Interns photograph Nutter behind scenes

At the Art Institute of Philadelphia , Mayor Nutter is amused by an image of himself, whichin turn brightens things for Mitchell Leff, a student at the institute who took the shot.
At the Art Institute of Philadelphia , Mayor Nutter is amused by an image of himself, whichin turn brightens things for Mitchell Leff, a student at the institute who took the shot.
Posted: January 26, 2011

Michael Nutter was concentrating. He was poised. He was surely conscious of the important words he was about to deliver to an audience. Subconsciously, he put his hands together in the steepled fashion that careful Nutter-watchers often see from Philadelphia's mayor.

But Nutter had no idea he was doing so - and that was just the point of the photograph of the mayor and his hands.

"It's all behind the scenes and unscripted," Nutter said with a chuckle Monday night at a photography exhibition at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. The photographs were part of a group taken by two interns given access to the mayor as he conducted business.

Temple University graduates Mitchell Leff, 26, and Kait Privitera, 23, were granted unusual access to city government. Leff's images are being displayed for 10 weeks at the Art Institute - where he also is a student - in an exhibit called "The Shutter With Mayor Nutter: Following Philadelphia's Mayor." Leff chose 53 images from the hundreds, sometimes thousands, he took each day.

Leff and Privitera, both unpaid, are the first students to have behind-the-scenes privileges. Like the images White House photographer Pete Souza has posted online, the interns upload selected photos on the city's Flickr site (www.flickr.com/photos/phillycityrep/sets). They have documented events such as meetings and news conferences, and even downtime.

"I'm allowed to go where most journalists aren't allowed to go," Privitera said. "I'm really surprised by how much they let me photograph."

The internship was initiated to "provide opportunities for young people involved in the creative industry" and also to "give citizens a look behind the scenes," said Luke Butler, special assistant to the mayor. Butler, Nutter, and then-mayoral aide David Torres asked local art institutions for their best photographers. Both interns were approached by their university deans and selected by the city.

Since July, either Privitera or Leff has followed the mayor to his daily engagements. Their schedules depend on Nutter's, and sometimes they have had a full work week of photography.

One of the challenges of photographing government meetings, Leff said, is to not "become a distraction."

"I don't want to be seen," he said, referring to the idea that the presence of photographers can alter behavior. Additionally, they have encountered technical challenges like dimly lit rooms or packed news conferences.

Butler said the internships are generally open-ended, but "we are currently evaluating how we'll move forward" regarding future interns.

Although Leff and Privitera were selected based on their photography skills, both are considering staying in politics.

"I'm in this because I love history," Leff said. "I love the thought of documenting a man's run in office in Philadelphia."


Contact staff writer Mohana Ravindranath at 215-854-2917 or mravindranath@phillynews.com.

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