High on Government

I've been traveling around the country, photographing people and places for GOVERNING, for almost a year now. The obvious location to make pictures of dedicated ...
by | December 1, 2009 AT 3:00 AM

I've been traveling around the country, photographing people and places for GOVERNING, for almost a year now. The obvious location to make pictures of dedicated public servants is in the place where they do their work: their offices.

But after a while, it gets a little boring to keep taking the same basic shots: next to the desk, behind the desk, sitting on the couch, in front of the bookshelf, or my favorite--gazing out the window (ed. note--see right). I love the natural light that comes in the windows. Whenever I leave an office I know that someone is going to have to fix the blinds or rearrange the curtains that I've pushed aside to let in the light.

A few months ago I was photographing Governor Martin O'Malley at the Maryland Statehouse. We were getting along famously and he (I think) was enjoying my interest in the different things he was pointing out to me in and around his office. He suddenly suggested that we head up to the roof and take in the view of Annapolis. I have an unnatural attraction for heights. Even more, I like to be where I'm not supposed to be. The next thing you know, we were up on the balcony at the top of the dome. (You can read about it here.)

Ever since that day, whenever I travel to make photographs, I always find a way to ask if we could please go up to the roof. More often than not, it works. This is great, except now I have to make sure every portrait I shoot isn't done on a rooftop somewhere. But as much as I seek out the highest vantage point for my pictures, I have to admit that I also do it because it's fun. And there's nothing wrong with having a little fun while you work. That goes for the subjects of the pictures too.

When Governing writer Rob Gurwitt and I were in Providence a few months ago, working on the feature story about Mayor David Cicilline, I just knew we'd be up on top of their magnificent city hall before we were through. It didn't take much persuading to get the mayor to go along with the idea.

Rob, Mayor Cicilline, a uniformed officer, a few staffers and I made our way to the building's attic, where we saw shelves of dust-covered volumes untouched for decades. Many dated back to the early 1900s. If we'd had more time, I would have been happy to spend the entire afternoon looking through all the forgotten stuff. Even a city, it seems, can stuff an attic full of things it has no intention of ever using again.

We made our way up a very old winding staircase to a hatch that opened to the roof. I was surprised to learn that most of our fellow rooftop travelers had never been up there before. One by one each of us popped out of the hatch and onto the roof. Not wanting to waste even a minute, I started shooting the mayor. He was very cooperative. One of these pictures was used in the magazine.

As I was shooting away, the police officer that had accompanied our group emerged from the hatch near where the mayor stood. That is when I made my favorite picture of the day. Unfortunately, it could not be used with Rob's article as it was wholly inappropriate to the story. But now it can be shown.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner | Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com | ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner