One of our very own neighbors here in Cambridge, Mark Ostow, was able to get nearly impossible photos of several candidates for presidency over a period of four months, July-November 2015. Ostow, a local co-owner of Kickstand Café and a professional photographer with a studio in Cambridge, decided last summer to embark on the challenging mission of acquiring unique portraits of the candidates. He focused on the New Hampshire primary, and made the trip to the state 22 times over the four-month period to attend the 19-candidate project. He sought to capture unique individual portraits of the candidates in their element that would capture their personal style. The close proximity of the primary and the small venue allowed him to do just this, not without its obstacles however. He followed the candidates, their security teams, and the press, sometimes even laying on the ground to get the perfect shot! He made sure to know the event schedule ahead of time and was always there at the right time. Ostow says, “I wanted portraits that had the context of the campaign, but ideally (the candidates) weren’t stumping”. “Sometimes I didn’t know what I wanted,” he added. “I’m always trying to see the real human being in there-I think it’s something I’m always trying to see.”
Ostow’s tenacity paid off on a few occasions. One such occasion, Carly Fiorina, after bailing on a photo shoot, allowed him to join press members and follow her on a factory tour. Another time, he took a picture of Jeb Bush after talking his way onto the Bush campaign bus, with only 4 minutes to do so! He says Bush invited him to “come back sometime”. The image that resulted reveals a relaxed, human figure.
He stated that up close, the candidates’ personalities were on full display. “There were a few candidates that I had a visceral reaction to,” said Ostow. Regarding Ben Carson and Bernie Sanders, he said, “being close to them did not endear them to me at all.” On the contrary however, he said that Lindsey Graham seemed to truly enjoy campaigning and was “wonderfully comfortable in his own skin.” Ostow is a Democrat himself.
He also saw up close how rigorous campaigning actually is. “It’s amazing to see what they go through,” he said of the candidates. “I don’t feel like the campaigns were nimble,” he stated.
Ostow put much effort into the 2016 primary candidate photography project and called it “the absolute most challenging thing” he’s ever done, but his labor paid off. He ultimately photographed 15 Republican and 4 Democratic primary candidates. Many of his photos now adorn the walls of his café, Kickstand Café, in Arlington, and were featured in the January issue of the New Hampshire magazine as well as the most recent issue of The Atlantic.
He refers to this assignment as one that will be hard to beat in terms of gratification, saying that it was one that combined his passions for politics and portrait with tenacity, compulsiveness and ingenuity in just the right way.
Ostow conveys his passion as well by saying, “I like the intimacy of a portrait; I like connecting with someone.” “My goal is to create something startling.”
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