know you’re not interviewing anyone, right?”
Let the controlling begin!
She has me wait in a hallway just down from the conference room while she checks to make sure the group was ready for me. From outside the room I can hear everything she says:
“We’ve got a photographer here and so I’m going to let him come in and take some photographs. So, LIKE YOU DO EVERYDAY, I hope you’ll all be wearing your blue vests and campaign buttons, JUST LIKE YOU DO EVERYDAY.” She’s saying it like it’s a big trick they’re playing on me (and you, the consumers of information).
Then I hear the people in the meeting talking about me, saying, “How long has he been out there? Has he heard everything we’ve been saying in our meeting?!”
Yeah, right. I’m out here spying on your meeting about where to post campaign signs, taking it all down so I can relay it to your opponents.
Finally the flack comes back and takes me into the room. As soon as I enter, they all start to stand up and disperse like I’m coated in skunk spray. A few go over to pick up signs and I photograph a couple of guys carrying signs out to their cars. Neither of them are wearing blue vests.
I’ve covered a lot of secretive groups in my time, but this experience just took the cake. At least now I know how I’m voting. No need to know the merits of the issue; I know the people behind it.