Photography plays an outsized role in how historic moments are remembered—and few election years have been quite so historic (or, to use the word of the year, unprecedented) as 2020. Given that the coronavirus pandemic is limiting in-person access to public figures, images are perhaps more powerful than ever as potential voters are experiencing the campaigns through their screens.
One person helping to craft former Vice President Joe Biden's digital visual narrative: his official photographer Adam Schultz. A veteran of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, Schultz joined Biden's team in April 2019, shortly after the former VP started running for the Democratic nomination, and he's been following Biden ever since.
Joe Biden is keenly aware of the power of a photo, and much like his former boss President Barack Obama did with White House photographer Pete Souza, he has given Schultz access to both public and private moments on the campaign trail. According to Schultz, Biden is actively involved in the strategy behind these photographs. The former Vice President likes to see Schultz's images and participate in how he, and his campaign, are presented to the public. After decades in politics, the VP knows how much those seemingly quick and candid snapshots actually matter.
T&C caught up with Schultz to get a behind-the-scenes look at campaigning in this unusual time. Below, he tells us about Zooming with Senator Kamala Harris, Biden's hidden basketball talents, and, yes, that Corvette photo.
What is your dynamic like with Vice President Biden?
He’s a great guy and it’s kind of a tricky balance of being the fly on the wall all the time and always being there and not being annoying. I think having worked in executive political photography, after a good amount of time you start to read those moments and you begin to sense when is the right time to be there and when is the right time to not. I think he trusts me to do the right thing as far as that’s concerned.
As far as images, I remember one of the first times I showed [Biden] my edit or my take on the day's stuff, and he immediately looks back at me and says, “Can you put all these on my phone?” [Schultz laughed] and that’s a good thing to hear you know? That’s sort of a resounding: "These are awesome."
How has social media impacted your job?
I think that social media plays a huge role in what we have going on now for a number of reasons. Firstly, because of the pandemic, I think it plays a huge role in making sure that we are presenting our candidate as forward-facing. This is what this person is doing; this is how this person is socially distanced from people, but still getting out to touch voters and make contact with people—I think that’s hugely important.
I don’t think that our campaign would really be able to exist and have sort of the ground swell that it has currently without all the aspects of social media coming into play. It’s been great for us.
Speaking of COVID, can you give me an example of a time when you’ve been able to capture the more normal parts of a campaign, even given the circumstances?
Well, the first one that pops into my mind was when Vice President Biden called Kamala Harris on a Zoom call and that’s how he conducted the business of asking her to be his Vice Presidential nominee pick. Whatever your politics are, that’s an illustration of the times where we’re at. That’s something remarkable when essentially a video call is how that happens, at least this time around.
I also wanted to talk about the composition of the photos themselves. How many of them would you say are planned out versus candid?
It depends on what the events are, to be honest. If he’s doing a speech, I always talk to our advance teams and make sure there is a flag of whatever state we’re in or something that can play into the shot to illustrate what the speech is about or where he is. Lots of times it works out really well.
There are a lot of behind-the-scenes moments that happen that are unplanned. Like a couple of days ago, we were walking to the event from the arrival point and there was a basketball hoop [near us]. One of the staff members was a great college basketball player and [Biden] and the staff member just shot some hoops really quick—you can't plan that type of stuff, it just happens.
I think part of this job is getting to know whoever you’re following and Vice President Biden is a great person. He always spatially has it in his mind where I am and, after you spend a fair amount of time with a person, you get to know what their demeanors are and what they’re going to do. And sure enough, he picked up a basketball and was shooting hoops.
I was also thinking about those photos of Biden in his convertible that were all over social media—I assume that was planned in advance. What is the process behind putting those sorts of shoots together?
It’s different every time. But that specific one, we wanted him to do a video that was about manufacturing in America. We went to his house and filmed him with his Corvette that he’s had for years. I think the idea behind the video was to talk about the great American auto industry and manufacturing. We were at [Biden’s] house and it was just me and our videographer, Drew [Heskett], it was the two of us just talking with the Vice President about this cool car that he’s had for ages. None of that was really scripted.
What ended up happening is we got to his house and he had it parked in his front driveway and he actually told us to go down the yard, where the driveway is. We didn’t know this was going to happen at all, but he floored it and did a huge burnout, like right in front of his house. Beforehand, he walked over and talked to the Secret Service agents. He didn’t tell us, but he told them, “This is what I’m going to do—don’t worry it’s fine.” So, he peeled out and it just made for all these great images and video of this guy who loves this car and loves the fact that it’s an American-made car and loves the auto industry and all these things. And it was a really nice treat to just be able to be there and hear him talk about it.
Do you have a favorite photo you’ve taken so far?
There’s one that’s been getting a lot of traction since Senator Harris was announced as the VP pick, [she and Biden are] doing like a high-five type thing. And there are actually a couple of images before that—there’s one where [Biden] walked around the corner, when we got [to Harris's endorsement speech in Detroit] and she was there and she’s got her arms out in this huge hug and it’s such a great image, because with all the stuff that happened in the primary and the debate, all that aside, these two people still come together and they realize what needs to happen for the country—and that’s a great image.
You Might Also Like