I witnessed history last night. Barack Obama became the first African American to become President of the United States. It was one of the most amazing events that I have ever had the privilege of seeing with my own eyes – or in my case, through a lens. By far, the best part of my job is all the historic things I have been able to see. I feel very lucky.
I was one of 7 Getty photographers covering the election night party in Chicago. My day started out before the sun came up as me and my co-worker Scott Olson went to the polling site where Obama would be voting. Upon returning to the hotel, me and the rest of the team gathered our equipment and walked over to the site. We did final tweaking on our remotes and did final tests. And then we waited. We were hoping that we wouldn’t have a repeat of 2004 when we waited until 4:00 am only to be told that the election was too close to call and the event was canceled.
The day could not have been more perfect. A balmy seventy degree day cooled off to a comfortable evening. No freezing cold wind or rain. Were we really in Chicago? An estimated 240,000 filled Grant Park and the surrounding streets.
My position was a floor position, which meant I was shooting from the middle of the crowd at Grant Park. The small number of photographers that were given floor passes had to move fast to stake out positions as the general public flooded in. Me and my pals Shannon Stapleton (Reuters) and David Guttenfelder (AP) staked out a few spots and let the crowd fill in around us. We all had turtle stools so we stood a little taller than the crowd. The people were incredibly cool with us being there. We had feared an angry backlash and were pleasantly surprised with how accommodating people were.
I teetered on small platform of that turtle stool from about 6:30 p.m. until Obama came on stage at 11:00 p.m. My legs and knees started to hurt after the fourth hour. The weight of my cameras was brutal on my back. I couldn’t move with the crowd so tight. We watched election results roll in on a live feed of CNN. The crowd alternated between boos when McCain would win a state and thunderous cheers when Obama would win. Even though my body was aching, I was energized. This was a very cool moment in time.
It was a surprise to everyone in the crowd when CNN projected that Obama had won the election. It was close at that point and nobody was expecting it to be called to soon. The emotion that followed that announcement was unlike anything I had ever seen. People Cheered. People cried. They hugged each other and laughed. There wasn’t a face in the crowd that didn’t have a smile on it. One woman who had traveled from Columbia to be at the event stood there with tears running down her face saying “that’s my president, that’s our president.” Yes we can was being chanted and was soon changed to “Yes we did.”
Obama took to the stage at exactly 11 p.m. Barack was introduced with the new First Family. He and Michelle walked out with their two daughters to greet the crowd. It was a surreal moment. There was no music, just cheering. I kept expecting music to start blaring over the loudspeakers. It never did. Shooting from our position proved challenging as we were blocked by the thousands of small American flags that were passed out just prior to the speech. We knew this would be a tough spot to shoot from, but it all worked out in the end. It was amazing how fast the crowd thinned out once the short speech was over. Some stayed behind and danced in groups and waved campaign posters. It was like a scene out of the sixties. It is a day I will never forget.