“Shooting politics is tough,” says Natalie Keyssar in an email as she waited, on Feb. 1, for Hillary Clinton to appear on a stage in Iowa after results started coming in.
For the past week, Keyssar has been crisscrossing the state of Iowa on assignment for TIME. She’s photographed campaign events of most of the primaries’ leading candidates from Ted Cruz and Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.
At each event, Keyssar has had to adapt to different situations. “The scenes are limited,” she says. “The media presence is huge. Everyone is looking for a story in situations that are largely very controlled and scripted.”
The young photographer, who is shooting her first presidential campaign, is looking for images that will communicate what she’s been feeling at these events, she says. “It could be the television lights in my eyes, or a moment when the candidate seems to relax their guard for a second.”
Other times it’s just a face in the crowd. “Some look hopeful,” she tells TIME. “Some look angry. But the story here is the Iowan voters.”
And they’re a passionate bunch, Keyssar says. “I’ve been struck by the sincerity that the Iowans approach the whole caucus procedure. When I talk to people they seem to take the responsibility of being Iowan and having a potentially strong impact on this election very seriously.”
For Keyssar, photographing the primaries has been more than just a professional gig–it’s also offered her a chance to see her country’s political process in a new light. “It’s been amazing to get to see what the candidates mean to people here on the ground,” she says. “Why some are gravitating towards Sanders or Hillary or Trump or Cruz; what it means to them personally. Politics are usually pretty abstract and impersonal, so having a chance to see them this way is pretty special.”
Paul Moakley and Chelsea Matiash, who edited this photo essay, are respectively TIME’s deputy director of photography and visual enterprise and deputy multimedia editor.
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