Capturing the Frenetic Intensity of a Presidential Debate’s Spin Room

2 minute read

A photograph can freeze one instant in time for eternity, but for Matthew Pillsbury, that’s not all it can do. The passage of time is an essential part of his images.

Over the years, the France-born, New York-based photographer has made his reputation capturing large-format, long exposure cityscapes in the U.S. and around the world.

On April 15, as Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton took the stage at Brooklyn’s Navy Yard for their ninth debate, Pillsbury waited in the “spin room” with a medium-format camera, which he mounted on a tripod.

“There’s obviously a lot of quiet waiting,” the photographer says. “Then as the candidates were giving their closing remarks, the room became a hive of activity. The various campaign surrogates came out carrying tall banners announcing themselves and packs of reporters gathered around them. Suddenly the room had the energy of an athletic event when at the end of the game the fans rush the field.”

Pillsbury’s photo is a long exposure taken over several minutes. It shows the frenetic workings of today’s political landscape as dozens of journalists and political pundits chase each other in an elaborate, yet chaotic dance. But, says Pillsbury, this intense ritual is surprisingly quiet. “I guess people have to keep the volume down so that they all can do their shots and file their reporting.”

Matthew Pillsbury is an American photographer based in New York.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

Follow TIME LightBox on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at