Dream job: Kelly Fitzsimmons tackles political photography

Kelly Fitzsimmons was photographing a friend’s book launch when mutual friend Meredith DeWitt approached her about a gig. “She says, ‘I’ve been watching you and I like the way you move around the crowd,’” Fitzsimmons explains. “‘You’re so stealth and unobtrusive.’” She asked Fitzsimmons if she’d like to photograph a small event. She’d follow up with details, she said.

Location: Mandarin Oriental Hotel. People in attendance: 50. Photo needs: candids. What she didn’t mention: The guest of honor was then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Until the Secret Service reached out to Fitzsimmons a few days before the event, she was oblivious to the magnitude of what she’d been tasked to do. “It’s not every day that you photograph Hillary Clinton,” says Fitzsimmons. “It ended up being just a really incredible and bold introduction to political photography.”

Since then, Fitzsimmons, a portrait and documentary photographer, has spent 20 to 40 percent of her time photographing the political circuit—sometimes pro bono, sometimes paid gigs. “The documentary part of me just really gravitated to it,” she says. She was hooked by that first event: “I was a fly on the wall in the room. You could hear the conversations that were happening, and they were really fascinating.”

She donated her photography skills to Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and has been tapped to make images for The Clinton Foundation. She photographed an iVote event featuring civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis and does annual work for the Albright Institute at Wellesley College. She knows by now to expect anything. She rode in a Chelsea Clinton motorcade during one assignment. “That was rather interesting,” she laughs. “I was texting my husband: ‘You won’t believe where I am.’” More recently, she photographed the swearing in of a record 127 congresswomen.

Perhaps her favorite experience has been photographing the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she says. “Actually being there and watching the balloons and confetti fall, it was just truly one of those magical moments,” she says. “Visually it’s insanely stunning, so as a photographer and artist that was just incredible to be there. And as a person and an American, being a part of the democratic process and being in that moment was something that I will hold with me forever.”  

Amanda Arnold is associate editor of Professional Photographer.