Pretty sure I couldn’t lift that lens if I tried
Every time I shoot an all-day affair like Lollapalooza or Election Day, I’m reminded that event photography is neither for the short nor the weak at heart. Nor is it for rapidly-aging 30-somethings who mostly edit for a living.
The last thing I want to do is complain about being able to witness a historic event like Election Night, but being vertically-challenged and small does have its disadvantages, since most of the other photographers are bigger guys—or at least sturdy ladies with stepladders.
Anyway, here’s a behind-the-scenes timeline of what it’s like to be a no-name photographer at the biggest party in Chicago on Election Night.
4:30 p.m. Arrive at McCormick Place. If there’s one thing I learned from 2008, it’s that there’s nothing to do until late afternoon but wait around and watch journalists interview other journalists—in other words, a colossal waste of time.
5:00 p.m. Get through equipment check. No sign of bomb-sniffing dog from four years ago. Find the press workspace, drop off bags and coat, survey surroundings.
5:27 p.m. Watch the sound tech do a microphone check to Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Speaking of which, I did not grow up with that man’s books (I moved to the States when I was nine and learned English by watching Saved By the Bell), so when I recently read The Lorax to my friend’s daughter, I was pretty disturbed by all the words and weird stuff he made up. Is that what he does? I had no idea.
5:40 p.m. Discover the press area upstairs and relocate to a table full of foreign journalists. Wireless internet stops working, so I leave my new friends from Nigeria and Congo to wander the convention hall, cameras in tow.
6:31 p.m. I spot Senator Dick Durbin and chase him around with all the other photogs and reporters—for what reason, I don’t know. It’s like at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, when I stalked Wesley Clark.
7 p.m. Doors open to rally attendees. I ask a freakishly tall Swedish photographer if I could stand in front of him in the photog pen (just bike rack-style barricades placed along the back, in front of the paid broadcast platform). I say, “Your elbows won’t even touch my head, I promise.” He tries it out, and it’s true (I’m only five feet tall).
7:15 p.m. The music comes on, and people in the crowd start dancing.
8 p.m. As people fill the room, I realize that I won’t be able to see above their heads—much less the president when he gives his speech. I stand on the lower rung of the bike rack and wrap one (alternating) leg around a bar to balance myself while shooting. This is how I will spend much of the evening.
8:30 p.m. At this point, it’s just a waiting game. I shoot random rally-goers dancing. I pull several back and neck muscles while balancing on the bike rack and craning to photograph politicians on the platform behind me. I pay attention only when there are cheers in the crowd—Tammy Duckworth has beaten Joe Walsh, not surprisingly.
9:45 p.m. I spot Rahm Emanuel getting interviewed behind me. As it is my mission in life to take as many pictures of his Arby’s-severed middle finger as possible, I start snapping away.
9:56 p.m. More loud cheers with news from Massachusetts that Democrat Elizabeth Warren has won. Other random bursts are heard when battleground states are projected for Obama.
10:13 p.m. Obama is announced as the projected winner. The Heavy’s “How You Like Me Now” starts playing, and people start to wave their campaign-distributed flags to the beat—rather militantly. Not sure why, but this is amusing to me. It could also be that I broke my rib cage over the bike rack and am delirious.
11:18 p.m. Crowd goes nuts. I look up from my camera and see that a couple of states have legalized marijuana. This, too, makes me chuckle. Perhaps it’s the internal bleeding.
11:20 p.m. More people pour into the convention hall. They’re all fresh-faced, preppily-dressed 20-somethings. One of them explains to me that the buses full of campaign staffers have just arrived from the headquarters at the Prudential building.
11:55 p.m. Mitt Romney appears on the screen. Crowd cheers, knowing that Obama is not far behind. A smattering of boos, but for the most part, these rally participants are pretty gracious.
12:06 a.m. I have been balancing on the bike rack for four hours, have bruises all along my calves and thighs, and want to punch everyone in the crowd who is dancing, having a good time, and/or eating pizza in front of me.
12:24 a.m. I notice that some photogs have climbed the paid riser with the help of someone’s stepladder and are now sitting on the ledge. I evaluate whether or not I could make it from the stepladder to the riser without falling off and breaking some bones—or mooning half of the convention hall.
12:33 a.m. After almost 10 minutes of internal debating, I decide to go for it. I ask a photog to use his ladder. As I climb, I look up and see the dude from Extra. He tells me I can’t sit on the ledge behind him. I snap back, “Don’t worry about it. I’m going on the other side.” Why is the dude from Extra there anyway? Oh yeah, he needs to interview Will.i.am. I roll my eyes.
12:40 a.m.-ish Safely seated on the ledge, I have an amazing view. Obama gives his speech. Then his family, Joe Biden, and others join him. Confetti flying everywhere, the crowd ecstatic. I’m exhausted and hungry, but McCormick Place is not a bad place to be on this night.
Now, to see that pic of Rahm’s middle finger, check out the gallery.
Photograph: Esther Kang