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In a new book, photojournalist Barbara Kinney shares a behind-the-scenes look at Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid

Dec. 17, 2018


For 20 months, photojournalist Barbara Kinney followed Hillary Clinton on the 2016 campaign trail, capturing the first-ever female major-party presidential nominee as she walked rope lines and across stages.

She’s the one who captured the infinitely meme-able shot of Clinton and former President Barack Obama laughing backstage at the Democratic National Convention.

The resulting book, “#StillWithHer: Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Moments That Sparked a Movement,” is an exhaustive tome, and a fascinating visual document of the grueling, day-to-day world of a presidential campaign.

It’s also deeply personal.

Kinney, who worked at one time as a photo editor at The Seattle Times, documents her own story in the book as well, from getting the plum job with Clinton to the pain of being separated from her daughter.

There are also cameos from Michelle Kwan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Mary Steenburgen and former Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards.

Here’s what Kinney had to say about being a photographer in the Clinton White House, the chain of good luck and persistence that got her into Clinton’s motorcade, and the impossible task of distilling an entire campaign into 272 pages.

Q: How did you decide what photos to include?

A: I had six hard drives and [my publisher] went through all those over a number of months and came up with about 1,000 pictures that he liked and then … Luckily, we were kind of on the same page and he picked most of the ones that I had edited throughout the campaign — I would always pick out my favorites and put them aside. …

I shot 432,000 pictures during [the campaign]. … Besides the really cool behind-the-scenes stuff there are thousands of receiving lines, because after each event we would have receiving lines — [for] people who organized the event, superfans, just everybody, and then of course all the fundraisers, so you know you gotta weed through all those. We had to go through and make some really hard choices about which ones to keep. You know, when you take certain pictures you know the event, you know what was going on, you know maybe how hard it was to come up with an image.

I was happy that [my publisher] went through a lot of those because I don’t know if I could have.

Q: Yeah, it seems like a lot.

A: It is. And too emotional, too.

Q: Say more about that.

A: Going back through the pictures is like reliving the campaign. … As I go back through the events and forget how tired I might have been during those days, you know, you see the really exciting rallies and some of the people that we met and [Clinton’s] energy and it brought back good memories, but along the same lines it’s like, Oh my God, what could have been. And it’s so sad, because you look at those photos — especially during times when we were really riding high and hopeful and felt really positive about things. … You think about what could have been, and of course, as we know, what is now, and so it’s really hard.

Q: So you mentioned that you were with her on the 2008 campaign as well as the 2016 campaign. Can you tell me about the evolution of your career and how you ended up photographing for her? That’s a big role. How did that happen?

A: You know, it kind of was the right-place, right-time sort of thing. I was in Washington, D.C., after I graduated from college with a photojournalism degree. … I worked at USA Today for six years as a photo editor and photographer and then quit to freelance. So five years into freelancing, I get this call right before inauguration week in ’93 from a friend of mine who had worked on the Clinton campaign and worked on the transition team, and they were calling from the first-lady-to-be’s office, saying, you know, “The campaign photographer’s gonna be with Bill Clinton all week, we need somebody to be with Hillary Clinton. Are you available?”

I was like, “Yeah … clear my schedule,” and it was a series of odd events in that they scheduled me and then the next day said, “Sorry, this is off because the campaign photographer hired somebody else to do this job so we don’t need you,” and it’s kind of a funny story because I was like, “You’re kidding me, I just canceled my whole week,” which was two parties for inauguration, it wasn’t that much, and I said, “This sucks, I even called my mom and told her I was gonna do this.”

And Lisa Caputo, who was the press secretary for Hillary, said, “You’re right, you know, you’re right, this does suck,” and I heard her yelling in the background. She says, “I’ll call you back.” So she calls back … [and] said, “Not today but tomorrow, you’re on for the rest of the week.” I’m like, “Well what about the other person?” She’s like, “Don’t matter, you’re on.”

So basically that week I was with Hillary all week for her separate events that she had. … I went from having two parties scheduled that week to literally riding the motorcade down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Q: So you followed Hillary Clinton since the ’90s. To follow someone for that length of time, what is that like? What is your relationship with your subject like? How is it different?

A: You know, obviously we know each other pretty well and she’s always been pretty good with staff and she knows all about anything to do with my family, you know, personal life and especially … during the 2016 campaign, I went through a divorce and it was very, very heartbreaking and emotional just because I was away from my daughter during the campaign … and Hillary literally embraced me, and was like, “We love you, we’ll do anything we can for you, just let me know.”

As a photographer you kind of have to stand back and not be too involved in the scene. You miss the pictures, you know. Whenever I would engage a little too much in being in the green room or backstage, I would miss a picture, so you have to be careful about that. But I’m very comfortable at being close up and walking into a room when she’s there and not worrying that, you know, I’m not supposed to be there, but I’m also pretty good at reading the room, too. … If it’s a tense situation you have to determine is the picture worth going in and disrupting or making somebody upset that you’re in there? And often times it is.

Q: I remember when I was following the 2016 campaign, that was what I heard all the time — that Hillary Clinton had an amazing selfie game.

A: The first time somebody would hand her their phone and she’d be like, “I don’t know what to do,” and she’d hand it to Connolly [Keigher] or Huma [Abedin] or Nick [Merrill], somebody, one of our staff who was around the rope line. So then she sort of got the hang of it and you’d see this big smile on her face that she’d grab somebody’s phone and she’d go, “Here, let me do it,” and she’d shoot a selfie. She was like a little kid who finally learned something. … It was quicker if she did it rather than having somebody whose hands are shaking because they’re meeting Hillary and screwed up the photo … and you’d have to come back and do it again. So it was easier for her to do it. So she’d do it a lot. It was a machine.

Q: Something that you always hear about Hillary Clinton is that she is a very warm and almost a different person when you see her in person. I think that in a lot of the stories that you recount, that comes through. She does seem like a very warm person, but then of course when she’s covered in the press, she’s often treated as this very calculating, almost nonhuman presence, and I just … wonder what you think about that sort of tension — the Hillary you know vs. the Hillary you see in the media.

A: I don’t understand it, but I do. I mean, I think Al Gore suffers from the same thing. … He’s very serious and organized … but behind the scenes he’s just a crackup, you know. And Hillary, I think she will be the first to say that she’s a wonk. When she gives her remarks, she really wants to talk about these topics and go through them in a very sort of organized and calculated way, because she has these things that she wants to cover and they’re important to her. … But then when she … is off the remarks, I mean especially if you’ve ever seen her on talk shows, she’s very funny. I mean she’s definitely a much more controlled and serious person than, say, President Clinton. … Now is that because she’s a wonk or is that because she’s a woman and has to? I think there’s a little of both … in there. I think that, you know, she can’t be a Bernie Sanders who screams when he gives his campaign rallies, because she would be looked at as a woman who’s screeching, right?

Q: It’s funny that you describe her as businesslike, too, because I think that’s generally a quality you would want in a political leader and that makes me wonder if it’s more of a gendered thing.

A: Look at the women who are out there now. … There’s nobody who’s really crazy out there. Even when Elizabeth Warren gets a little crazy, people jump all over her.

Q: It’s interesting to see how women in politics have to present themselves in such a careful way.

A: I wonder if that’ll change as more and more women like in this election got elected — you know, [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], who’s causing a stir — she’s being outspoken already and people don’t know what to do with it. Maybe it’s a new era where women can actually be a little more outspoken. We’ll see.

 


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