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Political Photograph of the Year

Thursday May 9th, 2013

On a rainy day last July, photographer Brooks Kraft stood amongst a drenched crowd, his camera ready. His subject? President Barack Obama, who was speaking at a campaign rally despite the downpour. The result? An iconic image that continues to turn heads and create buzz almost a year later.

I recently got in touch with Brooks after learning his image was chosen as the 2013 White House News Photographers Political Photograph of the Year. Below, we discuss his career and capturing this award-winning shot for TIME Magazine. Enjoy!

- Maria Luci

US President Barack Obama campaigns  in Virginia

How would you describe your photographic style?
For my editorial work, I look for iconic imagery that is not specific to a time or place, but reflects the character of my subjects. On the White House beat, I’m interested in portrait style photographs of the President, as well as iconic images of power in American politics.

How did you first get into shooting politically-centered photojournalism?
I started in political photojournalism by covering the New Hampshire Primary when I was working in Boston. At the time I was working part time at the Boston Globe, but was interested in moving into magazine photography. I have since covered seven Presidential campaigns for TIME, always returning to New Hampshire early in each cycle.

You used to be a White House photographer, what was that role like?
I covered the White House regularly for 10 years, as a member of the travel pool for TIME. I traveled to over 50 countries and 49 states covering the President, which was a true privilege. Although I am no longer there on a daily basis, I still cover it selectively. Being on that beat requires patience and persistence, as the good opportunities are few and far between. Despite all the control and choreography, the best photos always come at unexpected moments, especially for magazine photographers who are not as concerned with documenting the news of the day.

Where did you capture the image of President Obama in the rain?
At a standard campaign rally in Glenn Allen, VA, just outside of Richmond. It was an assignment for TIME.

What was the shoot day like?
It was a hot and steamy summer day. On the way to the shoot we got lost due to faulty address information in Google Maps. We barely arrived in time, and the event actually started early in an effort to beat the rain…which was a vain attempt clearly! During the shoot, I was concentrating on keeping the front of my lens as dry as possible, the rain was essentially like being in the shower!

Chief Official White House photographer Pete Souza (left) stayed dry at the event. Brooks (right) obviously did not.  - REUTERS/Jason Reed

Chief Official White House photographer Pete Souza (left) stayed dry at the event. Brooks (right) did not. – REUTERS/Jason Reed

How did you capture the moment?
I looked for a dark background with backlights to make the rain visible…which is a challenge even when it’s pouring. There were large HMI stage lights on the side of the stage, and I ended up crouching behind a Secret Service agent so that I could shoot into an HMI without getting too much lens flare.

When you shot it, did you know it was special?
For me, the photo captures President Obama’s character, his determination and resiliency, despite the storm around him on the campaign trail. It’s unusual getting to see the President speaking in torrential rain, so I knew it was a special opportunity at the time.

What was TIME’s reaction to the photo?
My editor, Paul Moakley, felt the photo had an iconic quality and wanted to save it for a cover or special spread. In the end, it was used in our post election issue, almost three months after it was taken.

Screen Shot 2013-05-06 at 3.21.20 PM

They recently put together a video about the photograph as well:

Has President Obama commented on the photograph?
Just a quick congratulations for the award in a brief Oval Office visit.

Brooks shakes hands with President Obama. - Lawrence Jackson/The White House

Brooks shakes hands with the President. – Lawrence Jackson/The White House

What other awards you’ve won with this photo?
Other than the 2013 White House News Photographers Contest, it’s received First Place in Road to the White House category of National Press Photographs 2013 Best of Photojournalism contest and selected for the Campaign category of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards.

Did you learn anything through this assignment?
A dramatic last minute change in the weather can actually be your friend on assignment!

View more of Brooks’s work at brookskraft.com.

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