Joe McNally on shooting ‘The Donald’
This is not a political column, saints be praised. I talk about Group A, Channel 1, and stuff like that, not the results of the latest political polls.
But the life of a photographer is punctuated with encounters, large and small. And you make pictures of these encounters! That’s the job. In the ’80s I photographed Trump for Newsweek and Biden for People. Different magazines, different approaches. Trump was a week-long encounter, Biden just a day or so. Trump was in colour, with lights and an assistant. Biden was by myself, no flash, working with window light. I’m a generalist, doing what the job requires, so I was comfortable with both approaches.
The recent roiled political waters caused me to do a bit of an archive rummage, which was, well, interesting. I think the stories, and the way I had to approach them, might have mirrored the men.
Trump was all in colour, all glitz and powerhouse ego, and I did my requisite lighting and staging. Biden I met at the train station in Wilmington, Delaware [where he was Senator at the time], and we shared a Metroliner train to his Senate office. I shot in B&W, with available light, all day. The Trump days were often set-up-and-wait. With Biden, it was shoot and move, shoot and move, all day, my camera bag over my shoulder.
Trump gadded about in what he claimed at the time was the only non-military Puma helicopter in service in the world. Biden had, well, the Metroliner. And some big windows in his office, thankfully.
Trump’s presidential campaign and win was the big, unmissable news story of 2016. Biden chose not to run for president. Two different people, two sets of very different coverage, done in very different ways.
That’s the job of a photographer. You adapt. You keep your views and opinions to yourself and you cover the job. On those days, you simply observe the world you are assigned to, and you make pictures. And those pictures stick with you, amazingly. These jobs were shot in the ’80s! And here, now, I have cause to look at them again. What a wonderful and forever relevant thing we do, us photog types.
Trump was all in colour, all glitz and powerhouse ego