I had seen them on the telly, they always looked like some kind of rally . It was different to how politics are done in the UK, so when CNN invited me to shoot the 2016 Republican and Democratic Conventions , I could not say yes fast enough. First up was the Republicans at Cleveland, and of course the biggest agenda here was Donald Trump, who was equally liked and disliked. Despite some reservations, and many ex Republican Presidents staying away, the overall feel of the Convention was worshiping him and how he could save us against the evil threat of … Hillary Clinton.
The actual Convention is like a cross between a game show and a pantomime. You have the bad guy, in this case Hillary and the saviours of the USA , who will make it great again. Whenever Hillary is mentioned, ( which is frequently) the crowds chant ‘ Lock her Up!’ , whenever the newly proposed security measure are mentioned, the chant” Build that Wall’ and at the drop of a hat the whole crowd can erupt into a ‘U S A’ The chanting and shouting is one of the reasons people love to come to the Conventions. They also take great pride in looking and dressing as patriotic as possible. Stars and stripes are everywhere as my photos will testify.
As well as the delegates, there are huge numbers of media people, I have never seen so many at a single event, all essentially chasing the same footage and photos. They too are part of the scene and as a tribe can be predictable and entertaining. There is a place where all the radio people hang out, where dozens of radio stations broadcast live their observations. In the middle of this is the free Google coffee bar, always a big line.
The first thing you notice when you arrive into Philadelphia for the Democratic Convention is the diversity. In Cleveland there were a mere 18 black delegates from 3000, now there are well over 1000, and suddenly you feel you are back into a better representation of America as a whole. Despite their claimed differences the conventions are very similar. Very carefully stage managed, where any opposition to the elected candidate is suppressed as efficiently as possible. In the case of the Democrats, it is Bernie Sanders, who has a huge following and some of his delegates chose to walk out. Outside of the convention at the entrance and down town there was always a pro Sanders demo taking place. Many of these were also say ‘ Never Hillary’ thus bringing forward a classic Democratic conundrum, if you don’t vote for Hillary what do you do instead?
Both conventions end on the Thursday night with the candidates speech where the crowd are whipped up in a crescendo, and the finale is the famous balloon orgy, where thousands of balloons are dropped from the ceiling and thus giving a fitting climax , and it then turns from a gameshow to kids tea party.