When approached with the idea of photographing the Pope during his ecclesiastical visit to the United States, Tobias Hutzler aimed high as is typical of his fashion – he pondered whether for the mass in Philadelphia he could use a helicopter.
Acclaimed for his aerial viewpoints and wide angles, Hutzler faced a new challenge – how to combine his elaborate technique and aesthetic with the pace of breaking news and the scope of such a historical event. With the highest level of security locking down entire areas in Washington D.C., New York and Philadelphia, the German photographer had to find alternate ways to keep his distinctive perspective vividly engaging, capturing moments of the six-day marathon with an unprecedented level of control.
“It is the most intense security situation that I have had never witnessed,” Hutzler says, “And the most important thing was the work that Michelle [Molloy] did beforehand,” he says of the international photo editor who spent months coordinating the logistics of the whole shoot.
Access is all but guaranteed in such events, as the traditional pool of wires, newspapers and travelling pool photographers has the advantage over others shooters like Hutzler. But Molloy was able to line-up over 10 events for the photographer to attend.
Working around the clock, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, the photo editor and photographer itemized different sets of gear for each shoot, planning ahead and always strategizing alternatives. “We had very special gears, every piece of the equipment has to be described, and you can’t take any risk. Whatever something looks slightly off, you’re out,” says Hutzler. “You have to think this is the only chance he’s gonna have to get in there, so you have to be ready, thinking on the spot," adds Molloy.
Access to some sites was granted roughly 10 days before the Pope’s arrival. Beside paperwork and security checks, the editor arranged all the logistics while the photographer scouted the locations to get a sense of space and lighting. “When you’re there, it comes down to a such a short amount of time, maybe just a few seconds, or a minute. You have all this planning and you prepare, [but] having a fixed image in mind in that moment is the wrong choice because you’re trying to hold [onto] something and you’re losing out of what is really happening,” Hutzler says.
That is precisely what occurred when, after addressing Congress, Pope Francis walked through the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, stopping briefly in front of the statue of Father Junipero Serra, a missionary whom he had just canonized as a saint. “The pool position was on the right side, covering him from the statue [angle], but then [the Pope] changed the protocol, he went a different way and he stood right underneath our position."
From behind the rope, a woman jumped out of the crowd and in tears presented the Pope with her baby. “It was very touching because you observe something that you don’t really see any other way. And it happened right underneath us; we put everything into this moment and it just unfolded there. These moments are very powerful, very moving. In that moment I don’t really get it, but once he is gone, you’re still shaking a little bit,” he laughs.
Hutzler has always possessed an attentive eye for people. Although his wide-angle, long-lens approach might disguise his actual distance, it also allows us to witness people’s lives as if they unfold in front of our eyes.
“My work is a study of the variety of life,” Hutzler said in a previous interview, and there are probably few occasions as full of striking visual and emotional elements as the pontifical visit. “With the Pope you feel there is something, you feel his aura,” he says. “In the crowd it is different, it is maybe not even the Pope but it is the belief of the people who gathers,” he says.
Tobias Hutzler is a German advertising and editorial photographer based in New York.
Michelle Molloy, who edited this gallery, is a senior international photo editor at TIME.