Capturing Roland Burris and Washington, D.C., Politics

Pulitzer-winning photographer Stephen Crowley gets Roland Burris right.

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By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

That's a typically great photograph on the front page of the New York Times today by the newspaper's Pulitzer Prize-winning Stephen Crowley.

I have spent a lot of time on White House pool duty with the photo dogs over the years, which generally requires that one linger in a van for hours while the president enjoys his morning jog or bike ride, spends the afternoon playing golf, or attends a fundraising dinner in the evening—all off camera.

Typically, the best a White House photographer can hope for is that there are some speeches to be made or foreign dignitaries to greet, with the requisite ceremonial presidential stiffness. The thrown shoes are rare indeed.

And then there is the U.S. Capitol, where 535 men and women with identically frozen features, look-alike power suits, and the fixed smile of professional politicians work overtime at showing no emotion. Washington is a photographer's nightmare.

Yet Crowley consistently delights. I'm sure I've spent time with him on one or more of those pool stakeouts, but I can't remember ever meeting him. Yet I know his work. You can check out his online portfolio here. My personal favorite is the Urban Archaeology series—a whimsical and ultimately poignant collection of photographs of lost items he's found stuck in the tar of city streets.

Today's photograph shows Roland Burris as he leaves the Capitol after being barred by the Senate from taking his oath of office as Barack Obama's successor.

It's a simple photo of a politician in a suit, surrounded by security personnel. But Crowley makes it somehow special by capturing Burris in a hunted, vulnerable pose. The looks of worry from Burris's partially obscured companions and the irritation on the faces of the security detail add to the mood, as do the skeletal trees in the distance.

Then note the two triangular splashes of red on the right-hand side of the photograph and the recurring image of outstretched hands—each of which adds to the visual artistry.

Bravo, Crowley.

  • Read more by John Aloysius Farrell.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about Roland Burris.