The 2009 Creativity 50: Callie Shell

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Credit: Vincent J. Musi
From South Carolina-based photographer Callie Shell, we've learned that President Barack Obama wears his shoes until the soles disintegrate and can't resist showing off his pull-up skills. Through her lens, we've seen Obama regrouping before a speech in a stairwell and have glimpsed Michelle napping on her husband's shoulder. Covering the Obama campaign for Time magazine—for which she's been a contract photographer since 2001 after serving as the official shooter for VP Al Gore during Clinton's presidency—Shell has captured some of the most intimate photos of the President and his family away from speeches and big crowds.

The first time Shell met Obama was in 2004, covering John Kerry during his campaign. At that time, she knew that one day, Obama would run. Following that initial impression, Shell started following the then-senator in January 2006, before the epic presidential campaign even began, and recalls a time she shot him shaking hands with an elderly couple in Illinois more than two years ago. In the photograph, the only thing behind him is farmland, a parking lot and a few semis, not the Secret Service, press corps and motorcade that orbit him now. "I hope my photographs will humanize people," Shell says. "I do find Barack Obama and Michelle to be very human; they're a couple just like every other couple. They connect with each other. They're best friends. And they also have a job to do."

Shell, on photographing Obama: "I try to pick someone and start following them early, hopefully before they announce or are the big news. I have no problem standing and waiting for as long as it needs for the moment to happen. I don't talk a lot. I try to just become part of the scene. I try to just ingratiate myself to the person and their staff. I quietly take pictures and try to make sure they trust me and know that I'm not there to photograph every time they trip. I always tell my subject that if they need a break, if they need no photographs for a while, they're always allowed to tell me. I've never had them tell me that, but it's important to make them feel like they could. When you're coming in and taking a little piece of them with your camera, it gives them a little more control. Also, Obama is easy to get along with. We just clicked. We're both very tall. We both have big ears and both of our hair started turning grey at the same time. We would talk about what it was like to be on the road and how my child and his girls were fine, that we were the ones having a hard time being away from our families."

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