I felt privileged to be in the same room as photographer Callie Shell. A smart American lady who had followed, no had been in the company of, Barack Obama. Not for a quick PR shoot but throughout the American election primaries and on to taking office in the White House.
Not that she knew that he WAS going to be the President but booked by Time magazine, with whom she had worked many times before, the brief was to follow a young black man who had aspirations. Wow – was he right to harbour those dreams. Anyway that’s another story.
I had booked into one of the talks as part of Edinburgh’s 2009 annual Festival of Politics during August and at which the World Press Photographic competition winning images were on display. I was spell bound listening to Callies’ account of her time following Obama and his wife and children on his travels from state to state, the rallies, press calls, interviews and perhaps more poignantly the behind scenes moments of family, the going on and off stage, the meetings with top level staff. And the travel- even to the point of Callie asking Obama if she could still take photos as he fell asleep on the election train.
She spoke of all the levels of staff surrounding the President and the Secret Service that she had to gain the confidence of. But whilst we might think that this was assignment to be coveted which indeed it was, she said that after 3 years of being with Obama trail, that all the hard work gaining access daily became so tiresome. Certainly she found the hours were onerous and became aware that time was being stolen from her own family life. She did ‘her time’ but she was undeniably proud to have had a unique contact with a man of destiny before and after he achieved the mantle he sought.
As I sat in that room in the new Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood on 25 August 2009, I felt some sense of connection with a man only a few have such contact with. Look at her pictures and you too will see a person who, despite his office, looks be no more or less than any family man than any other – only he is the most powerful person on earth. Images of a president in the making, life in the white house, the relationship with his wife and children, the essences of an American President happy to be viewed in off scene mode, comfortable in his himself and most tellingly, according to Callie, nothing was off limits – except top secret talks of course.
View some of her photos here.