Along The Campaign Trail; The Political Beat With Photojournalist David Burnett

Life isn't easy on the campaign trail and photojournalist David Burnett has just returned his rental car, home after a hectic five days covering the Hillary Clinton campaign in New Hampshire. It had not been a simple journey. Burnett started in Iowa where Clinton had previously been campaigning, then traveled to New Hampshire.

"As for the shoot, you're just trying to remain at zero," he says, "not get into negative territory, and that's the hard part. If you can do that you have a shot at it. I wouldn't say the picture taking is secondary or easy but it's a whole lot easier if you can manage to get yourself, your cameras and gear where you are going and get there on time."

Hillary Clinton for presidential campaign in New Hampshire before the New Hampshire Primary in January 2008. Hillary, Chelsea, and Dorothy Rodham, on-board the campaign bus. Manchester, New Hampshire.
2007 © David Burnett/Contact Press Images

With two digital Canons and an old 4x5 Speed Graphic, Burnett sadly admits, "The thing is you haven't taken one picture by the time you have done all this work and travel." Speaking of his cameras he says, "There's a certain kind of contextual picture you can make with the `Speed' that doesn't work as well with a digital. It's just when you see it you know it.

"I've been doing dribs and drabs of the campaign for People magazine and so far it's been fun. It's been a very open campaign and the people in charge believe in their candidate and that`s great. They were looking for good photographers and they knew their candidate wasn't a total `dufus' so they were after good pictures."

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona). Washington, DC; March 15, 2006.
2006 © David Burnett/Contact Press Images

What has Burnett excited is not the "old hat" campaign stuff but the new crop of photographers. "They're young," he notes, "about 23-30 years old, and they are so energetic and exciting. These are the kids who never shot film and they're pretty psyched up for the whole thing so it will be fun to see what comes out. They keep me on my toes and they're looking all over the place."

Sounds like Burnett is pretty psyched up himself, looking at things he is familiar with but trying to do them in a different way. Though a recognizable sight on the campaign trails, Burnett says he is not sure he is seeing stuff like he used to. "I kind of wander around thinking--how do I see things in a new way and don't think to myself, gee, I've seen this 10 times before? It may have been covering Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or George Bush, Sr. The hardest part is to be in very similar situations but not feel like there is only one way to interpret or see it because you have already done it before."

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York), potential Democratic presidential candidate, visits Herrera's, a Mexican restaurant, for lunch, before heading to Ohio to await the Texas-Ohio Primary election results. Dallas, Texas; March 4, 2008.
2008 © David Burnett/Contact Press Images

It was fun to reminisce with Burnett about the greats like Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge, who photographed Bobby Kennedy's last hurrah.

"That was a great set of pictures," Burnett recalls, "and Jacques Lowe's images of Jack Kennedy's campaign was a masterpiece."

Referring to the book that came out last year, Remembering Jack, Burnett says, "It is the most quintessential political reportage that I can think of. No one really understands until they look at these pictures and recognize the sense of intimacy and the quality of the images just how fabulous they are. It was as if the photographer had been absolutely unnoticed by the subject, like there was this magic camera and nobody was behind it. The pictures just feel so fresh and sincere with nothing put on. These were real moments."

Senator Barack Obama, Democratic contender for the presidential nomination, campaigns in New Orleans, Louisiana, stopping at Dookie Chase restaurant where he is hosted by Leah Chase the owner, and sits down for a bowl of gumbo with hot sauce. New Orleans, Louisiana; February 7, 2008.
2008 © David Burnett/Contact Press Images

Speaking of the campaigns today, Burnett was a bit less excited: "It's really hard--they are so wary of letting anybody be themselves, whether they're a Democrat or a Republican. That's just how it is."