ELECTION SPECIAL: Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

ELECTION SPECIAL: Political Theatre by Mark Peterson

Iowa, New Hampshire, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, The Emails, The Debates, The FBI, A Giant Wall, THE RUSSIANS - it has been a campaign like no other . Award winning photographer Mark Peterson has been on this wild ride from the beginning. In his gorgeous new book Political Theatre  (Steidl) Peterson captures iconic images from one of the most memorable political seasons in American history.

SPD Board Member and Director of Photography (Bloomberg Businessweek, Bloomberg Pursuits, Bloomberg Markets ) Clinton Cargill , sits down with Mark Peterson on election eve to discuss politics , pictures, and photography. 

Read on for the full interview and to see some photos from the book after the jump!

All photographs (c) Mark Peterson / ReduxPictures

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SPD: You've covered a lot of campaigns. What clicked for you that made you see Political Theatre in this way?
MP: I went to a tea party rally in 2013, which was calling for the shutdown of the government over the Affordable Care Act. When I looked at my pictures, they didn't seem to capture how staged or fake the event was. It was just a TV Studio for politicians to make sound bites into the echo chamber. So the next event I went to, which was a Gov. Chris Christie campaign event, I shot the pictures with my DSLR but then processed them through my iPhone, which gave them a more surreal, staged look. 


SPD: It's a strange feeling to be looking at a book on the 2016 election knowing the campaign isn't over yet. Did that make it difficult to edit? 
MP: Yes. Especially this election, because it's been so unpredictable. Every political expert that I've talked to says this is the most unique and unpredictable election they have ever covered. I have also taken a critical eye to both sides in this election, so it's not about one side winning. The book isn't about the winner or loser, because I think we have all lost in this election. Not because of the choices, but because we have allowed the candidates and the media to make this election about personality and not about issues.


SPD: I first remember seeing your Politics in Black and White series on Instagram. Did thinking in that format influence your approach to this series? 
MP: I don't think Instagram influenced the way I was shooting. I looked more to movies like Citizen Kane as an influence--the stark black and white and Dutch angles with infinite depth of field. But I think Instagram is a great thing and it helped for people to see the project at first and understand where I was going with the pictures.

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SPD: What was your first campaign assignment?
MP: It was back in the early 80's when I was just starting out. I worked for a neighborhood newspaper, The Whittier Globe, covering a state legislature race in which Karen Clark won and became the first openly gay state representative in Minnesota. The first presidential race was Walter Mondale when he ran for president.

SPD: Your photographs of the candidates have received a lot of attention, but the images of their supporters are in some ways more revelatory. How do you think about them as subjects? 
MP: I have always tried to photograph the supporters as a way to show what the policies of the candidates really are. When you turn the lens towards the listener you see who the candidate is trying to reach. I started to do this when I covered the former KKK grand duke David Duke when he ran for senate. He looked like every other candidate in the race. But if you showed his audience you could see the hate and racism that he was brewing.


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SPD: So much has been made of the animosity toward media in this election cycle. How does this play out in the actual event? Have you had any really difficult run-ins on the trail? 
MP: What is happening now is, when we are covering rallies, especially Donald Trump, his supporters come over and shout things at the media. Some of it is very hostile. It seems like they are the audience at a WWE match and they are yelling at the villain in the match. So I hope it is just part of the Show and that in the end no one will physically attack the media.

SPD: I noticed the photo of two photographers, Keith Buford and Damon Winter, both lying flat on the ground a Trump rally, which I loved. How physical is your work when you are shooting?
MP: I asked them both if it was all right if I published that picture, and they were generous enough to say yes. I have the most respect for my fellow photographers who are making great pictures in this campaign everyday. For me photography is very physical. You have to move and react very quickly and when it is crowded and chaotic it is very hard.


SPD: There are several great images of campaign photographers in the book. I'm thinking in particular of an image of Trump in a car, framed by the reflection of a photographer that kind of looks like you. Is it?
MP: I wish I looked that tall and handsome. That is another photographer reflected. 


SPD: Is that nod to self-portraiture intentional?
That was a very hard shot. I was reaching a flash around the car door and putting it into the car so it would light Trump. I knew that something would reflect on the window from the outside and I was hoping it would be the media scrum surrounding the car. So I was hoping for something I couldn't see and also hoping Trump wouldn't close the door on my hand.

MP: You are exposed to such intensity of feeling and emotion at these events. How do you deal with it? 
A lot of the time I put headphones on and listen to music. I play different music to put me in different moods. 

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