Long floor debates, committee meetings and behind-the-scenes discussions on legislation can be tedious for some lobbyists at the State Capitol.
To pass time, lobbyists often turn to political speculation or cellphone games. Not John Kaul.
A State Capitol lobbyist since 1980, Kaul is often seen with his camera photographing candid moments, especially during the frantic end of session when the Capitol is buzzing.
“I’m an artist locked in the body of a lobbyist,” said Kaul, who has spent his 45-year career as a lobbyist and in the political realm. “Toward the end of the session, lobbying is 90 percent boredom, 10 percent terror, so you have to find something to amuse yourself.”
Kaul calls himself a “streetshooter.” He can often be seen shooting pictures in committee meetings, at rallies or at news conferences.
“He always has his camera on him,” said Tara Erickson, a Capitol lobbyist who has found herself the subject of some of Kaul’s pictures. “There’s been numerous times where all of a sudden there’s a picture of me posted from the Capitol.”
Kaul regularly shares his work with 3,000 friends on Facebook and even has had gallery showings.
While some other Capitol photography enthusiasts focus on the architecture of the State Capitol or landscapes surrounding the building, Kaul said he prefers to capture human interaction and emotion.
And he has become known for it.
“It’s become something a lot of people look forward to,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve had an awful lot of people ask me to include them or circle around in front of my lens in hope that they will be.”
Some of his photographs, along with the work of two other Capitol photographers, were displayed at the nearby lobbying firm of Flaherty & Hood.
The firm’s Tim Flaherty said Kaul’s photographs capture the day-to-day life of policymakers.
“A lot of people don’t really know what goes on at the Capitol,” Flaherty said. “[Kaul’s pictures] are unique in that they are action pictures of people engaged in business at the Legislature.”
Erickson, president and owner of TGE Consulting, said Kaul’s pictures capture the emotions experienced by legislators, staffers, lobbyists and other visitors.
“Everybody [at the Capitol] is trying to do what they think is going to better society,” she said. “I think he shows the beauty in that through a lens.”
Along with his passion for photography, Kaul said he has often been drawn to other art forms that range from oil painting to sculpture to filmmaking. In 1977, wire sculptures that Kaul created as a Senate staffer were featured in an Associated Press article.
“He always says he’s a lobbyist so he can afford to do his passion,” Erickson said.
At the same time, Kaul said he has spent most of his life drawn to politics. He has held jobs with local government as well as gubernatorial and legislative campaigns, and has done stints as a legislative staff member and now a lobbyist. Some of his clients include the Andersen Corp., the Rochester public schools and Washington County.
Tom Olmscheid, a retired House of Representatives photographer, said Kaul’s photographs catch parts of Minnesota history that might not otherwise be documented.
“You’re sort of documenting this little portion of Minnesota history when you’re there,” he said. “The people and the light and the building draws you back.”
Christopher Aadland is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.