The 2016 Presidential Candidates as You’ve Never Seen Them

In the fall and winter of 2015, photographer Mark Ostow made it his quest to capture a fresh, unfiltered look at nearly every presidential candidate (that’s more than 20). Here are the contenders.

Every four years the presidential candidates set up at the starting line here in NH, but this year, the centennial of the NH Primary, was different — and not just the size of the field (see sidebar). In the fall and winter of 2015, photographer Mark Ostow made it his personal quest — obsession, really — to capture a fresh, unfiltered look at nearly everyone* fighting for a chance to lead the free world. He filed those images with just two publications: New Hampshire Magazine and The Atlantic.

*Major candidates that are missing are early drop-outs Rick Perry and Jim Webb. Ostow says he has reached out to each of them for portrait sessions should they return to the state during the NH Primary. If that happens, those shots will be added here for posterity.

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary provides all the spectacle and drama of a great moment of decision, but it’s really just the starting bell for the biggest political prizefight in the world. In one of the largest rosters ever, more than 20 presidential candidates had the moxie to merit a place on the early debate stages. Some were familiar, some scarcely known. All were either starting up or starting over. Each had the same challenge: to assemble the campaign equivalent of a multi-million-dollar company on the fly and manufacture their momentum with the force of will and the power of persuasion.

Presidential candidates want to have their photos taken, but they also seek control. Ask for a photo op, and they will stand and smile. Ask for an intimate moment to reveal their souls, and they might just summon security. Even so, the chance to capture artful portraits of the full slate of 2016 candidates was too excellent to pass up for Cambridge-based photographer Mark Ostow. A self-proclaimed political junkie, Ostow had shot a gallery of obscure candidates for the Boston Globe Magazine eight years prior. He knew this would be considerably more difficult to orchestrate.

“My normal portraiture would take an hour or two with someone and evolve during the shoot,” he says. “This was like taking improv to another level.”

To reach that level, Ostow had his assistant, Anna Bloxham, find a position near each candidate, pointing a diffused flash that synched with his camera. This allowed him to get just the right angle and distance to take his photos and still control the light.

While other photographers in the press pool were jostling to capture the texture of the campaign, he was zoomed in on the human subject. “I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for,” he says. “Just a transcendent moment where you see the candidate in a way you haven’t seen them before.”

He’d anticipated the intense security around figures like Hillary Clinton, but found it amusing that candidates would stop and talk for five minutes with someone standing out front “about aliens and lasers,” and then balk at giving him a few moments for a portrait.

There were exceptions. Once, after losing a scheduled time with Martin O’Malley to a Chris Matthews “Hardball” interview, he had to rush to Rye to try and earn a moment with Jeb Bush. When he finally arrived, the candidate was boarding his campaign bus, but they allowed him on and gave him five minutes. By the time he left, to the campaign staff’s dismay, Gov. Bush was inviting him back for more.

Then there was that moment at the Donald Trump press conference. Trump’s campaign manager had given him a card that he stuck in his pocket, then he moved onto the stage to be as close to the candidate as possible. The card had somehow slipped inside Ostow’s vintage flip phone and with the pressure of his crouch hit some combination of keys that turned on his speaker and redialed his last call. As the phone rang loudly in his pocket, Trump interrupted his speech, looked down at Ostow and said, “You gonna answer that?”

Now planning shows of his photos in NH and the Boston area, Ostow has found time to compile his personal by-the-numbers tally of this once-in-a-lifetime assignment: unique shoots, 39; trips to NH, 22; miles traveled, 2,080; number of KIND bars consumed, 42; events ejected from, 1; hugs from candidates, 0.

Categories: Features, Politics