In early 2003, I was assigned to shoot a press conference at the Allegro Hotel in Chicago, where a state senator named Barack Obama was to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Every ambitious politician was getting into what the Tribune described as a “crowded and contentious” senatorial race, so there wasn’t much noteworthy about the announcement – especially since Obama was a total unknown. And with a name like “Barack Obama”, I remember thinking to myself “Obama? Sorry man – you won’t go far with that name.” I simply didn’t give credit to the electorate to look beyond it. Even Obama laughs about the time. When I photographed him for his first newspaper interview after being elected president, I mentioned that I was there for his senate campaign announcement. He remarked “You mean when only eight people supported me…?” Five years after that press conference, I happened to be walking in the Loop past the Allegro Hotel, the morning after he was elected president. As I was remembering my woefully mistaken prediction of his political future, I saw stacks of newspapers on the curb with his face all over the front page. People were grabbing the newspapers like there was no tomorrow. I guess you can’t underestimate the electorate, or for that matter, President Barack Obama…(For a photo gallery of his first year in office by a Tribune photographer, click here).
You can’t launch a Chicago blog without including some of its famous denizens. Chicago is in the national consciousness now stronger than ever because of President Obama. I was assigned to shoot his first interview with a newspaper after winning the election. Alas, “No portrait”. I was to meet him in his transitional office after his three layers of security. Fluorescent lights. Sterile. Don’t show the bullet-proof window barriers. Unwilling to walk away with just a talking head of our newest president, I quickly set up a softbox and looked for a mood to show the big issues he was struggling with. Whether you agree with him or not, he seems a thoughtful and introspective person – traits I was looking to capture. I find that photographing executives who only have a few minutes often involves more fast-thinking (technical, aesthetic, and interpersonal persuasion) than shooting spot news as a photojournalist.