Elizabeth Gagnon hams it up for campaign photographers during a photo opportunity with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper in Farnham, Que., Sept. 19, 2008. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
Campaign photography is an art all its own. It can be very difficult to make something fresh when the days all seem so similar: bus, train or plane, followed by a speech, then back on the bus, train or plane. Paul Chiasson is following Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe during a portion of this campaign.
Workers at a paint recycling plant in Victoriaville, Que., joke around during a visit by Conservative Leader Stephen Harper Sept. 18, 2008. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
Chiasson studied film production, then began his career as an assistant cameraman. He has been working as a news photographer since 1977. He has worked for Le Droit newspaper in Ottawa, as a freelancer in Paris, and for Maclean's magazine, Time, Business Week, L'Actualité and other major news organizations. He has traveled to Africa and worked for the Canadian International Development Agency. Chiasson has been a staff photographer for the Canadian Press since the summer of 1984, covering elections, prime ministers' trips, the Olympics, Stanley Cup finals and other major events.
We asked him what it's like to follow the campaign.
How many photos do you take, and how many do you file each day?
The famous photo from the 1997 federal election campaign of Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe wearing a protective hairnet as he listens to an explanation at a cheese factory. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
I probably take around 200 photos a day and then will file around 20 to the wire. That is a big difference now with digital cameras and high speed internet on the campaign buses and in work rooms. During the film days, a black and white photo would take 10 minutes to file and a color photo would take nearly half an hour to file over a telephone line. We would file fewer pictures.
What kind of experience do you need to become a campaign photographer? Is it a senior assignment?
There are no particular skills to covering a campaign. The advantage of being a more experienced photographer is that you can be more independent towards the handlers and image-makers, especially if you shoot a photo they don't like. You can stand your ground. When I shot the pictures of BQ Leader Gilles Duceppe wearing the hairnet, the next day I kept on the campaign even though I knew I was not the most popular person on the bus. Dealing with party organizers can be intimidating.
How difficult is it to keep the pictures fresh every day when many of the events are similar?
A classic campaign head shot of Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
Yes, every day I shoot the same pictures. That is becoming more and more the case, as events are more and more controlled and leaders are less and less exposed to unpredictable situations. That is where the challenge begins. I am quite aware that there are the formula pictures, the 'going through the crowd' pictures and the obligatory headshots, but I try to come up with one different or interesting picture a day. It doesn't always happen. I also try to make pictures that reflect the story or the mood of the day. If a campaign has a bad day or the polls are bad, I try to make pictures that reflect that mood.
As a photographer, what kinds of events or opportunities excite you on the campaign trail?
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and his daughter, Rachel, take a walk with local candidate Leona Aglukkaq and Nunavut Premier Paul Okalik in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Sept. 20, 2008. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))
This one is difficult to answer. I do prefer events in smaller towns away for the hordes of media in big cities. Usually, the access is better and everybody, including the leader, is more relaxed.
Are there explicit or voluntary restrictions on what you will take pictures of or what your editors will accept?
To me, there are no restrictions, but I would not take pictures that make a candidate look bad just for the sake of sticking it to him or her.