Capturing Obama

The Calgary Sun, Canada
Feb 15 2009

Capturing Obama

Photographer Scout Tufankjian spent two years chronicling Barack
Obama’s road to the White House


NEW YORK — She knows every wrinkle in his face, his expressions, his
quirks, his habits.

Scout Tufankjian is the only photographer to have followed Barack
Obama throughout the two years of his election campaign. Her photos
have run in the biggest newspapers and her new book, Yes We Can, is
already a bestseller.

In the fall of 2006, Tufankjian had just returned from Gaza where she
worked for four years as a photographer. Her agency wanted her to
cover a book signing in a New Hampshire bookstore for a guy named
Barack Obama.

"I didn’t want to hear about it. It was five hours away and I didn’t
know if the photos would be sold. I was sure it was going to be
totally boring," Tufankjian told Sun Media at the Brooklyn gallery
that is showing her work near her apartment.

The light bulb went on for Tufankjian when she saw the crowd’s
hysteria as Obama entered the room.

"They exploded! I couldn’t believe it, especially in New Hampshire
where they have a reputation for not caring about politics," she
said. "I knew at that point that he would be an important political

She phoned her boss and told him she wanted to follow Obama, even
though the Illinois senator hadn’t yet announced his candidacy.

Tufankjian had a sixth sense in this case, and in following Obama and
his supporters with her Nikon D3, she recorded some of the key moments
of the 21st century.

She took a slew of shots of Obama and kept about 12,000 of them.

"It’s incredible. I know all the details of his face, more so than my
own boyfriend or my father," she said.

Is he photogenic? "Yes, very. He makes a lot of funny faces and he’s
very expressive. But he has a few nervous tics. It’s impossible to
photograph him when he’s speaking at a microphone because he holds it
in front of his mouth."

With her eyebrow ring, short bangs, mischievous nature and bubbling
energy, Tufankjian, which means "son of a gun" in Armenian, is
well-suited to her last name.

Born in a small town in Massachusetts, she studied political science
at Yale and moved to New York seven years ago. Her love affair with
photography began on a trip to Northern Ireland where she saw a riot
break out in the middle of the street. Since then her photos have run
in Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, The Guardian and Rolling Stone.

Tufankjian, 30, had privileged access during the campaign even though
she’s an independent photographer. But there were still rules to

"We couldn’t photograph him when he was wearing sports clothes, which
was totally stupid. He tucks his sweatshirt into his pants so we can’t
see his skinny legs and it makes him look a bit ridiculous. Untuck
your sweater, dude. It’s going to be OK," she said while
laughing. Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, were also off-limits
when they were not with their father.

She said her best photos came from South Carolina. "That’s where I
really saw what he represented for people. I talked to seniors who
grew up under the Jim Crow laws and young people who had never waved
an American flag. They were getting back hope for their country."

Her favourite picture was taken in South Carolina, one that shows five
little girls jumping for joy when they see Obama.

Tufankjian is now turning to other subjects and is thinking about
going back to Gaza.


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