Reflecting on 2008: What makes a campaign image resonate?

June 11, 2012 | By Chip Somodevilla | News

This image was made in the days following Barack Obama’s clinching of the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. The campaign’s momentum was really building at this point, and many of Obama’s rallies were being held in massive indoor sports arenas with tens of thousands of people in attendance.

In venues like that, the candidate’s distance from the audience can be frustrating for a photographer trying to show a candidate connecting with his supporters.


Obama-2008-crowd embrace-Chip Somodevilla-Getty Images-81390646

Supporters engulf Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) during a rally at the Xcel Energy Center June 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination following today's primaries in South Dakota and Montana, although his rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has not yet conceded the race. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


As Obama finished his stump speech, he moved off of the stage and down to the floor to shake hands with supporters and the press photographers stepped up on the stage to make images of the candidate “working the rope line.” Most of the time, images from this perspective offer a low-win ratio.  With rare exceptions, the most you get are pictures of the back of the candidate’s head and the faces of the crowd.

Fortunately, supporters at Obama events were always excited and expressive, sometimes giving the images something special. When this young woman grabbed Obama and gave him a huge hug, I was ready.

As she pulled Obama further into the group of adoring fans, more hands reached in to embrace and touch. Of course, the Secret Service agents tasked with protecting the future president of the United States were not pleased with the enthusiastic touching and added their hands to the mix, peeling the fans away.

I think the image resonated with people because it showed the enthusiasm that young voters, and especially African-American voters, felt for Obama and his run for the presidency.

Editor’s note: After working for eight years at newspapers across the United States, Chip Somodevilla moved to Washington, DC, in 2005. Since he began working in the nation’s capital, his images of politics and protest have appeared in major publications around the world. He’s won awards in the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism, Pictures of the Year International and the White House News Photographers Association, where he was awarded Political Photo of the Year in 2006 and was named Photographer of the Year in 2010. He is now covering his second U.S. presidential race.

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