Shortly after the 2008 election of Barack Obama — but prior to his inauguration — The New York Times Magazine commissioned a series of 52 portraits of the advisers, aides, cabinet secretaries-designate, and other key people who were being assembled to become members of Obama’s incoming administration. UK-based photographer Nadav Kander was chosen for this daunting project. The result is a series of unlikely semi-formal photographs that capture the fresh, mostly-unguarded faces of a new chapter in the history of America.
"Obama's People" immediately calls to mind a series of portraits made by Richard Avedon in 1976 for Rolling Stone magazine. That series, called “The Family”, featured portraits of all of the "power brokers" in the US at the time. Aside from the fact that all of Kander’s portraits are in color and Avedon’s were black-and-white, there are other quite stark contrasts between then and now. As Kander himself expressed it during an exclusive interview with Lens Culture, "I was very struck by how young and informal and charismatic and smart these people were. . . Most of them were like the kind of people you would meet at a barbecue. You know, really nice people, telling me about their kids. . . and full of the Obama fever."
The New York Times Magazine published a special issue that included all 52 portraits, each on its own page. (That issue is now a high-priced collector's item). The Times also created a brilliant and elegant interactive slideshow of all of the portraits, which can still be viewed online.
In April 2009, Nadav Kander spoke by phone with me about this project, as he was riding in a taxi on his way to the airport for another assignment. You can listen to a recording of that conversation in this 12-minute audio clip below. It’s a wonderful chance to hear some of the inside story of a brief moment of history in-the-making.
Nadav would like to thank Gerald Marzorati, Kathy Ryan and Kira Pollack, at The New York Times Magazine. And Lens Culture thanks Zoe Tomlinson at Nadav Kander’s studio in London, for her help in pulling this all together.
Listen to this interview with Nadav Kander: