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Matinee: 'Mark Peterson: The 2016 Presidential Campaign' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

5 March 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 125th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Mark Peterson: The 2016 Presidential Campaign.

This half-hour video shot just after the New Hampshire primary and before the South Carolina primary provides a rare peek at what it's like to cover a presidential campaign. Stephanie Heimann, photo director for The New Republic, interviews photojournalist Mark Peterson.

Peterson has freelanced for New York Times Magazine, New York Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and Geo Magazine, covering the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Clinton, Dole and George W. Bush presidential campaigns.

The interview took place at Fovea, which is hosting Peterson's exhibition Political Theater through March 5. Six of the images in the exhibit appear on the wall behind him and he discusses each of them as the interview proceeds.

Heimann begins the interview with a short introduction and a few acknowledgements before the interview starts a couple of minutes in.

He began shooting politics in 1992 when he followed Bill Clinton's campaign. During the government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act a couple of years ago he started shooting in black and white to make the images "more theatrical."

'Instagram is one of the most important forces in this campaign.'

Heimann asks him about how he creates his images. He shoots with his dSLR, he says, but he's bought about every 99 cent app he has found for his iPhone and runs the images through every one of them "to get my money's worth" because he's not very good with Photoshop.

He shoots with flash and so far only Rubio's team has asked him not to use it. The candidates are always at least five feet away, though, so flash isn't intrusive.

He's used 24mm and 200mm focal length lenses, moving to the longer focal lengths as the campaigns try to control the image, positioning the photographers further away and in specific spots that highlight crowds and backgrounds.

Which sometimes leads to trouble. After this interview, in fact, Time photographer Chris Morris was physically confronted and taken down by security when he tried to leave the photographers' pen at a Trump rally to shoot a Black Lives Matter protest.

Peterson talks about how some photographers avoid the pen and come in with the audience, taking out their gear only when the moment they want to capture is imminent.

He tells insightful stories about all the candidates (but the stories won't really change your vote). When the candidates like his images, he gets access to them. And they do like his photos (or at least the magazine covers on which they appear). They appreciate any attention they can get, he says. It's like not being there if they aren't getting any attention.

He reflects on the unpredictability of this particular campaign, including the effect of the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

But the biggest factor in the 2016 campaign, he says, is the smartphone.

The smartphone has never been more influential. "When these candidates come out, it's like a rock concert where there's 150 cellphones in the air pointing at them. I wish I could make a good picture of that," he says.

"Instagram is one of the most important forces in this campaign," he says. You can see incredible political photography on Instagram. You can see things you wouldn't have seen before or understand, he adds.

He explains how the spin room works after a debate, referring to one of the photos behind him which shows a crowd of journalists surrounding Ben Carson. Peterson went upstairs to lean over a balcony to get the overhead shot of the resulting chaos.

About 18 minutes in, Heimann opens it up to questions from the audience.

It starts with a discussion of access and the campaigns' efforts to control every image. Only one candidate doesn't have his own traveling photographer or travelling videographer, he points out.

There's some discussion with Heimann about how covers are chosen before Peterson again talks about his preference for using black-and-white, even though people know him as a color photographer.

He claims he's a pretty lazy photographer, shooting with a 24mm lens on his dSLR because he can't crop and can't focus. And then he plays with the image on his phone. Everybody else is shooting with a 300mm to 500mm lens. "It's more like a kids soccer match where the ball slips out and everybody rushes over there..."

But where we are all keeping score.

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