In this subscriber exclusive Q&A, hear from Canberra desk photographer Alex Ellinghausen about the craft secrets he uses to capture Australia’s most iconic political moments, and find out how crisscrossing the country with Anthony Albanese relates until Alex’s last three elections.
You have followed opposition leader Anthony Albanese throughout this election campaign. Can you describe what it is like to be on the trail of the leader? What does a typical day entail?
We spend a lot of time traveling on bus or plane traveling crisscross the country. As with all campaigns, information about where we are going is very light. We board planes and buses that are unsure of the destination, and details of the job are usually given shortly before we arrive at the event. A typical day of this campaign involves about two jobs (for example, a visit to a pre-school education center or a retirement home and a daily press conference). My colleague, photographer James Brickwood, has covered Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s campaign and we’ve seen some high-vis and hardhat-wearing trips and visits to companies. Occasionally we run into each other when the campaigns overlap, for example at the Channel Nine leadership debate. As we reach the final days of the election campaign, I expect we will ramp things up.
Is it important to stay on top of news happening elsewhere in the election campaign or are you very “in the zone” of what and who you’re covering?
I keep a close eye on what’s happening elsewhere in the campaign as it often has a way of influencing what we might see at the next media event and what issues are likely to be discussed. When interest rates rose and the cost of living was discussed, we covered events in supermarkets to discuss grocery prices and visited a person who rented her home on the NSW Central Coast. We look at which seats the other politicians visit, especially if there are several visits to a certain seat. It gives us an indication of where they are focusing their efforts.
Can it be difficult to cover the same topic for a longer period of time? How do you approach each day to stay engaged and keep your photos relevant and interesting?
The media packages that report on an election campaign are large. There are many TV cameramen, sound recorders with boom microphones, photographers and journalists. Trying to get into position can often be a challenge when everyone is trying to squeeze in to document a particular interaction. Covering the same topic for a while will give you time to observe and learn about their behavior and idiosyncrasies. Humans are creatures of habit. There is often a pattern to topics of conversation, the way they move, and this often helps me anticipate from which position to shoot. I am engaged every day because you should always be on standby for the unexpected. Even in the quiet moments I am constantly observing and looking around because campaigns can be unpredictable.