When Kristal Burgess attended an all candidates forum leading up to Salmon Arm’s municipal election last year, she noticed there was something missing. There was no shortage of questions and answers about policy and credentials, but she felt she didn’t get to know the candidates themselves.
Burgess has been a professional photographer in Salmon Arm for 10 years, and ahead of this year’s federal election she decided to use her camera as a window into the lives of the North-Okanagan-Shuswap candidates. After spending time shadowing four of the five candidates on the campaign trail, she’s producing photo essays of each one.
“Over the past few years I’ve really transitioned from a portrait photographer into something that’s a little bit more documentary styled,” Burgess explained. “I don’t do portrait sessions anymore, it’s all more towards documentary work and telling stories.”
The photo essays are – or will soon be – available on Burgess’s website, kristalburgessphot.wixsite.com/onthetrail. So far she’s released her essay of Liberal candidate Cindy Derkaz and a shorter essay on Conservative incumbent Mel Arnold – shorter because Arnold was the only candidate who declined an invitation to participate.
The essays amount to an extensive undertaking. Her piece dedicated to Derkaz details a 12-hour day spent with her, observing her as she knocks on doors and attends events while fitting in some questions during the few lulls of her day – and of course, capturing everything with her camera.
For Burgess, the biggest reward for her work was getting to know the candidates on a personal level.
“I think having that sort of personal approach is something that is really hard to find,” Burgess said.
“Most of the things people put online are what they want others to see, and the four candidates were so completely candid with me, they just talked from the heart, they allowed me into their homes.”
As for what she found most challenging, Burgess mentioned something that will resonate with journalists throughout the country before and after the election.
“One of the things that was surprising for me was trying to balance being unbiased in what I’m writing and documenting,” she said. “You can take a photo at a different angle which might portray somebody in a different light.”
Burgess offered an example of a moment when the challenge of staying neutral became particularly hard to rise up to.
“During one of the all candidates forums there was some blatant, in-your-face racism directed at the NDP candidate. It’s really hard as a human to not say something about that,” she said.
Since publishing the Derkaz and Arnold pieces she’s been intrigued by the online reactions, if not somewhat dismayed by some of the negative reactions towards the candidates.
“It’s not my role to censor what people are saying but at the same time,” she said. “I’m not trying to put anybody in a negative light, so it’s interesting watching how people read and view things and make their own interpretations.”
Burgess plans to release her photo essays for the NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu and the People’s Party of Canada candidate Kyle Delfing before the results come in on Monday.