IN THE FALL OF 2018 I was hired by The Sanders Institute to help organize and photograph The Gathering. 

The Sanders Institute is the think tank founded by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wife Jane and his son David.

The Gathering was a historic meeting of global progressive political leaders, organizers, academics, and artists in Burlington, VT.

It was an incredibly inspiring meeting and I felt fortunate to be there. My initial role was to help with event planning and coordination, and then take photographs as the event unfolded.

AFTERWARD, INSPIRED, I pitched the Sanders Institute on a full-length art book that combined my photographs with selected gems of wisdom from the speakers — from Bernie Sanders, to Cornel West, to Naomi Klein, to Bill McKibben, to Susan Sarandon, and many others.

The Institute agreed, and offered me tremendous flexibility in producing the book. With periodic reviews, I had freedom over every aspect.

PHOTOGRAPHING THE EVENT — Being there, the sense of love and optimism was palpable. I wanted the world to feel it. This was in the months leading up to the launch of Bernie’s 2020 campaign. It felt like this energy could spread across the world.

I knew photographs would be integral to that. And I felt I had an important responsibility, through photography, to make sure the world got a chance to feel it to.

These behind-the-scenes images were taken by Shana Frahm.

WHEN TAKING PHOTOS, especially in a situation like this, I’m focused on capturing the fleeting, beautiful moments. For me there’s often no time to be perfect. You might miss the magic.

The truth is I’m not a professional photographer, and I don’t do photography for hire. I’m an artist who is moderately proficient with a camera.

In the case of The Gathering, the only reason it made sense to hire me for photography was because I also had experience organizing political events. So I could kill two birds with one stone.

SORTING THROUGH THE CONTENT — The first step of arranging the book was listening to every word recorded from the Gathering and plucking out the most important nuggests of insight. 

I searched for the most condensed nuggets of wisdom that would leave the reader with a new perspective, and a better grip of the world and how to change it.

Eventually, I had a pile of around 270 pulled quotes.

PLANNING AN ARRANGEMENT — How would these quotes be organized?

There had been clearly defined panels based around issues. But there was a lot of overlap amongst these panels. For example, the “Mayor’s Roundtable” panel had significant overlap with “The Housing Crisis” panel. So arranging the book simply by the panels form The Gathering wouldn’t work.

There were also several broader themes that emerged, which were beyond any particular issue. These were repeated by different speakers in different panels across the weekend.

Figuring out how to organize all of this in the book was a challenge. I ended up laying out the hundreds of quotes on the floor of my home, in piles based on connecting themes.

Over time, two major categories emerged: the first was around policy and issues, and the second transcended any particular issue and was broadly about how to build and energize a world-changing movement.

These two sections became THE ISSUES and THE MOVEMENT.

Within each of these, groups of related quotes were arranged into a total of 14 sections.

EDITING AND DESIGN — Next came the process of actually designing the book, which ended up at 215 pages. 

Design, for me, is like a puzzle. How can you fit it all together, and have it feel good and make sense? There’s a lot of give and take.

Pairing photographs with quotes was a big part of this stage. For example: What if you have lots of quotes of a speaker but no pictures? What if the pictures didn’t turn out so great? Some speakers wound up with way more quotes than others, so how do you make sure it doesn’t feel like they are overrepresented, while still sharing all their wisdom?

After several reviews, we ended up on the current version.

AT THIS TIME, BERNIE SANDERS was in the peak of his 2020 presidential campaign. Jane and the family were constantly travelling and consumed with the campaign. 

The time and resources to get the book finalized and printed were just not available at the time. 

I still hold out hope that one day, the book may be released to the world, and the leaders of the future may be inspired by the energy that Jane, Dave, and the Sanders Institute were able to bring together in late 2018.

Until then, I remain incredibly grateful to have been able to work on such a historic project, even if no one has been able to see it yet.