I have never had time to do a lengthy year in review. December is often referred to as “silly season” in our world - last minute House of Commons responsibilities, holiday parties across the country, year-end interviews, even an international trip or two for good measure. There is little time to look back on the year that was — especially as my six month burnout cycle reaches its tipping point.
The simple lack of travel has freed up just enough time for me to look back on a unique year.
Below is a collection of 150+ photos from the year. Some I am proud of for photographic reasons, others I hope will shed light on what life is like for myself and others in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Nothing really prepares you for the job of photographer to a head of government. You figure it out as you go along. Looking back on photos from 2015 can make me cringe either because I missed good photos or I know I could have done better. But you learn, you grow and you keep pushing yourself to memorialize as much as you can as well as you can — and always on the fly.
And then 2020 arrived, and in a sense, I had to learn the job all over again. In-person interactions became scarcer, the PM didn’t travel or wade into crowds anymore. Many days were spent largely on calls or on video conferences. I had to get creative while still trying to convey the emotional gravity and seriousness of what we were facing. Nothing could prepare us for the year that was.
For the photo geeks and the curious:
Storage and archiving
Due to storage constraints, I do two rounds of deleting images as I narrow down what to edit and archive. To give you a ballpark idea, if I were to take 1,000 photos in a day, I would keep about 300–400 of them, then only edit about 100–200 of them.
From 52,000 saved images, I have filed around 15,000 photos this year — meaning I have personally shot, edited, captioned and sorted that many photos.
During our first year in the office, I mimicked the White House in not deleting a single photo, period. If I shot 2,000 photos in a day, I kept them. A year in, I could not get enough drives fast enough to keep up with the storage requirements when the terabytes of photos needed a permanent home.
I use Adobe Lightroom for all of this, more out of habit than anything else. Surely there are better ways to go about it, but I have a system and know whatever kinks may pop up — always being on the go and with quick turnaround times, I don’t have the time to work something new out.
As for sharing photos in a normal year, I coordinate with our different advance staffers or event coordinators who will share photos with event organizers (side note: please never accuse a photographer of not sharing photos. What a horrible business model that would be. Always ask the organizers to share, they surely have received them!).
We maintain folders for each one of the MPs and Ministers in our government, as well as specific folders for staff (PCO, Senior Staff and PMO), Security (RCMP/Canadian Forces, Parliament) and support staff. I found this to be easier than sending out individual photos as a one-person photo office for the first three years.
My regular equipment is as follows: 2 Canon 5D Mark IV, 1 Canon Eos R, Canon 16–35 f2.8, Canon 24–70 f2.8, Canon 70–200 f2.8 — then some primes for extreme low light or more predictable days; Canon 24 f1.4, Canon 85 f1.8 and my beloved Canon 135 f2.
Two memory card slots are essential because we live in fear of something messing up. Raw files to the CF card, lower res jpegs to the SD card.
For the past month I have been trying out the Sony A9ii with a variety of prime lenses. The tracking is phenomenal and the ability to shoot completely silent is perfect for this job. I have run into light flicker issues with the Canon mirrorless in the silent mode in the past, one that they have yet to fix unfortunately (example below).
PM Trudeau being the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has meant that we receive a fair bit of mail containing photos of his father or his own younger self. Canadians send in photos, negatives, magazines, clippings, the list goes on. Some negatives we have are even photos a young Justin Trudeau took as he travelled on official trips with his father.
Until 2020, many of these items collected dust in my office as I daydreamed of one day scanning them before handing them over to Library and Archives Canada. Without the travel and with the dramatic increase in office time, we have slowly been able to tackle this project.
Team and thank yous
Other than the above, I work most closely with the PM’s assistants, Phil Proulx and Cordell Johnson, and Katie Telford’s assistants, Brooke Malinoski and Alex Axiotis-Perez. We spend so much time together that they are practically family at this point.
Katie Telford, Chief of Staff, and Cameron Ahmad, Director of Communications, are my direct bosses but are kind enough to trust me and let me do my own thing without too much adult supervision.
This is a team sport and my life would be impossible without them and the countless others in the Prime Minister’s Office. Advance, planning, scheduling, communications, issues management — thank you to everyone for helping me do my job and putting up with my never ending questions to make sure I am on top of it all.
Oh, and thank you to PMJT for ignoring me most of the time no matter how ridiculous I looked trying to get some of these images.