Q&A: A daughter’s perspective

Alexandra Kerry had a front-row seat in the 2004 presidential campaign when her father, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), was the Democratic nominee. But what she treasures most is her view as an outsider.

That unique perspective — the daughter of a candidate, but also a campaign filmmaker — infuses Kerry’s new book, Notes from the Trail, with an intimacy missing from some campaign books but also a sense of objective detachment missing from others.

Kerry shot some 300 hours of footage of the campaign with the intent of forging it into a film. The film is still shelved, but Kerry has culled stills into a collection of photos, her own work mixed with that of other photojournalists who covered the campaign. She also contributed a 77-page essay to the 180-page book, resulting in a half-and-half design of narrative and photos.

For all her admirable objectivity, however, the book is best when Kerry allows peeks behind the campaign curtain at moments the public doesn’t see. There are glimpses of her father so exhausted that he lies down for five minutes on a tabletop, his head resting on a folded American flag.

“I’m incredibly proud of Alex’s work,” Sen. Kerry said. “She documented our voyage in a way that only an artist, family member and close confidante could.”

Now a professional filmmaker and magazine editor, Alexandra Kerry lives in New York City and has no personal plans to enter politics.


Q: The idea of a book doesn’t sound like it was your first idea. You originally wanted to do a campaign film, right?

I shot 300 hours of footage, and I always thought of it as an art project more than a project in politics. I decided to focus on a new way to tell the story, turning the video into stills and getting photos from other journalists I made friends with along the way. I originally signed a contract for a film, but then the editor wanted an essay.

Q: How would you describe the book’s perspective?

It’s not a commentary on the 2004 race; it’s more from the perspective of someone who went through the process. It’s about being an outsider inside a process and what it’s like being one of the people watching rather than inside the bubble. I had a unique perspective, being part of the family, but I was also behind the camera and sometimes didn’t want to be a part of the campaign.

Q: What were some common misperceptions about campaigns that you discovered aren’t really true?

There are so many misunderstandings about what it’s like and what it entails. I never thought of myself as political — and I still don’t — but that’s why I think it’s interesting, because a lot of people aren’t. … I found that images have a lot to do with the campaigns, with making people feel comfortable. I often saw how people took generalized images and believed them — instead of investigating things more for themselves.

Q: Your perspective as a young daughter of a presidential candidate must give you some insight into the coverage of Bristol Palin. What do you think about the scrutiny over her pregnancy?

I have general empathy toward any family that’s going through this, but I don’t know her personally, so there’s not much I can say. I have to assume there’s been some discussions between her and her parents.

The scrutiny isn’t too terribly grueling. But there is precaution. You’re not just a celebrity, you’re really involved with something that’s polarizing the country, and anything you do can be criticized. We’re living in a time now when there’s a little more focus on the family, and they’re not as protected. But then, children are also becoming more involved. My sister and I spoke out, and I do think if you put yourself out there, you do become part of the discussion.