On the Trail with Santorum: Photographs by Justin Maxon

Justin Maxon for TIME
Justin Maxon for TIME
March 3, 2012. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum and his daughter greet supporters after speaking at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Lima, Ohio.

Justin Maxon, who spent the days leading up to Super Tuesday photographing Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum for TIME, started the project new to the political photography scene—but it didn’t take him long to figure out how the campaign events in Ohio would go.

“Every single rally looks the same and sounds the same,” he says. At this point, the candidate’s appearances are fully stage-managed affairs with low levels of access for photographers.

Maxon had noticed that there was a high level of excitement about Santorum, and he wanted to get to the bottom of it, but found it hard to do at official campaign events. “There’s just so much that goes into the image of the candidate,” says Maxon, “that it’s hard to really know what’s orchestrated and what’s real.”

One technique Maxon used to get around the artifice was to look for people and objects that could serve as symbols of the larger issues. He was fascinated by the grassroots enthusiasm for Santorum’s candidacy and the values that underlie that support, so he tried to give visual expression to those ideas.

“There was a family I photographed with four children, and the mother had this 3-week-old baby that she was carrying around,” he recalls of one such example. “In addition to this baby, she had this American flag she was carrying with her, as well. To me, seeing these large families and their patriotism was an insight into the values of the people who support this candidate.”

Another way Maxon explored the campaign was to leave the political events behind. At one rally, the photographer met Pastor Lonnie Vestal, who is featured in the photo gallery above. Not normally a political man, Vestal had become excited about Santorum’s message. He invited Maxon to attend Sunday services at his church, the Way of the Cross Pentecostal Church in Mason, Ohio, and then to go canvassing after the prayers, walking from home to home and trying to engage in political dialogues with residents.

The pastor was not the only such person he met. “I’ve been talking to people and trying to grasp why people are really interested in Santorum.” With his photographs from Ohio, Maxon says he wants viewers to get an impression of not just the reasons that people gave for their enthusiasm about the candidate—mostly “issues involving the home,” he says—but also his own perceptions of how the Santorum campaign is striving to encourage those feelings.

“Part of telling the story is hearing people’s stories,” he says. “I’ve been trying to weave together what people are saying and the things that I’m actually seeing.”

Justin Maxon is a California-based photographer and a recent recipient of a Magnum Emergency Fund Grant. See more of his work here, or on LightBox.

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