Back in 2003, Seacoast photographer Roger Goun began taking photos at presidential campaign events. It was standard stuff, Goun says — photos of candidates at podiums in various venues, delivering the same tired stump speeches they’d given to crowds across the state. They were the same photos everyone else was taking, Goun says, and were decidedly not interesting.
What was interesting for Goun, though, was what happened after the speech was over. “It was when the candidate would wade into the crowd,” he says. “(They’d) have to be real for a few minutes” and talk with voters one-on-one, without the aid of a prepared speech or the barrier that separates a speaker from his or her audience.
And so, Goun began taking photos of those moments. He began the tradition in 2004 and carried it on occasionally during the 2008 and 2012 presidential election cycles. For the 2016 election, Goun wanted to take photos of each of the major presidential candidates interacting with New Hampshire voters. Now, with the state’s presidential primary just a few weeks away, Goun is showing his photos in the exhibit “Candidates: Connections Made and Missed,” on view at Millspace in Newmarket through Feb. 7.
Goun is a contributing photographer for The Sound, and he took some of the photos while on assignment. He took others independently. Since he began the project in April 2015, he’s taken some 3,000 photos. The exhibit features 24 of his favorites.
What makes a successful connection between a candidate and a voter? Sincerity, Goun says — either the appearance of it, or, better yet, the real thing. There’s a difference between politicians who can command the attention of a massive crowd and those who can make those quick personal connections with individuals.
“Hillary Clinton, who is not very good in a large room, is incredibly good (at connecting with individuals) in a small room,” he says. At an event last summer at Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, Goun watched as Clinton spoke one-on-one with everyone in the store. It took so long that Goun, who usually stays until the very end of campaign events to take photos, left long before Clinton was finished interacting with the crowd. At the other end of the political spectrum, Goun says, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has a similar talent for making connections.
“They emote, and they have understanding and compassion and things to say” to voters, he says. “The candidate has to at least appear understanding and sympathetic and want to try and help for that connection to get made.”
The fundamentals of New Hampshire’s brand of retail politics are mostly the same, Goun says. There have been some changes, though — he calls this year’s election “the selfie cycle,” and says that he’s seen more voters opt for getting a picture of themselves with a candidate rather than asking a question or talking politics.
“The emphasis on one-on-one campaigning has diminished some, but I still think we have that essential character. … My friends in California and other places are incredulous we get to do this,” he says.
Goun plans to take photos of candidates in other races, too. There are plenty of interesting races coming up this year, and in 2020, that are often overshadowed by the presidential contest.
“It’s made me appreciate what we have in New Hampshire,” he says. “It’s unique and we need to preserve and protect it and cherish it so we don’t lose it.”
“Candidates: Connections Made and Missed” opens on Friday, Jan. 22 at Millspace, 55 Main St., Newmarket. A reception will be held from 5-8 p.m. and Goun will be on hand to answer questions about the photographs. The exhibit is on view through Feb. 7.