Project Blog

Our Week at the DNC (Part 1)

Aug 30, 2008

Rob and I got to switch things up the week of the DNC in Denver, shooting in a sheltered, wired, and equipped space that is actually intended for photography!! Our new friend Larry lent us his lovely studio for the whole week, simply because he is a marvelously generous human being! Leaving our backdrops and lights set up and ready to go, we were free to go scout the convention center for a diverse crowd of Obama supporters, scheduling them to come to the studio later in the week for portraits.

With high expectations, we set out, into the busy streets and parks of downtown Denver, looking for interesting folks wearing Obama gear. You’d think this would be easy enough, at the home of the Democratic National Convention. But there were so many people plainly dressed in business attire on their way to meetings and symposiums, who, even if we had wanted to inquire about their enthusiasm for Obama, were off at a clip before we could stop them. In contrast, we spotted several people who were all decked out in outlandish Obama bling, but who turned out to be vendors.

So on Monday and Tuesday we walked around in the heat, trying to spot people who were both enthusiastic and available, and on Wednesday we had our first studio shoot. The “Red Necks For Obama,” had agreed to interrupt their week-long vigil outside the convention center, long enough to join us for a few shots with their 6-foot banner. Then a group of Islamic women from Chicago stopped by, followed by a union organizer from Maryland who takes his fashion cues from Johny Cash. We felt like we’d done a pretty good job with the diversity part, but after several people called to say they just wouldn’t be able to make it to the studio, we were beginning to see the holes in our plan.

Early in the trip Rob and I had drawn some sort of imaginary line at Denver. Here we would make the decision to keep going to the West Coast or to turn around and head back to Brooklyn. Rob was already turning down job offers back in New York, and his main concern (beyond our savings running out) was that if he stayed away too long, the paid work back home would dry up. I, on the other hand, don’t have a job to go back to, so I was happy to continue interloping across the country! But for Rob, taking another month to continue this project might prove to be a make or break career move, and we both felt like we could really use a sign to help us make the decision easier. What we needed, and what we didn’t really have time to pursue or solicit in the run up to Denver, was something major: a book deal, some media buzz, or word from the campaign that they knew we were out there.

We had had a few promising leads early in the week. A reporter with CBS Denver had heard about the project and was gunning to do a story about us, but their media crews were already stretched too thin trying to cover other convention activities. Rob was informed of a friend’s connection to an upper level Obama campaign staffer, but our emails went unanswered. I began to think we were crazy to expect that some magic would be made here, in the midst of all the other chaos of DNC week.

On Monday, near the convention center, we had met a couple of sharply dressed black gentleman who had brought with them to Denver (and also there to the sidewalk) a large painting of Obama, which one of them had painted. They had traveled all the way from Maryland with the hope that they might somehow catch the attention of the campaign and get to present their homage to Obama himself. When I called to remind them of their appointment time on Wednesday, they apologized saying they wouldn’t be able to make it. They had already left Colorado, on their way to Chicago, because, you see, they had gotten the call from Oprah. Now that’s a sign!

Thursday morning I woke up determined we would stop feeling sorry for ourselves. If we weren’t going to get a clear-cut sign from Oprah, we at least needed a little inspiration! Instead of heading back downtown to scout for more folks to fill out our afternoon and Friday schedules, as planned, I talked Rob into going to see the “Manifest Hope Gallery.” This warehouse space turned art gallery, sponsored by MoveOn.org, was created for one week only, to celebrate the role of art in a growing grassroots movement. Artwork inspired by themes of hope, progress and patriotism turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. In addition to the boost we got from seeing all this amazing hope filled art, we also managed to recruit several subjects for our own work, all of them enthusiastic about coming by the studio the following day. While describing our project to one of these people, Rob was overheard by a journalist with the Denver Post, who asked if we’d be interested in submitting a few of the photos for the next day’s paper!

Our lucky streak continued when we got a call from my aunt, Maro, who had wrangled a couple of extra tickets to Obama’s nomination speech that night at Invesco Field! If things ran smoothly at the studio, and we managed to avoid the rumored 5-hour lines to the stadium, we might just make it in time to hear Obama speak. Thank God we hadn’t packed our afternoon schedule!

As it happened, our roster of subjects that day was full of mostly young, creative types, who brought heaps of energy their photo shoots, and had tons of encouragement for our work. There was Dominique, who demonstrated various acrobatics to show off her Obama knee-highs, and her boyfriend Bret, who then stripped down to his boxers in order to display his Obama socks. Then we had several media company professionals from Boulder, who helped me craft our “blurb” for the Denver Post submission (alas, this was not used.) And finally, we got some hilarious shots of an entire camera crew from LA, who were in Denver covering the convention for a startup multimedia website, CauseCast.

By 4:00 we were on our way to Invesco, and less than 3 hours later we had made it through security and found our seats at the very top of the stadium. From up in the nosebleeds, the tiny person on stage could have been anyone. So we were, effectively, still watching Al Gore deliver his speech on TV, via one of several gigantic monitors positioned around the stadium. But what made our experience unique was the opportunity to look out at such enormous sea of people, and know that we were all there with the same overwhelming hope. We’d been given a chance to take a break from all our hard work and the debate about weather to keep going, to pause and recognize just how far we had come.

And when the Democratic nominee finally took the stage and began quoting MLK’s historic speech, given 45 years ago to the date, Obama himself settled our debate. “ We cannot walk alone,’ the preacher cried. ‘And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.’ America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done.” Here we were, surrounded by the people our project strives to acknowledge, listening to the man who inspired us all to take action, and the fear of our uncertain path was no longer enough to hold us back. But the fireworks that then exploded directly behind us did scare the crap out of me!

One Response to “Our Week at the DNC (Part 1)”

  1. I’m so proud of you guys for doing this. It’s truly exciting stuff. We need this kind of optimism and enthusiasm now more than ever. Sending you good thoughts for a safe and fun journey back towards home. -JCK

    - Jenny Kragel

Leave a Reply