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From Preschool to Presidents: A DC Child Portrait Photographer's Adventures in Obama-Land
Yes, I am a child portrait photographer by trade. And yes, I have also been photographing the President of the United States on a quasi-regular basis since early 2007. Looking back on it, I realize that my story is nearly laughably unlikely.
I am a suburban house-wife living in the Northern VA suburbs of Washington, DC. I run a successful child portraiture business, scheduling my part-time work around my children’s school and sports schedules. I photograph babies, children, families, couples and high school seniors. Sometimes I do a bit of commercial or editorial work or photograph a small wedding or a swanky birthday party.
My life is a good one, but not an unusual one. I shoot a couple of sessions a week, drive to preschool, carpool to swim team, swap childcare with the neighbors, and volunteer in the classroom. I do my proofing and my office work at night, when the kiddos are in bed. I stress over the fact that I don’t always have the balance quite down. I sometimes go to bed and leave dirty dishes in the sink or neglect to vacuum all the dog hair off the carpet. And occasionally, I photograph President Obama.
It was never something I planned. I was an Obama-follower from way back (if by “way back” you can count 2004). When Obama announced his bid for the Democratic nomination, two girlfriends and I drove ourselves downtown and walked into the small unobtrusive campaign office and asked how we could help. You have to understand – in the very beginning, there were no crowds. There were no street closures, no bomb-sniffing dogs, and next to no entourage.
In the very beginning, there was a small modest finance office staffed by a few law students on hiatus, and we were the first ones to show up on their doorstep. We helped on the weekends by moving boxes, answering phones, and providing a DC insider’s knowledge as to where to find DJs, caterers, and florists. As winter turned to spring, the office began to host luncheons and dinner fundraisers for our candidate. There was a buzz in the city, and the feeling that things were about to start happening. And they did. For all of us as a campaign, and for each of us in our own way. My career turned on a dime one day in the summer of 2007 when a staffer casually asked “If you are a photographer, why aren’t you photographing our events?” Fast forward a week, and I found myself in a living room in Maryland with a line of 150 Obama supporters and the Senator himself. And thus began my sideline as a photoline and event photographer for the Mid-Atlantic Finance Committee of Obama for America.
This was a journey that traversed more than two years of political campaign adventures. I traveled to events throughout the Mid-Atlantic region – always photographing. Sometimes I took my older kids (9 and 7) with me, chalking up the missed school days to life experience. In between, I came home, drove carpool, went to swim team, and volunteered in the classroom. I continued to photograph children and families, and found that for the most part, my clients were happy for me – whether they be Republicans or Democrats. They all seemed to feel that this was a movement. It was history in the making. It was a feel-good moment. And gosh-darn it, their family photographer was documenting it.
As time progressed, the crowds came. The street closures and bomb-dogs came. The entourage grew into a motorcade with flashing lights. I grew used to having my equipment checked by Secret Service at each event. I grew used to lock downs in secured areas, and used to being cordoned off in small spaces with the man who Might Be President. I grew used to the swooning, screaming, teary-eyed masses just wanting to catch a glimpse of our candidate. I grew used to Bon Jovis and Caroline Kennedys at parties and in hotel ballrooms. I grew used to it, didn’t I? No I didn’t. Not really. If I stopped and thought about it, really thought about it, it veered off into the realm of the surreal. The truly unbelievable.
Because 80% of the time I was still a suburban mom from the suburbs running a child portraiture business and shuttling my children to school and sports. And I was standing where millions of people wanted to stand. Doing the thing I loved doing the most. For a Presidential candidate that for years sat squarely at the top of my list of “People I Would Most Like to Meet”. For me, the truly unthinkable goal has been attained. I will probably never top the experience, professionally or personally.
I continue to do some work in the political arena. I have photographed the President on several occasions since the inauguration. I have friendships forged on the campaign trail that I hope will last for years to come, and professional connections that I couldn’t possibly have otherwise made. I value every second I spent documenting what was such a magical and historical journey. And I still have my beloved children’s portrait business.
Ms. David is an award-winning, nationally published portrait and event photographer serving the DC Metro area and Mid-Atlantic region. Her portrait work has been seen in national publications, and was selected for inclusion in the Random House coffee table collection The Big Book of Babies. She is a member of PPA, ASMP, and IROCP. Starting in 2009, she will be the chapter director for the DC chapter of Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit organization providing in-hospital portraiture for seriously ill children and their families. Ruthi’s other sites are rdavideventphotography and rdavidphotography
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