After 27 years of shooting daily photo assignments I had found myself at a crossroads in my photojournalism career. At that point I had spent 20 years as a staff photographer at The Boston Herald and 7 years as the Photo Editor of the Lowell Sun. But creatively I felt as if I was in a rut or shooting on autopilot.
Every day slinging the two Canon 1D series cameras over my shoulder with the classic photojournalism combo of a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens and tackling the day’s assignments. Don’t get me wrong, I was producing good work and winning my share of journalism awards along the way. But, I just wasn’t feeling the creativity that seemed to overflow early in my career. What I was in need of was a personal project.
Then a little over a year ago I departed the shrinking newspaper industry and headed into the freelance world. With the change came the chance to set my own agenda and pursue the project I never seemed able to get to.
Immediately my thoughts turned to politics and the New Hampshire presidential primary. I have lived in New Hampshire for over a dozen years and have covered the primary all the way back to the Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis running for President in the 1980’s. But I have always had a desire to shoot the primary as a long term project in my own style. So the New Hampshire primary it is.
With no expectations from my employer as to what to shoot and when, I am free to set my own assignments and shoot my own rediscovered inner vision and style. But first came the question of what to shoot with. I had a very strong desire to shoot with fixed prime lenses and simplify my gear. No more standing in one place racking a zoom ring for me.
Another consideration was I wanted the project to be in black and white. After weeks of research I quickly came to love the look of black and white conversions from photographs taken with Fujifilm cameras with the X-Trans sensor. Plus the sensor delivers great low light, high ISO performance and I won’t be using flash.
I soon had narrowed down my search to either the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 or the X-E1 mirrorless cameras. Image-wise they came in basically identical, so the decision came down to handling and exterior look. Some photographers want to look like a pro with the big DSLR, but for this project I wanted to keep a very low profile. I knew there would be times I would be shooting from the crowd or areas that campaigns didn’t want media in, constraining them to press pens.
I picked the X-E1 for the project and soon found it to be an excellent camera that looks little, but shoots big.
Next was lens choice and I went for the 27mm f/2.8 Fujinon that gives a 40mm look on the X-E1’s APS-C sensor. I picked this lens for it matching the human field of vision. A key look for making my viewers feel they are getting a real world documentary look at the primary.
That‘s it. One camera, one lens.
The first big decision for the project presentation was to make it live on the Web from the beginning. Let people follow along and see the story develop. Get to know the candidates. See an alternative view from the wire feeds. So I gave the project a name, 7 Days Preceding, which comes from the New Hampshire State Law stating the primary must be 7 days preceding any similar election. I reserved the domain name and set up the project blog.
Now for the fun part. Getting out to any and every event I can find. Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Martin O’Malley…and the list goes on. Over 20 candidates crisscrossing the state. Some days with 3 or 4 self-assignments and on it goes till February of 2016.
The photography is fun and creative. Zoom with my legs. Get down for the low shot. Play with the TV lighting by moving around the candidates. Always thinking. The passion back in my photography.
The project starts getting noticed by candidates, political operatives and other media. And on it goes… one camera, one lens, 20 candidates and so many stories to tell.
About the author: Jon Hill is a veteran photojournalist and freelance photographer. You can visit the 7 Days Preceding project through its website and Twitter account. The project is syndicated worldwide by Redux Pictures photo agency. An exhibit and book are in preliminary stages to debut after the primary ends.