I started photographing Jeremy Corbyn during the leadership contest before the 2015 election. After a short time covering him on the campaign trail, I thought he would do a lot better then people expected. By the time of the next general election, in 2017, I, probably in a minority of one, thought he could win.
Corbyn is quite relaxed with a camera around. When we first met, he would ask: “What do you want? What should I do?” But now he understands I’m not trying to do photocall pictures; I want it to be as if I wasn’t there.
Arriving at the European Commission in February with (from left) James Schneider, head of strategic communications; Keir Starmer, shadow Brexit secretary; Seumas Milne, director of strategy and communications; and Shami Chakrabarti, shadow attorney general
To start with I didn’t have much special access, but over time I persistently asked to follow him. I don’t think the Labour team ever started to trust me, but they did start to tolerate me.
About to be interviewed by ITN’s Angus Walker in the offices of MEP Richard Corbett in the European parliament, with Keir Starmer and Shami Chakrabarti, 21 February
With Starmer and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, before meeting Theresa May to discuss the Brexit deal, 3 April
I wasn’t expecting him to do the Eric Morecambe pose. I didn’t suggest it. A member of the public asked to do one with him and then he got Lizzi to do one, too. It was very spontaneous.
Travelling to south Wales with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, on 30 March, for the byelection campaign following the death of Labour MP Paul Flynn
Corbyn is much more relaxed and open than his minders from the press team. He said to me once, “Oh Sean, are you coming on the train with me?” and suddenly all of his people looked worried; I could see them thinking, “Oh no, don’t invite him – what are you doing?”
He seems very happy and rejuvenated when he’s on the road and appears to prefer it to being in Westminster: I think he feels it’s a bit of a club, an echo chamber. On the road, he seems genuinely engaged, albeit mostly with Labour party members. Perhaps he should go after a few Tories, too.
He’s got more energy than I do. I was with him in Hartlepool one day, back in Islington the next: he couldn’t resist popping into a tiny local street festival where there was an Elvis impersonator. Everyone there wanted to say hello to him, even the police officers.
When he’s preparing a speech, he does very brief notes to himself. It seems like he’s writing prompts. In Tolpuddle, he was making his notes in a porch behind the stage, where a musician had left a guitar.
I think Corbyn is the only politician I’ve photographed who doesn’t have that lifelong ambition to be prime minister. I’ve never come across anyone like that. All the others, even if there is no possibility of it happening, have that occasional glint in their eye at the thought of “what if?”. For him, agree with him or not, it is all about the policies he deeply believes in; it is not about personal ambition. I think even his enemies would agree with that.
I think he’s a lot more steely and capable than people think. From the little work I’ve done with Boris Johnson, he’s more desperate to be loved than Corbyn; the prime minister seems to get hurt if people don’t like him.
It’s become harder to get proper time with politicians. Margaret Thatcher was a lot easier to photograph than Tony Blair or David Cameron. They want to stage-manage and control things. With these shots, I feel I got some of those rare candid moments.