The Much Bigger Story

2016.03.01  

Last Saturday night I was backstage at a presidential candidate’s campaign event in Little Rock, Arkansas. The man who had invited me there was introducing me to the candidate. “George is one of the greatest photographers in the world.” The candidate nodded in a pretty disinterested fashion and shook my hand. The man I was with then said, “George is my communist friend and a good man.” The candidate, normally not very good at showing much emotion slightly furled his brow and gave me a longer gaze. His main focus was more on being blown off the map by the force of Trump than meeting a communist photographer.

The trip began as an email earlier that morning. I got it when I arrived at my son Jackson's basketball game at the Y in Boulder. “Dad, you would NEVER miss my last game would you?” No. Never. The email was from Glenn Beck asking me to join him on the road that evening in Little Rock with Ted Cruz for 4 cities - then later in the week to the CPAC convention in DC (where Glenn was the keynote speaker) and promised to be a wildly heated event.

At these events I get the access toI take the pictures you could never get. Tense meetings in elevators. Exasperated sighs in between explosions of adulation. Guard down, camera up. I am even asked for my autograph and to pose in selfies with those crowds - they know me. How can that be? I grew up a good liberal in Pittsburgh and have clung to those beliefs my whole life - even refusing to photograph Republican politicians for years. Then I met Glenn and through a series of assignments found my greatest muse and a good friend. When Glenn called Obama a racist on Fox, I called him up and said that was the craziest thing I had ever heard. I told him he had just shot himself in the foot. I then took him out in the desert in Arizona, drilled a hole in his shoe, had blood coming out, handed him a gun and photographed him shooting himself in the foot. It all grew from there. We are polar opposites politically yet both love Nina Simone. We both come from completely different backgrounds and yet we both cherish our wives and children. We talk about how wrong each other is on the issues, and yet we respect each other’s viewpoints, core values and powers to communicate. Glenn is the most courageous creative I have ever met - and pushes me to take the pictures I am afraid to take. It is a powerful relationship. With Glenn I have created a body of work that is so far beyond what I could ever have done on my own, and yet...there are the politics which are a part of it, too.

My job is to humanize people. I am am so much more interested in who people are than what they look like. That goes for movie stars. Factory workers. Presidents. And yes...right wing talk show hosts. I have been searching my whole career for how we are all connected. How we love. How we feel. It is fascinating to hang out with the people you would never normally entertain and find love.

This is a much bigger story, but for now, it serves as a short introduction to some work I want to share this week. It is always dangerous expressing anything political on social media. It allows the arrogance from the likes of Trump’s army to enter your world in the comments. I used to argue with Glenn that Republicans were hateful and racist. He always pushed back, especially in defending his core audience. Now he admits, the Trump and his supporters represent the ugliest intolerance imaginable. Glenn was one of the first people to warn of the danger Trump presents to this country. I wish every sane Republican and the media has understood that last summer before the momentum was unstoppable.

Late Saturday night in Little Rock, I was in the backseat of an Uber being driven by a wounded vet. After hearing all the cries at the political rally, here was this young guy quietly introducing himself as a “good ol’ boy”, then telling me all about love. How he loved everyone, making a point of including Muslims and African Americans - because we were all God’s children. He talked about how he was so involved with his wife and his children and his church. He was voting for Ben Carson. I asked what it meant to be a “good ‘ol boy” and he said it was about growing up in the south,loving fried foods... I stopped him there. I said, “How can you love your kids and eat stuff that is so bad for you.” He said that was how he grew up and what he loved. We stayed away from discussing global warming...

Jackson scored 8 points in his basketball game and made some great passes. While he was not happy when I told him I had to hit the road suddenly, when I returned with a whole slew of new stories and pictures, he jumped extra high into my arms. "Dad, that is what the Lange family does!"