Shana Wittenwyler sort of fell into covering the primary season. That
is to say, she started off in Florida shooting Ron Paul at
the Republican debates for the Irish rag Mongrel Magazine, and ended up a few months
later on assignment for the New York Times in Missouri. In between, she
was in Iowa and South Carolina.
A freelancer, Shana didn’t mean to cover politics in particular. Since her graduation from the Photojournalism program at ICP in 2005, she has shot all sorts of features for Fortune, The Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone, and others. But she found herself hooked on the excitement of the Ron Paul campaign when in Florida, and didn’t want to stop taking pictures. So, as a photojournalist, and a broke one at that, Shana started to contact politics editors. But you can’t call up the Times and tell them you want to shoot a campaign for them; it’s a hell of a process.
In fact, it took months for her to really gain a foothold at at all. The Times employs many staff photographers (you may know some of the names from the campaign: Damon Winter, Todd Heisler) but they also have a phalanx of contract photographers. Shana had shown her work to different desks at the paper, including City and Metro, some time before, so she was already in the system as a freelancer. Since the Irish magazine wasn’t paying her a day-rate, just expenses, she negotiated to keep the rights to the images, and passed an edit of the work on to the Times.
Late one Friday she got a call night from the National politics photo editor, David Scull.
This was a break.
Here are some of the images from the Florida trip (all italicized captions under the pictures are Shana’s):
David told Shana that he liked her images, and would consider putting her into one of his politics slots down the road. He asked her where she’d be next. Shana needed to get a politics portfolio together at this point, so she could keep her options open with the Times, and also have strong political stock imagery so she could pay her rent.
The natural choice: Iowa. Shana’s family “lives close to the border, and the candidates were still accessible. It’s where I fell in love with John Edwards in a hallway, and the photographers were camped out everywhere. It was congenial and awesome.”
Some pictures from Iowa:
Driving to Dunlap Livestock Auction to photograph Barack Obama’s “Community Event” during his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, Dunlap, Iowa, November 24, 2007. I was instructed by my Campaign Trail Navigator and Map Strategist, Abe Wittenwyler (my little brother), never to go past the crease in the atlas as my base of operations (my parents house) was in southwestern Wisconsin. When I called from well past Des Moines in western Iowa Abe chided me severely, “You weren’t suppose to go past the crease! I’m surprised those pictures didn’t turn out black.”
Schaben, owner of Dunlap Livestock Auction, hosts Barack Obama’s visit and
“Community Meeting”. Ruth and her husband
Tim’s three sons Jay, Jim and John are taking over the family livestock auction
It was around this point that Shana’s Macbook completely melted down, and her 20D “error 99′d“. She had to drive to Madison, Wisconsin to buy a 5D, which “was almost a grand more because I wasn’t buying it in New York. I should never have been on the road without a backup, and I was way over my shutter limit on the 20D”
Still, there were tears. Click below to see more from Iowa, South Carolina, and Missouri…
The fateful eye-lock with John:
Brian Taylor, age 30, a medical student at Des Moines University listens to Mitt Romney deliver his speech entitled “Stronger America – Expanding Access to Affordable Health Care” to medical students at Des Moines University during his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination at Des Moines University, Des Moines, Iowa, November 20, 2007.
Shana stayed in contact with David at the Times while she was in Iowa, and she decided to go to South Carolina next. At this point, Edwards was still in the race, and South Carolina seemed like it would be a battleground. The more controversy, the better, for reporters and photographers, because that means more space available for text and imagery. Shana stayed in South Carolina for a week, because the Republican and Democratic primaries were seven days apart. “I was in the right place at the right time!” Shana says. “I met a lot of election officials, and got to know them, and they let me into the election commission offices.”
BUT…. there was a landslide. The night of the Democratic primary, the race was called for Barack at 7:05pm. None of Shana’s pictures got picked up, the news train was already on the way to the next station. End of story. I love the pics, though.
Towns Holland, age 8, celebrates at the Citadel with John McCain and his supporters after McCain’s South Carolina Republican Primary win, Charleston, South Carolina, January 19, 2008. Janet Holland, his mother, explained Towns picked out his own outfit for the party.
When she got home from South Carolina, Shana contacted the Times again. This time they had good news. They were doing a feature on polling places for a big Super Tuesday special, and wanted her to go on assignment. At this point, Shana had learned a lot about being a photographer on the campaign trail: “You have to be super fast and plan your day really well. You need to shoot, retouch, and upload, all really quickly. You need a prep day, if at all possible, to know where to be, when.”
Shana was assigned to Missouri for Super Tuesday, and was on the ground early the day of the primary.
Bill Monroe, age 55, right and David Anderson, age 26, coordinate cell phone numbers to canvas Carver, a predominately African-American neighborhood, at 5 a.m. on Super Tuesday, Fulton, Missouri, February 5, 2008. Missouri polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and voters can request a Democratic, Republican or Libertarian ballot the day of the Primary election.
Shana was published in the Times, here.
Monica Almeida’s image was chosen for the print version of the story.
Shana continues to document the campaign, and now has a strong political portfolio. As for her presidential choice, she says she’ll vote “for the person I have the best stock photos of.”
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