Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographer Discusses Capturing Iconic Trump Arrest Photo
On April 4, 2023, former President Donald Trump arrived at the Manhattan Criminal Court for his arraignment. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Michael Santiago was there waiting and he shares his thoughts on capturing the historic moment.
With his indictment, Donald Trump became the first former United States president to ever be charged with a criminal offense. The historic situation afforded journalists a scant few seconds to capture an image, and as Santiago explains to WRAL News, he was prepared to capture this moment to capture history.
Santiago says that prior to Trump’s appearance, he and other journalists were allowed in and prepared in position for what they believed would happen. He actually says that many were still asking themselves if this was actually going to take place because during this time of 10 to 15 minutes before the photo presented itself, the former president had not even arrived yet and the enormity of the situation was not lost on them.
“I have been in that courtroom hallway countless times over the past year and for the most part everyone who was there, we know each other. So when the district attorney Alvin Bragg walked in, we knew that it was happening,” Santiago says. “And then once Trump’s lawyer walked in right then we were all prepared for it to happen and it was like a sound vacuum hit that hallway it just got completely dead silent. And then I just went into tunnel vision, expecting for this to happen.”
For situations like this, it is less about what a photographer does as the event is unraveling and more about how prepared they are going into it. What Santiago was there to capture would last just a few seconds and the perfect photo would only exist for mere moments.
“I triple-checked my settings to make sure I was getting everything correct and I had my camera to my eye pointed to the door they were walking out of and I was prepared for him to walk out and as soon as that door opened, I just hit my shutter and kept it pressed,” he says.
Perhaps most important for Santiago was his position, a spot that allowed him to have the perfect angle and view of Trump’s arrival and caused the former president to look almost directly into Santiago’s camera.
“What is not seen is that I am about the fourth row of people that are there. By the time I got there, everyone was already set up. Prior to him getting there, we are in a secured pen and I asked the court officer if I was allowed to lean over,” he recalls.
The officer said that he was, as long as he did not move the barricade. So Santiago practiced a few ways he might be able to get a dead-center shot of the door, and that’s pretty much what happened.
“A lot of people will comment that, ‘oh he’s looking directly at you,’ and in a sense yeah, but he’s looking directly at everyone who was there,” he says.
“It looks like he’s looking directly at me as if I’m the only person there, and it kind of felt like that, because I went into tunnel vision and everything around me kind of disappeared and it’s just me making sure I got exactly what I needed and I just focused on him. So in a sense, it was kind of like we both locked eyes with each other.”
The full interview with WRAL News can be watched on the publication’s website and is a worthwhile listen, as it gives insight into how a seasoned, award-winning journalist thinks, operates, and was able to assure that he would get a shot that will no doubt be remembered.
Image credits: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images