It occurred to a photographer traveling with William Taft during the 1908 presidential campaign to take this picture of the people of De Witt, Nebraska, running to catch up with Taft’s slowing train. Taft, a Republican and then vice-president, was running to succeed Theodore Roosevelt. It was the hey-day of the whistle-stop campaign, which Roosevelt had taken to new extremes. In an age when newspaper was the nation’s reigning mass media, seeing a leading politician in person was rare and precious. In a small town, the visit of a future president generated universal excitement.
The image registers photography’s growing ability to capture the spontaneous action of everyday scenes. Despite the movement of the crowd (and the train), the camera captures the running townspeople and the setting with remarkable clarity. A woman in an enormous hat smiles while shielding her eyes from the sun; the flags’ stripes flap crisply over others as they run; in the distance, a retreating train billows exhaust. A decade earlier, such a photograph would likely have been an impossible blur.
Technical advances had widened the scope of photography, which in turn began comprehending more of the scene: not just frozen dignitaries but the living, breathing citizens they aspired to lead.
Image: from this source.