I’ve been photographing politicians in office and on the campaign trail since the time of Sir Robert Menzies. That was so long ago, I wore a suit and was still using a Speed Graphic. It would be three more years before I switched to more casual clothing and the ease and immediacy of the Nikon F.
While many photographers find political photography boring, I delight in the sport. And damned fine sport it is; working like a hunter, seeking that ephemeral split second, when the subject might inadvertently slip out from behind the polished public persona.
Photographing politicians needs the same finely tuned reflexes required for photographing sport. But I think it needs a much more highly developed recognition of “peak action” than is required in sports photography. The peak action of the political moment is far more subtle than the titanic, bone-crunching clash of footballers or the soaring leap of an athlete. Blink and you miss it…and unlike sports photography, the players don’t repetitiously try to re-create that moment. The reality of politics for the photographer is that there are teams of minders running interference between you and the subject trying to ensure that the moment is not repeated.
If you need convincing that our quarry is aware of the power of the unguarded political moment, you need look no further than the attempt by politicians to rule that the only legitimate subject to be photographed within the Australian Parliament was the politician speaking at the despatch box. All those SMSing, snoring, yawning or otherwise diverting themselves were ruled out of bounds. Of course the photographers of the press gallery ignored this.
These are some of my pictures of Australian Prime Ministers of the last few decades…