In photos: The hopefuls looking to win big at the polls

In photos: The hopefuls looking to win big at the polls
A new project casts a light on those brave enough to put themselves forward for election whilst encouraging everyone to use their vote.

The Hopefuls is a non-partisan, self-funded project from renowned portrait photographer Tom Oldham and creative producer Ruth Newton, which aims to engage first-time voters, encourage them to register to vote, exercise their democratic right and remind them that their voice matters.

The extensive project captured portraits of candidates from across the country and the whole political spectrum. The portraits and interviews about values and policies feature familiar names (to UK voters) such as Gina Miller, Faiza Shaheen and the infamous Count Binface, alongside lesser-known candidates to celebrate the fact that people from all walks of life, with diverse opinions have the opportunity and courage to put themselves forward to be elected.

We caught up with Tom to find out more.

How long did The Hopefuls take from concept to finishing? Seems like it involved a lot of logistics…

We started shooting before Christmas 2023, at a (we now realise) foolishly leisurely pace, unknowing as we were of the forthcoming storm that awaited us in the form of an election called for July. Cruising towards a comfortable November moment, we were caught on the hop like everyone - notably including even the Tory MPs we photographed. Huge shout to super producer Ruth Newton who took on the logistics of this whole project and aced it.

Which Hopeful was the most interesting and engaging for you?

Tough to answer actually. Separating the people from their politics was confusing at times as you might find yourself nodding along with someone perfectly likeable but with wildly different opinions and politics to my own. The project was designed to get me out of my own news bubble and to go meet people with differing views and it was certainly successful in those terms, as extreme discomfort was achieved repeatedly. The most notable candidates were Count Binface, Gina Miller, Peter Cook and his cat, but lots more actually. Sorry.

Any candidates you found yourself surprisingly agreeing (or disagreeing with)?

Well… everyone is out there trying to protect their community, in whatever form that takes. So you can agree with their motivation, even if you don’t agree with their stance – dig into the site and see for yourself. I felt very challenged around platforming some of their politics but we can’t have a functioning democracy (of sorts) without them, which felt like the bigger point. I learned about the difference between politics in person and online/TV and it’s much more wholesome and nuanced when not based on clickbait.

Why did you decide to do this project?

Largely based on being an idiot, and having an idea that I couldn’t shake. It felt important to try to promote voter engagement and registration, especially in first time voters. We commissioned an actual proper survey, which told us 37% of first time voters didn’t know who their local candidates were and 42% don’t trust any political party. That really got to me so I came up with a project that enabled people to easily and fairly hear the opinions of politicians across England. It’s something that might loosen up the process and bridge the gap across the deluge of coverage that must appear incredibly daunting if you’re new to it. I hope so anyway. We were keen to present them in a democratic way so the framing is the same for everyone, they’re in locations they chose and exactly the same questions were asked of everyone too.

You travelled all over the country for this self-funded project. What was the overall mood of the places you went to? Were there any other social projects you came across giving green shoots of optimism?

A true mixture. Some places were genuinely bleak and worryingly depressed, while others seemed if not buoyant then at least temporarily afloat. The candidates seemed ready for the fight and showed great resilience – which I really admire as the thick-skinned nature of most politicians was another point of curiosity for me. The need for change was strong everywhere – that much was a given –the direction of change, however, remains to be seen. This election is massive for the UK and to feel amongst it, in that way that portrait photographers are privileged enough to get all up in your business, was helpful for that.

Did the making of The Hopefuls give you hope for the future of UK politics? Or the very opposite?

I think it was ultimately positive. There’s a huge amount of people out there who believe in the process, in their right to stand, in free speech and a sense of humour. Politicians are people so we’d leave the photoshoots feeling bamboozled at times, or heart warmed, terrified, bored, optimistic and so on – you’ll see what I mean from the The main point was one of this being democracy at work.

Which political figure past or present do you wish you’d photographed?

Che Guevara of course. Imagine all the merch sales! I’m JOKING. I’d love to meet Bernie Sanders, hopefully in winter outdoors so we could bring mittens.

Are there any special photographic portrait skills needed to shoot a Binface?

Ummmm yes – you have to be able to take a decent portrait whilst pissing yourself with laughter. The man is incredible and is absolutely nailing it.

See more of The Hopefuls here.

Read more Huck Election content here.

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