The Digital Journalist
Dispatch: NH 2004
February 2004

by Adam Nadel

By 8 pm the outcome was clear -- Kerry would win. The massive media exodus began that night as an approaching snowstorm engulfed the region. New Hampshire would wait another 4 years for the media whirlwind to return.

Photo by Adam Nadel/Polaris
With more than a half dozen Democratic Presidential candidates angling for the nomination, New Hampshire's primary provides photojournalists with a thorough opportunity to ply their craft. The state's small size and concentrated voting constituency allows, in principal, a reasonable opportunity for documentation. Its proximity to Boston and New York insures a more than ample supply of photographers.

In early January the intensive media blitz has yet to descend over the state. It is rejuvenating to watch the fundamentals of our democratic process: Candidates and voters meeting face to face. Local political norms have been applied to a national contest. Politicians are pedaling their wears and the people of NH are deciding what to buy.

This intimacy between voter and candidate gives way as the month progresses. After Iowa organizations begin to double-up their photographic coverage. It becomes more and more difficult to work. The events become increasingly controlled. Everyone is operating on less and less sleep.

Photo by Adam Nadel/Polaris
It can prove to be a demanding environment. Campaign office fail to send requested schedules. It was not uncommon to work 18 hours a day without a break to eat a proper meal. The weather did not cooperate. Cars break down. One of my roommates in NH, Eric Gegorian, was late for an event because his press van hit a moose. The competitive nature of our profession emerges. While photographing Kerry in a large media scrum a staff photographer from a major paper grabbed the back of my jacket and tried to drag me away from the pack in attempt to get my spot.

The sheer quantity of media and the campaign's interest in controlling the message provided a great deal of irony that was a good laugh but, unfortunately, all but impossible to photograph. A few days before the primary I was shooting Dean. He had just brought up the point that too few media outlets control the news. He wanted to change this. As these words were rolling off his lips I, and a few other, were ordered to leave the shooting location. No explanation was provided as to why the handler did not request all the photographers to depart. It must have just been coincidence that the few he left also represented the largest news gathering organizations in the US.

Photo by Adam Nadel/Polaris
Sharing an apartment with two fellow Polaris photographers Jay Clendenin and Eric Grigorian provided to be a wise decision both professionally and personally. Disregarding Jay's well-honed skill of burning dinner, living in a place where one could discuss edits and technical issues in a relaxed environment was incredibly helpful. Having an apartment to come home too after a long day or week on the road was wonderful.

What proved most difficult was the repetitive nature of the work. You are shooting similar subject matter day after day. One is photographing a staged drama while the real lives of the characters are kept hidden behind closed doors. Exactly what I was documenting did not always seem so clear. One, of course, has the task of shooting the candidates. Almost all the events are canned. The stump speech is scripted. The same jokes and dramatic pauses are repeated ad nausea. It is a traveling play, with very little improvisation. We are photographing the characters, not the actors themselves. With fifteen still photographers and the same number of TV crews we had all the ingredients for a circus.

Overcoming these limitations, some might even say deceptive practices, of our medium, is essential. Everybody is looking for different pictures. For those who worked for the largest organizations trying to get special access is the name of the game. For all others getting something different meant trying to see uniqueness in what we had already photographed dozens times that week. It was a constant challenge that got the better of me on many occasions. Returning from South Carolina just a few days ago I already miss the election trail. I'm looking forward to NH 2008.

© Adam Nadel

Adam Nadel graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in Anthropology. Adam joined Polaris images in 2003. Adam is the recipiant of both national and international awards for his journalistic photography, including First Place News Picture Story in 2002 and Third Place Sports Picture Story in 2000 at Pictures of the Year International. Adam lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is currently working on a number of projects ranging from the nature of modern warfare to environmental landscapes.