‘Stumping’ the Process

BlogHer Original Post

"Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah .... "

--Bill McKay, as played by Robert Redford in the 1972 classic, "The Candidate"

As the Election Rollercoaster ’08 crests another wobbly peak, the media breathlessly provides the play-by-play. Speeches and handshakes, flag waving and hand clapping, diner stops and baby kissing; all the while reporters scribble notes, tape interviews and look for pleasing backdrops. Meanwhile, one quiet little website provides the full story, one superb photograph at a time.

If you've not yet discovered The Stumping Grounds, you’re missing what NPR’s Bryant Park Project called “the most illuminating piece of journalism” on the election scene. As the story goes, a couple of freelance photo stringers for Reuters got together and discussed their desire to follow the presidential candidates and cover the Iowa caucus.

That’s when a Reuters editor suggested the New York-based photographers move to Iowa. If they were really serious, he said, that’s where the action is. At first suggestion, co-founder Keith Bedford recalled, “That is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Eventually, they realized the wisdom of a dedicated relocation and soon, a gang of “unbiased” freelance photographers were renting a house together in Des Moines and launched The Stumping Grounds, “a daily photo blog of political proportions.”

Along the trail, the team of photographers (Scout Tufankjian, Michael Czerwonka, Allison Joyce, Joshua Lott and Carey Wagner, plus Keith Bedford) would cover essentially the same events, the same candidates, the same speeches but each with their own unique eye.

At the end of the day, the team faces hundreds of shots to choose from. (Many of the photographers are also on assignment for the New York Times, Reuters, Getty and others; amazingly, many of these shots are actually ‘outtakes.’) With no formal editing system, the team reviews each other’s work and decides between them the winning shot for the following day. (So democratic!)

“It’s usually pretty obvious which (photo) is going to be above all the rest. It’s friendly competition because it elevates all of us to be better photographers.”

--Keith Bedford, co-founder, The Stumping Grounds

These inspiring photographs are the closest I’ve seen to capturing the excitement and passion of this historical election. Going back to June 2007, these candid shots depict a nation of individuals who are fully engaged and, yes, fired up about this year’s race. After years of very dangerous voter apathy, it's about damn time.

Capturing the “moments between the big moments”, the one-a-day photographs certainly depict the candidates themselves but it’s the faces in the crowd, the people whose names we don’t know, that’s where the magic happens. Bedford says he's "always looking for adoring crowds" and there appeared to be no shortage of them. "Getting a sense of how the general public feels about them - I call it the Kennedy moment. There’s that shot of JFK when all these hands are reaching out to him ..."

The resulting images are insightful, stunning and yes, here it comes … hopeful. The collection made me feel proud of this imperfect democratic process that we have. Cross my heart, after taking in every photograph, I craved a piece of homemade apple pie.

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