Kevin Serna Profiles Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg for “Out” Magazine

Nov 18, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

Equality, to me, looks like a world where [a gay presidential candidate is] not newsworthy.

This sentiment comes to us courtesy of Pete Buttigieg (pronounced boo-tuh-judge, among other options), the openly gay Democrat who’s running for president. Fellow Midwesterner Kevin Serna created imagery of the 37-year old Mayor of South Bend, Indiana for Out Magazine, his first assignment with the LGBTQ+ publication.

That quote [above] captures how I felt in learning more about Buttigieg’s coming out story. Pete's being openly gay shouldn’t carry this uneasiness to it and, luckily, because of courageous individuals willing to stand up and not hide who they are, an increasing number of professions don’t treat it like the taboo subject it once was.

Mayor Pete

However, here is someone in politics who still feels that if he doesn’t come out in just the right way to the public, then his career as a politician might be over before it begins. 

Even for someone with as accomplished a résumé as “Mayor Pete” — we’re talking about an Afghanistan War veteran who became a Rhodes Scholar upon graduating from Harvard, after all — walking on the eggshells of the contemporary political landscape is, to put it mildly, challenging. As Kevin mentioned, he studied Buttigieg’s journey in advance of the shoot, which gave the self-described “politics nerd” a chance to step into the presidential candidate’s shoes.

As Mayor and shortly before the supreme court held the decision requiring that all states grant and recognize same-sex marriage, Buttigieg had decided that it was time to open up. He wrote an op-ed titled "Why Coming Out Matters" in the South Bend Tribune.

Profile profile

I thought it was a very thought-provoking act to come out in this way and at this time, considering how unfortunately damaging it could have been for him with regards to his career. However, reading the article and considering its context gave me a better perspective on what it means to be an LGTBQ+ individual as well as a politician in America at this time.

By now, the electoral reaction to Buttigieg’s self-disclosure is the stuff of legend. The two-term mayor of South Bend first won the seat in 2011 with 74 percent of the vote. In June of 2015, mere months before he was up for re-election, Buttigieg’s op-ed ran in the local paper. Come November, the Indianan kept his post — garnering an astounding 80 percent of the vote this time around. Even as his backstory, mayoral terms, and identity have gone under the microscope — a rite of passage for any would-be president — and brought criticisms Buttigieg’s way, his star continues to rise.

Out selected Pete for this profile with the intention of discussing his future role and influence for the LGTBQ+ community. With that in mind, I wanted to make sure that these images felt like they had some additional emotional weight to them.

Cover tear with wedding band

Knowing that I wanted the cover photo to convey sentiments of presidentialfuture, and identity, I thought the most powerful image might be the simplest, like an image of him looking past the camera with his wedding band front and center.

Kevin has long been an avid consumer of Out content but hadn’t made an attempt to contact them for potential work. Turns out he didn’t need to: the publication came to him.  

Since I hadn’t yet marketed to [Out] directly, I was surprised and elated when their visuals editor, Nicolas Bloise, reached out to me. Knowing all the great work Out had been producing over the years gave me a lot of motivation to set the bar as high as I could for myself visually. 

Considering Buttigieg is smack dab in the middle of a presidential run, Kevin only got to spend about 40 minutes with the candidate. Done in a theatre in Evanston, Illinois, the shoot came the day after the South Bend native had spoken at a CNN town hall debate. Even with the truncated time frame, Kevin was asked to pepper his photos with “visual variety.”

When I’m contacted for portraits, the editors or clients will usually tell me how many setups or scenarios they’re looking for in the deliverables. [They want] differing locations that can give the images a little more visual variety as opposed to everything being shot in one spot from differing angles.

Seamlessly shot

For this shoot, Out was looking for two to three setups with at least one of them being on a ‘sweep,’ also known as a seamless paper backdrop. 

As told by Kevin — and I’m sure supporters of the candidate would love to hear this — Pete was lovely during the assignment, happy to find common ground and shoot the breeze with the photographer as he went about his business.

Working with Pete was extremely easy! Despite his packed schedule, he could not have been more present and engaged during our time together.

Another tear

During my shoots, I typically try to keep the conversation light as there is rarely enough time to get too deep into any one topic. So, after giving him the rundown of the shoot, we discussed all things Game of Thrones, our dogs, and a bit about growing up in the Midwest as we shot. 

Out was quite pleased with Kevin’s final images, pairing his visuals with a pointed, objective profile of the political wunderkind. In less than an hour, Kevin expertly captured the essence of a thoughtful, intelligent person who is quickly becoming a household name — even if it is a bit of a tongue twister.

Inside tear

My editor was very kind and gave me a lot of love for the work, which always feels amazingly validating.

Credits:

Visuals Editor: Nicolas Bloise 
Assistants: Charles Bouril, Leah Fithian

Check out more of Kevin's work at kevinserna.net.

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