Obama's Minnesota visit was far less "loose" than it seemed, PiPress photog says [PHOTOS]

Categories: Media, Obama
Photos by Ben Garvin and used with his permission.
Just like regular people, Obama enjoys ice cream outings.
Not too long after he arrived in town last Thursday, President Barack Obama said he was feeling "super loose." The implication was that he's just a guy who happened to be in the Twin Cities on a pleasant summer night, playing it by ear, looking for a good time.

But that was far from the case, says Ben Garvin, a Pioneer Press photographer who was one of just two local photographers to be granted access as part of the president's "traveling pool."

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"Every move he made was planned out," Garvin tells us. "Every 'spontaneous' walk he does down Grand Avenue, from my perspective, I was very clearly informed which direction he would walk in and how to get in position to shoot him. I almost think the White House made an effort to make him seem spontaneous, like he was just checking out the city and having a good time, when in reality he's the president and anything he does has to be planned."

For Garvin, it was political theater -- nothing more, nothing less.

"Politically speaking, that was the intention of his trip, to connect with regular people," he says. "Like his speech -- 'I'm feeling loose, you don't know what I'm going to do'... But I know the media, me included and the pool press, we're delighted to get him in different positions. Him not just giving a speech -- [it] definitely makes for more interesting photos when he's walking around."

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We asked Garvin whether, to his knowledge, the patrons who were at Matt's Bar when Obama walked in were screened somehow.

"I don't know if the people in the restaurant were vetted or not, but they all seem surprised that POTUS walked in," he responds. "I know that there was an advance team on site before the motorcade walked up, and the Secret Service was everywhere. But [the patrons] seemed -- 'Oh my God' -- and [Obama] went around the entire bar and greeted everybody."

Garvin characterizes the memorable image of Obama sitting at Matt's with a local woman who wrote him a letter as "such a planned photo." "You could tell, visually speaking, they really planned out that moment and it's almost exactly what the White House wanted," Garvin says. "But I was aware of not just being a tool for the White House."

In each and every enclosed space Obama visited that day, "There was little room to move," Garvin says.

"In every place we stopped there was one specific locale where the media could stay, one specific side of the room," he continues. "It was very clear where we could and couldn't go. [The Secret Service] walked into that bar a couple weeks ago and thought, What would be the best way to see this?" (Garvin later clarified that he doesn't know about the Secret Service's preparations for certain, but inferred some things from his experience photographing the president over the course of Thursday and Friday.)

Garvin says he never actually spoke with the president, though, as he puts it, "I had an opportunity which I failed to seize upon."

(For more, click to page two.)

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