slowing down


General Petraeus

The ever-present challenge of covering politics in DC is breaking through the wall of "the message." Events are staged to best convey that message: words are suitably conciliatory or vitriolic and backdrops are color-coded and placed to maximize their airtime on television. I think it's part of being a good photojournalist to make a photo that reflects the person, the political climate and captures something timeless about this moment in history, rather than playing into the controlled message being presented.

One of the few times these machinations are stripped away is in the hearing room. While it's an opportune place for politicians to grandstand and to recite long-winded questions that are more rhetoric than question, it is still just a man or woman sitting at a desk answering questions. And this presents one of the most challenging opportunities to make a lasting image, but it also presents one of the few times when covering politics is a contemplative, unhurried practice.

If you've spent any time covering politics in DC, you've become comfortable sitting in the well - that carpeted space between the politicians and the substantial wooden table where the witness sits. This time is spent waiting for gesture, for expressions and ultimately for meaning in the witness's visual actions. It is also time spent cursing the ill-placed water bottles that break up clean lines and the stacks of papers that blow out under the harsh television lights.

For a newsworthy hearing, photographers will have spots marked with tape and the first few hours are punctuated by the clatter of motor drives as the wire photographers compete to get something usable that they can transmit. As the hearing reaches the late afternoon, the space empties out and it becomes easier to pursue different positions and here the real work begins. It's so difficult to find something meaningful here - it's too simple, too cluttered, too obvious. But ultimately it's about seeing the space and the person in a new way and trying to make an image both relevant and timeless.