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The ‘Campaign of the Selfie’ for the 2016 election

It’s the rare supporter nowadays who wants to shake hands or get an autograph. What they really came for is a selfie with the candidate.

Democratic presidential presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton poses for a picture with supporters after speaking at a town hall event at the Pearson Community Center in Las Vegas, NV.
Brad Zucroff

A version of this story was originally published on PetaPixel.


I’m a freelance creative director and professional photojournalist. When I’m shooting, I work quite a bit for the boutique picture agency, Polaris Images in New York City, although I do take a lot of other assignments. I shoot all kinds of assignments — news, features, portraits and politics … for the past year and a half, a lot of politics.

The hoi polloi are no longer politely accepting a handshake, a kind word, or thrusting a baby forward for them to kiss.

I’m based in Las Vegas, and with Nevada and its large Hispanic population being one of the early primary voting states last year, all the candidates from both parties were coming through here every week. I was assigned to cover almost all of them, and I try hard to make more than the usual campaign pictures, if I can.

My first rule when I arrive at an event and look around: I want to be where the other photographers are not. During this presidential campaign, I’ve noticed a trend — I’m not sure yet if the trend is good or bad, but it’s definitely changing the way presidential campaign events are staged and photographed.

You would have to call the 2015-2016 campaign cycle the "Campaign of the Selfie."

Brad Zucroff

After the speeches and the Q&A, when the candidate plunges into the crowd to meet supporters (we photographers affectionately call this "the scrum"), it’s the rare supporter nowadays who wants to shake hands or get an autograph. What they really came to do, and want to come away with, is a selfie with the candidate.

A picture posing beside the candidate taken by a friend or spouse is a close second. And getting a picture of the candidate holding your baby now seems to be the holy grail of campaign event attendance. Not only do the attendees want this, they basically demand it, and feel it’s their inalienable right to have it, so they can post it to social media for all their friends to see.

Brad Zucroff

From my own observations in the scrum, I would say that Hillary likes to dive right in. She also will hold other peoples' cameras and phones, and actually help shoot the selfie. At a recent event in Las Vegas on July 19, the press wrangler told me that Hillary was going to leave right after her short speech, but she ended up spending almost 10 minutes shaking hands and posing for pictures and selfies. She plainly likes this part of campaigning.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets supporters, signs autographs and poses for pictures at the South Point Hotel Arena in Las Vegas, the night before the Nevada Republican Caucus.
Brad Zucroff

Trump is much more reluctant — when he first started campaigning, he rarely mixed it up with supporters, but seems to do it with some hesitation now. He much prefers having his picture taken than to be so close to an audience member.

For both campaigns, the selfie phenomenon seems to be both a blessing and a curse. Lots of pictures of the candidate showing how friendly they are get circulated on social media. But on the other hand, these scrums with the public have taken on a whole new level of mayhem. The hoi polloi are no longer politely accepting a handshake, a kind word, or thrusting a baby forward for them to kiss. No, they’re right in there mixing it up with the candidate, their aides, beefy security people and the press, angling to get right next to the candidate to get a picture.

Brad Zucroff

It has become much harder for us pros to get good pictures. You know — the ones without 40 cellphones in front of your lens.

I’ve had press aides from many of the candidates tell me that they have to allow more than three times the amount of time for this craziness than in the past, and that the time allowed in the daily schedule for getting the candidate from one event to the next has exploded because of this. While handshakes along a rope line are easy to control and can be handled in a fairly quick time frame, digging the candidate out of a scrum that’s 15 people deep on all sides — while everyone angles to take a selfie or their friend’s picture with the candidate — can take a monumental amount of time.

Those of us in the press are used to having good access to candidates — especially during those early days of the campaign with small, "retail politics"-type events and fairly easy-going security. But now, with the selfie-takers pressing for their pictures, too, we’ve become part of the free for all — ironically making it much harder for us to get good pictures.

You know — the ones without 40 cellphones in front of your lens.


Brad Zucroff is a freelance creative director and professional photojournalist. You can find his photos and the sources he offers on his website, Omnivorous Media.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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