New York Times photographer Stephen Crowley, an astute, keen-eyed observer of Washington politics, explains in an interview appearing in this month’s edition of PDN how he built his career working around obstacles to access. “They have their stage,” he says of politicians and their handlers. “I’m content to walk behind the cavalcade and observe.”
His series of images (above) of a September 19 meeting between President Barack Obama and ever-popular former President Bill Clinton is a case in point. Clinton was invited to the White House to celebrate the anniversary of AmeriCorps, a volunteer program his administration launched in 1994. It was supposed to be a feel-good photo op for Obama, whose ratings are low. But the mutual dislike between Obama and Clinton is no secret, and it wasn’t far from Crowley’s mind. He picks up the story from there:
“[They were] walking back to the oval office, right along a rope line. I was on a high ladder, missing that picture. Obama was working the rope line, then he walked off, and thought Clinton was with him. But Clinton was slowly working the rope line, making the President of the United States wait for him. And Obama was standing off by himself. He puts on his jacket, walks [back toward the rope line], and he’s still waiting for Clinton. That’s a gem of a moment. I made a whole sequence [out of it].”
Crowley notes there’s an element of street photography in his approach. “I had a lot of experience in Florida”–at the Palm Beach Post, where he started his career–“doing street photography. You went out and looked for features. I came up here [to Washington] and translated that, and it’s been an effective way of telling the story, pulling away from the press conferences.”
For more about Crowley, his approach to covering politics, and his alternative take on the controversy over diminished access by photographers to the Oval Office, see our interview in this month’s PDN.