Ayanna Pressley upset 10-term congressman Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary. She is poised to be the first African-American woman to represent the state of Massachusetts in Congress, as there is no Republican on the November ballot in her district.
Last week, WGBH Director of Photography Meredith Nierman spent the day with the candidate and discussed what she encountered.
What made you decide to do this project?
We knew we wanted to focus on Pressley and Capuano given the very real and symbolic importance of the race on both a local and national level, but I wanted us to go beyond typical campaign coverage photos to do something more focused, deeper and, most of all, intimate.
That would require a closer level of access than campaigns normally afford to press, but it wasn't a very hard sell, surprisingly. After explaining what we needed to Pressley's campaign manager, Sarah Groh — a full day from start to finish, with as much access to everything as possible — Groh seemed to pause. I think I then simply said, "OK, so this is what it is... She's a candidate, but she's also a human. We want to try to show more of the human." And they got it.
What kind of access did you have?
Other than her home, I had full access to everything from morning until night. This meant I was in the back seat of Groh's car as she and Pressley traveled from event to event. I was in the room as Pressley spoke to senior citizens, in the studio as she was interviewed on TV, in the break area at campaign headquarters as she and her team celebrated a milestone, and next to her as she talked with her husband at the end of the day.
Nothing was off-limits, really, though I took care to not photograph any potentially confidential material like campaign documents or messages visible on her phone screen.
What stuck with you the most?
How much time she spent with people even when she knew that they wouldn't or couldn't vote for her. Whether she was lingering for 15 minutes with the elderly woman at Leventhal House in Brighton who told her she was an ardent Capuano supporter, or helping a lost, out-of-state and therefore nonvoting college student find her way to the student union, she seemed to offer the same amount of time to everyone.
What do you hope resonates most with people?
My hope is that this essay is not only about the facts of the day, where Pressley went and what she did, but also about the feelings of the day — hers, theirs and, in some way, even mine.
Meredith Nierman is the director of photography at member station WGBH. Follow her work on instagram @meredithniermanphoto.
You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for. If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.