A child of the 1950s, Angus King came of age when the single reflex camera was popular among American families. Like other kids across the country fascinated with the magic of the medium, King carefully packaged up the film when he was done with a roll, sent it away to be developed and waited eagerly for the photos to come back in the mail.

These days, the U.S. senator from Brunswick combines his lifelong interest in photography with the immediacy of social media to show people aspects of his job they don’t often see. King posts iPhone photos on Instagram, but unlike many of his contemporaries in Washington, D.C., he is not interested in grip-and-grin pictures with other politicians or dignitaries. Perhaps because he’s from Maine, and people from Maine know something about art, King takes thoughtful, artistic photos and accompanies them with a few sentences that explain the photo and his perspective.

“I try to convey a better sense of what I am seeing and experiencing,” King said. “I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, but I’ve never really practiced it. I just like trying to see unusual things.”

His style is a mix of street photography and documentation, providing a visual diary of the day-to-day life of a U.S. senator. He’s posted from aboard the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, from Greenland and the Arctic, and from small towns across Maine. He has a particular fondness for sunrises and sunsets, and like every good artist from Maine, he seems to understand the importance of natural light.

“He’s a pretty good photographer,” said Michael Mansfield, executive director of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art and a digital media specialist. “The pictures are good. Most politicians are communicating by Twitter and sound bites. He’s communicating with visual bites and illustrating his routine on Instagram, which is really great.”

SENATOR: ‘IT’S MY EYE AND MY VOICE’

King’s use of social media is not unique among politicians. What distinguishes him, said University of Southern Maine political scientist Ronald Schmidt Jr., is his ability to convey both his perspective and his personality through a visual narrative.

“Individual politicians can have a difficult time to make the internet work for them. It’s hard to hit the right tone to give the voters a sense of who you are and do that before your opposition does,” Schmidt said. “But Sen. King is smart. The personal stories and photographs are unique.”

The Instagram posts also open up King to the uncertain world of online commentary. He recently posted a photo of the U.S. Capitol in gleaming sun. He noted that the scaffolding that covered the dome for nearly two years has come down and invited people to the Capitol for a personal tour – an apolitical message. One of the first commenters responded with a four-letterword invective.

That’s the risk of wading unfettered into social media, said Felicia Knight, former communications director for Maine’s other senator, Susan Collins, and president of the Knight Canney Group, a Portland consulting firm that specializes in politics and government relations.

“The danger of doing something like this is opening up the conversation,” Knight said. “The conversation is not yours to control anymore. When the conversation starts to go off the rails, there’s not much you can do to get it back on.”

King has posted about 400 photos over the past two years on Instagram and has more than 4,000 followers. He joined the photo-sharing social media platform at the urging of his Senate colleague Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey. Booker began an Instagram project to take his picture with each of his colleagues, “Selfies With My Fellow Senators.” King was Booker’s first subject.

In addition to exercising his artistic eye, King uses Instagram to exercise independence. He posts everything himself, and has resisted overtures from his staff to allow others to edit his posts or offer input. He insists on autonomy to ensure clear and direct communication with people who follow him, constituents or otherwise, he said.

“I can speak directly without any filter. It’s my eye and my voice,” he said. “It took about six months for me to convince the staff I should do this by myself. People are always poring over your speeches and making sure things are all in order. But nobody clears these. I write them and post them, usually at night.”

He appreciates that time late at night, when he has quiet and a less-cluttered head to look over his pictures, to think about his day and what he hopes to convey. “I really enjoy writing, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to convey something significant in a fairly short essay,” he said. “I have even learned to do hashtags.”

KING’S INSTAGRAM POST: “Here’s me being a tourist again. Couldn’t resist this shot of the late afternoon sun on the Capitol and Jack Faherty couldn’t resist the shot of me getting the shot. More meta-fun!” From Sen. Angus King's Instagram account

RANGING FROM SERIOUS TO LIGHTHEARTED

Three months ago, after an early-morning radio interview, he posted a photo of delicate pink clouds behind Union Station in Washington and contrasted the serenity of the scene with the seriousness of the topic of his interview:

“Sunrise behind Union Station after early morning interview at NPR. It’s fun to meet people whose voices are so familiar, in this case, Rachel Martin and David Green. The subject was decidedly not fun, however – the Intelligence Committee investigation of Russia’s attempts to disrupt our election. The challenge is to understand what happened so we can prevent its happening again. This may be the most important work I’ve ever done.”

Many of the photos that he posts capture dramatic skies and the play of light on buildings in Washington and off the water in Maine. And like a lot of people who use social media, he allows room for frivolity and family. His wife, Mary, shows up in many posts.

Some topics are mundane. A recent photo showed a squirrel raiding his bird feeder at his home in Brunswick, taken from inside the house looking through the window and screen. “So why do you move the bird feeder midway up the window? To keep it out of reach of the squirrels, of course,” he wrote. “Well, this guy didn’t let a little obstacle like that stop him, and here he is, comfortably settled into the feeder and enjoying a really easy meal. Mary and I often mildly argue (‘discuss’ may be a better term) the blatant prejudice most people who feed birds have against the noble squirrel. ‘Why aren’t squirrels just as worthy of our attention as birds,’ I say. Mary just rolls her eyes. (Wish I could claim I already have put up the screens for this summer, by the way, but actually, they never came down last fall. I’ll do better next year).”

Mansfield, the Ogunquit museum director, said one of his favorite photos in King’s feed is a picture of the senator stuck on the elevator. “You can see the anxiety and irritation in his face,” Mansfield said. “It’s humorous.”

In the text that accompanies the photo, King calls it “sort of a dorky picture, but it’s a funny story.” He was leaving the Senate floor after a vote, headed back to his office, when the hot and crowded elevator he was in froze. As another senator tried to summon help by phone, King began pressing the alarm button. After about 15 minutes, someone from the outside pried the doors open.

“Don’t know what caused the problem,” King wrote on Instagram, “but my bet is it was the Russians.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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