Up close with the candidates in Eastleigh

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant and the Monster Raving Loony party's Howling Laud Hope
Conservative MP Michael Fabricant meets the Monster Raving Loony party's Howling Laud Hope who polled 136 votes

Photographing elections can be tough, especially by-elections. In the run-up to polling the candidates pace the streets, shaking hands and even kiss babies, generally hoping to sway the residents in their direction.

The by-election in Eastleigh was no exception and photographer Paul Russell spent a few days with camera in hand tracking down the candidates prior to polling.

"I was initially interested in photographing the Eastleigh by-election as it was the first one where the partners of the coalition, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, were going head to head in a reasonably close seat," says Russell. "On my first visit I was struck by the visual interest of the election being played out against the backdrop of a fairly awkward time for the country."

For all the gloss and glitter of election campaigns once you get on the ground they often seem very mundane, with colourful banners placed against shop windows or balloons mingling with street furniture.

Russell found Eastleigh to be a pleasant small town. "It is certainly not doing too badly compared to some places I visit, but it has its share of disused shops, so I often found myself photographing candidates and supporters with a background of boarded-up buildings.

"I started to try and capture a little of the town, as well as the election. UKIP have a campaign office in Eastleigh town centre in a disused Julian Graves shop, which possibly would not have been an option in better times."

Russell also looked to capture the media presence which at times he notes seemed to outnumber the local population. "I became interested in photographing the influence of the media on the events - situations specifically set up for the benefit of the press. I noted how keen politicians seemed to be on getting their picture taken with anyone they could find in a wheelchair."

He used a small discreet digital camera, the Fujifilm X10, which meant he could get quite close and photograph unobtrusively. "I often found myself a few feet away from subjects, while the press photographers who arrived this week were further back. With the silent shutter, people usually forgot I was there, allowing me to get mostly naturalistic photos, rather than staged looking pictures."

The results are now in with Mike Thornton of the Liberal Democrats being elected to parliament, though UKIP saw its best-ever performance in a Westminster poll.

Here are a few of Paul Russell's pictures.

Mike Thornton (front), a parish and borough councillor since 2007, with fellow Liberal Democrats
Colin Bex, the Wessex Regionalist candidate campaigning
Nick Robinson of the BBC interviews some cafe customers
David Bishop of the Elvis Loves Pets party attracts attention of those passing
Inside the Labour Party campaign centre helpers write their names on a whiteboard
The Conservatives fielded Maria Hutchings but she was pushed into third place
Nigel Farage (second from left) of UKIP with other campaigners hand out leaflets
A sign advertises a chance for locals to quiz the candidates
English Democrats obtained 70 votes at the by-election
Independent candidate Danny Stupple polled 768 votes and came fifth

You can see more of Paul Russell's work on his website.