Jonas Fredwall Karlsson Encounters the Real Bill de Blasio
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, is under a lot of pressure for a litany of reasons. Any city with 8.4 million residents is going to have a host of issues that require daily attention, but in addition to making sure the sun still rises on a functioning city, all eyes on him for another reason: he’s one of the biggest tests of contemporary liberal leadership. Before de Blasio’s campaign in 2012, true leftist liberalism hadn’t operated on a stage as big as New York City governance and as the stage is set for bigger tests like with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, the test is ever more important. Recently, de Blasio’s critics are getting louder and louder inspiring Vanity Fair to connect up with the troubled mayor and understand what’s going on inside his head and inside his administration. Jonas Fredwall Karlsson was on hand to photograph portraits to accompany the story, but also tell a story in his own right. “You always want to get as close to the real person as possible,” Jonas says, so he and senior Vanity Fair photo producer Ron Beinner traveled to Gracie Mansion, the official home of the New York City Mayor, to get an idea of what his home life is like.
A few weeks before the shoot, Jonas actually stopped by the mansion by coincidence while riding his bike and was struck by how easy the home is to access. It’s truly a part of a New Yorker’s environment. “Right up to the doors and the fence is a public park, which kind of surprised me,” Jonas says. “That’s actually how it is. It’s next to the water, there is a bike path on the east side of it but other than that there’s this public park. It’s very nice.” This bode well for Jonas since his goal was to get an honest, open portrait of the mayor that would only happen if de Blasio were willing to open up to him. As a public figure, especially one facing as much criticism as de Blasio, it’s easy to clam up. But Jonas found a willing collaborator in the mayor, ensuring a successful shoot. “He was more relaxed than I would have expected,” says Jonas. “And he was more cooperative and easy access than I did expect.”
When it came time to create a setting for the shoot, Jonas decided on a stretch of the Gracie Mansion porch that is particularly meaningful to de Blasio and his whole family. They sat around a table in chairs that the mayor uses as often as possible, both in his professional and private lives. “He tries to have a lot of meetings on that porch where the photo was,” Jonas explains. “The idea behind that was to create something like they do when they are having a private sit down and sharing a glass of iced tea… That’s their furniture, that’s their stuff, their softball, everything that’s there is theirs.” With all eyes on de Blasio he isn’t shying away, even from the critics. That’s not to say there isn’t work to do, but as Jonas’ images prove: he's present and listening.