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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Photographing the president requires a lot of waiting around

By Joel Kowsky
April 30, 2010 | 5:40 p.m. CDT

Covering the President of the United States involves a lot of waiting around and a very short time of working like crazy to get a few telling images.

It all started with an e-mail that stated President Barack Obama would be traveling to somewhere in Missouri on Wednesday as part of his Main Street Tour. I had photographed Obama once before during the 2008 presidential campaign and immediately jumped at the opportunity to photograph him as President. Once his visit to Macon had been finalized and credential applications had been submitted, I began the big wait for everything to happen.  I found out on Monday afternoon that I’d be the one who got to make the trip.

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Once we arrived at the POET Biorefining plant in Macon that morning around 9:30 a.m. and were checked in, we had to wait about an hour before being allowed to enter the building where the President was speaking. Access to the plant was tightly controlled while they conducted the final security sweeps. Once allowed to go inside, we were checked against a second list of names before clearing the final security checkpoint. All of my bags were opened and my camera equipment was inspected by a bomb-sniffing dog and given additional screening by federal agents. I was in; now came more waiting.

The President was set to arrive at 12:20 p.m. and be given a tour of the facility. Then he would give remarks at 1 p.m. to approximately 70 employees and 30 guests invited by the White House. Members of the audience began to slowly filter in. Gov. Jay Nixon, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Attorney General Chris Koster and Macon Mayor Doug Bagler chatted with everyone as we all waited for the President’s arrival. At about 12:30 p.m., a member of the Secret Service came out and placed the Presidential Seal on the podium – that's when everything started to set in. I was going to be photographing the President of the United States.  

Just after 1 p.m., President Obama came out and began delivering his remarks about green jobs and biorefining. He spoke for about 12 minutes before making his way around the front row of seats to shake hands and talk with those in attendance.  There’s a bit of a rush that comes from seeing the President standing at the podium behind the seal.

The whole experience is one that will stick with me for the rest of my life. When I photographed Obama back in 2007, I never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to photograph him three years later as President. The differences in access between photographing candidate Obama and President Obama were immense.  When I photographed Obama in Des Moines, Iowa back in 2007, I actually brushed shoulders with him at an event for campaign volunteers at a sandwich shop after the debate.

That kind of access just doesn’t exist once a candidate becomes President. The media was held back behind the audience at the event in Macon and were nowhere as close as we were allowed during his campaign.  

The wait lasted more than four hours from the time I arrived to the plant to the time the President began his remarks. But it was well worth it, even if I didn’t get to brush shoulders with him this time.

Joel Kowsky is a senior photojournalism major who is working for the Columbia Missourian as a photographer as part of the Staff Photojournalism class.