Justin Trudeau’s photographer follows in father’s footsteps
OTTAWA – When the Liberals swept into power last fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a job that once belonged to his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
But he isn’t the only one in the Prime Minister’s Office to do so.
As the prime minister’s official photographer, Adam Scotti documents nearly every moment of Trudeau’s day. From official meetings and world travel to personal moments and family time, Scotti records what life is like for the prime minister and those around him.
It’s the same thing his father, Bill McCarthy, did for former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney 30 years ago.
The party, prime minister and the issues have changed, but the job remains unique.
It’s a backstage pass to Canadian history and now, for these two men, it is the family business.
“I never ever thought he was going to be following in my footsteps. I thought this was just a hobby,” McCarthy said of Scotti, who has his mother’s last name.
But Scotti did follow in his father’s footsteps, a similarity the 26-year-old shares with the prime minister.
Scotti recalls a conversation the men had while in the Ottawa airport. He said Trudeau told him his father never really sat down and taught him about politics, instead the elder Trudeau taught him how to think, how to look at the world and how to address things.
“I basically told the prime minister that very much the same way, my father taught me how to interact with people, how to be a team player and how to best work as a photographer,” said Scotti.
There are similarities in the styles and approaches of Scotti and McCarthy, especially when it comes to the quiet, candid moments of a prime minister’s life.
“I think the similarity that I see as a dad is that he has people’s trust because he is part of something that is intimate,” McCarthy said.
Raw and unedited is how Scotti describes his ideal photos.
“We are looking for the one-on-one meetings and the personal connections that can be established and sometimes the goofy moments, but also sometimes the very difficult moments,” Scotti says.
Scotti started snapping pictures of the telegenic, media savvy prime minister about four years before Trudeau moved into the country’s top job.
He started by volunteering while a student at McGill University. Small paid gigs followed, until Scotti got his “big start” in the 2011 election. He freelanced until April 2014, when he was hired on as a staff member.
As Scotti snapped and shared photos, Trudeau went from Member of Parliament to Liberal leader to prime minister. The reality of that evolution is just starting to sink in for Scotti, who went from a marathon campaign to travelling the globe with a prime minister within weeks.
In Photos: Justin Trudeau through Adam Scotti`s eyes
“Where it really, maybe hit home, partially would be sitting with [President Barack] Obama and seeing the presidential team around him,” he said.
It hasn’t taken as long for reality to hit McCarthy. He knew what Trudeau’s win meant for Scotti.
“For a photographer that can get into this type of position, every day is a gift, every day,” McCarthy said. “I’m so excited for him for all the rare privileges he will get.”
McCarthy himself fell into the role unexpectedly, backfilling for a photographer who never returned to the job.
The job took McCarthy around the world. He met historical giants like Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher, George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Occasionally, he would show them pictures of his little red-headed son, who was born three years into his tenure, or ask them to sign a baseball for him.
In Canada, he was privy to cabinet meetings and the comings and goings of the country’s top power brokers.
The job required one thing above all – discretion.
“It’s a golden rule, you can never repeat what you hear or what you see,” McCarthy said. “I would never say who I photographed during the day, not even my wife.”
In Photos: Brian Mulroney through Bill McCarthy`s eyes
Scotti was quietly influenced by his father’s grandiose stories about being in Peter the Great’s hall in Moscow and sitting for dinner because there was an empty chair, or running from the press pool at 10 Downing Street.
Now Scotti has crossed paths with world leaders including Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth. It’s heady stuff for a self-proclaimed history geek.
“To think that she drove an ambulance in wartime London and sat across from [Winston] Churchill having substantive discussions, that’s a piece of history.”
Scotti hasn’t decided whether he will take anything along with him to document his world travels. But there is one family tradition he does intend on honouring in the job – a wardrobe adorned by Mickey Mouse.
From ties to watches, Mickey Mouse is regularly part of both men’s wardrobe. Scotti said the cartoon character serves as an important reminder for the job.
“Part of what my dad taught me was being a team player, but also to be fun,” he said. “Never forget to have fun.”
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