Lens & Context -
The Night We Elected Barack Obama

Absolute Joy, November 8, 2008 | © Preston Lewis thomas

Absolute Joy, November 8, 2008 | © Preston Lewis thomas

November 8, 2008... Grant Park, Chicago.

On the day of the rally, I stopped in to the now defunct, Calumet Photo to rent a zoom lens for the evening. I’d picked out what I figured would be a decent choice, but when the sales rep discovered what I was planning to photograph, he immediately grabbed another, decidedly more expensive specimen. “For this occasion, you’ll need this,” he said. He allowed me to rent it for the same price. Nice.

The largess of the guy at Calumet Photo would carry on throughout the night.

When my wife, my daughter and I made it to the gate just outside the grounds, we were told that small children weren’t allowed – safety reasons. Then the woman took one look at my daughter and smiled, “go ahead…” Be careful.

The place was already packed. Every color on earth. Every language on the planet. Nappy hair, straight hair, curly hair, no hair… All sharing the same space, peacefully. In fact, I can say without hyperbole, that the overwhelming “calm” was downright eerie. It was as if we’d all agreed not to jinx it. The plan was to bring this man into the Oval Office with quiet jubilation. Shhhhhhhh.

Like sardines. The space between us made holding the camera in front of my face to focus simply impossible most of the time. I often raised my arms above my head and tapped the shutter button, hoping for the autofocus to do me a solid and capture what I was barely able to see across the park.

We all became fast friends:

  • If you went for water, you checked with those around you to see if they also wanted some.

  • If you needed to get into your backpack, someone would help you get it off, then back on again.

  • And when my back began to ache from the weight of my daughter who demanded to see everything, my surrounding compadres helped out.

And so the evening went; state after state and speech after speech, until it finally became clear what was about to happen.
The immense weight of it came down in a deluge.

This is History.
This Black man.
This President whose middle name is Hussein.
We’re doing this.

Joy and hugs and screams and tears and prayers…
and hands extended, reaching for the sky.
Which brings me to this photograph.

In one simple gesture, this hand mirrored every emotion coursing through my veins
and collecting on the surface of my skin.
My brown skin.
like the President’s skin.
Now, how about that?

Carry on.