The campaigns currently under way to secure nomination for the US presidential election are dominating the international news with media access carefully managed at each rally to present each candidate in the best light. Photographer Mark Sommerfeld travelled to Buffalo in New York on April 18 to capture a rally held in support Donald Trump’s bid to become US President. The rally was held at the First Niagara Center, home of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team and attended around 15,000 people – one of Trump’s largest rallies to date. Mark’s images, taken on a point-and-shoot camera as he did not have press accreditation, provide a candid insight into what a Trump rally is like beyond the images that prevail in the media. We spoke to the photographer to find out more.
What compelled you to go to the rally?
My friend Oliver invited me on a whim and I was free and curious so I said yes. Tickets were free but we were reminded by a creepy recording blasted over a megaphone that this event was"’Paid for by Trump," and as such “Protestors will be removed.” Buffalo is a short drive from where we both live in Toronto. I was curious to see and talk to people who support Trump and find out if the media’s portrayal of his supporters, and his campaign, at all resembles the reality on the ground. I suspect Oliver and I weren’t the only “looky-loos.”
What was the atmosphere like? What were you planning to shoot?
The atmosphere was like a college tailgating event or party. There was drinking, merchandise sales, metal detectors, people screaming inappropriate slurs, fans from both sides yelling at one another, local and national media and swarms of local police/security guards with guns/rifles,secret service, helicopters, police dogs and horses.
Since it was a last minute trip and I didn’t have press credentials I wasn’t permitted to bring in a camera with a detachable lens so I brought along a cheap 35mm point n’ shoot and a few rolls of film. My aim was to document the different kinds of people in attendance but it quickly turned into documenting the whole atmosphere. I had no idea how much the rally would resemble a sporting event…but this was less civil than most sporting events I’ve been to. Neither side seemed to have any respect for the other, it felt like a fight.
What was the reaction to your presence as you took the images?
Everyone I spoke with or photographed didn’t question my motives, they just wanted to share their story and their opinions. A lot of people talked about jobs, more jobs with Trump. Not surprisingly, it stirred a lot of emotions in me. I saw people and families with small children cheering with elation, spitting venom at protestors and even a few tears during Trump’s speech (which was mostly incomprehensible political jargon and cheerleading).
What do you feel that the set of images says about the current nature of political campaigning in the run up to the election?
I feel these images hint at just how much of a show political campaigning in the USA has become, in scale and entertainment value. After listening, and almost falling asleep during Trump’s hour long, nonsensical speech, it seemed clearer than ever that his supporters are voting for his marketing campaign and splendour, not whatever policies he claims to be championing.