La Trobe alumnus Alex Ellinghausen went from political photographer to paparazzi on the campaign trail this week, jostling with students in a Bill-mania moment.
“Bill Shorten was scheduled to visit a girls school on the NSW central coast and was set to address a group of students at the library,” Alex says. “The minute he got off the ‘Bill Bus’, the students from the boys school next door started cheering him which started a bit of a frenzy which attracted more students to mob Shorten as he ended up making his way through the courtyard of the school during recess with hundreds of screaming school girls seeking selfies with him. It was a rockstar welcome reminiscent of Paul Keating’s 1996 campaign when he too was mobbed by schoolgirls in Parramatta.”
The Bendigo Campus alumnus, former Bendigo Advertiser photographer and 2018 Australian Press Gallery Journalist of the Year shoots for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. He found time among the election mayhem to answer our pressing questions…
What’s a work day look like for you right now?
The days are long. We get a message the night before advising us of a bus pickup time and whether we are checking out the following day. We spend most of our time in marginal seats, sometimes visiting up to three states in one day and you can forget where you are. Bill Shorten often starts his day with morning run which we sometimes photograph and we have visited plenty of hospitals and clinics where he has spoken with cancer patients to discuss Labor’s policy on cancer. There have been plenty of campaign rallies, visits to shopping centres to meet with voters and worksites to meet with workers.
How long have you been covering politics? And could you ever get bored with it?
I have covered politics since 2011 and the past decade of federal politics has been quite tumultuous and has seen a revolving door of Prime Ministers. It has been far from boring. There is a misconception that photographing politics is mainly shooting dull speeches but it is far from it. It has taken me to places that I would not have otherwise visit – the Oval office to photograph Malcolm Turnbull meeting Donald Trump, various G20 and APEC summits around the world and the Uluru convention in 2017.
What’s this campaign like compared to others you’ve covered?
I have covered three federal election campaigns in my career – Abbott vs Rudd in 2013, Shorten vs Turnbull in 2016 and Morrison vs Shorten in 2019. This campaign is a more traditional five-week campaign compared to the eight-week campaign we saw in 2016. In terms of visuals and media events, it is similar to previous campaigns but technology has seen politicians communicating differently with voters – they are starting to use social media for to communicate directly with voters.
Have any recent shots been published anywhere special – we saw some great covers on your Instagram feed.
I’ve had a few shots on the campaign that have been used as covers, notably, a photo of Chloe Shorten on the cover of Good Weekend magazine which was taken during a visit to a Salvation Army kitchen during Good Friday, as well as portraits of Bill Shorten used in our weekend features.
How do the politicians treat you?
This is the second federal election I have followed Bill Shorten and he does get to know the camera crews and photographers that trail him and makes it a point to address everyone by name. As with most politicians, sometimes they like your photos and sometimes they don’t but they usually treat you politely and fairly.
Is it your aim to capture the true person behind the politician?
Photographing politics can be quite stage-managed events and I’m always looking for an image that reveals something about a politician and informs the reader of what that person might be like. Sometimes, I might be there to record a historic moment like the National Apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, the vote for same-sex marriage or the swearing-in of a new prime minister.
When did you study at La Trobe?
I was at La Trobe Bendigo doing my Bachelor of Visual Arts from 2006-2007 and it was a stepping stone for me into press photography. I knew I wanted to do press photography and wanted to pursue a course that would not only teach me the practical skills required to be a photographer, but one that also taught me visual art history.
What are your memories from the campus?
I look back at my days at La Trobe with plenty of fond memories and even just thinking about it, I can already smell the photographic chemicals from many late nights working in the darkroom.