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Obama, Hillary and the photograph that will haunt our imaginations

4 May

It has been a very interesting few days after the apparent assassination of Osama Bin Laden by US marines. Early on the papers run a photoshopped image of what was supposed to be the dead body of OBL and it was of course a fake. The press went ahead and published it for the benefit of Joe public who apparently wanted to see pictorial evidence.

But it was only yesterday that the official Flickr account of the White House published a series of shots from the Situation Room while high ranking officials and Obama’s political companions. One shot stood out, this one:

I can imagine people will write whole books analysing it. It was taken by Pete Souza, who I have been following for his excellent White House work for at least the last two years. He seems to have a very light touch and warmth. Not a quality one would expect from an official photographer. Especially judging from some awful official photographs by the British Government and the Monarchy, which lack most of the time imagination and the human touch.

If you haven’t seen any other pictures by Souza, try these as a primer:

All the photographs I have viewed in the last few years on their Flickr account have helped shape my views on the presidential couple and their every day life under the spotlight. But in a totally different way to the famous Avedon pictures of the Kennedy family. They were treated with reverence and almost acceptance of their blue bloodied status within American society. The Obamas have been much more cunning and the shots portray them as a working family that is trying to hold on to each other in the eye of a media typhoon. Of course it’s as much of a construct, as anything else, communicated through the medium of mass publicity.

But Pete Souza does allow some reality through the pictures and that is what makes -that- photo all the more powerful. Just look at the back of the room, the woman with the long hair (Audrey Tomason) looks on with fixed eyes to the screens. She surely has the face most of us would do, if were faced with such grim circumstances. Hillary Clinton’s reaction has been the focus of most commentators and used as the counterweight to Barack Obama’s steely look. But she seems theatrical and her horror a bit too rehearsed. The woman in the distance and the various male staffers give a more interesting cross section of humanity, faces not quite as well trained in the celebrity game as an ex first lady would be.

As the rest of his work for the White House that is what makes this picture captivating, a small glimmer of realism that elevates it beyond boring official photography. I wonder how many people looked up the credit when they saw the picture in their paper or news bulletins.

An interesting side angle to the photography of the President, by the media in this blog post in The Guardian

And it seems a hasidic newspaper has totally removed both women from the photo, here’s the article in the Daily Hate

The photo

4 May
P050111PS-0210 by The White House
P050111PS-0210, a photo by The White House on Flickr.

The picture that said it all, in the age of media overexposure this one image will haunt our collective subconscious for years to come.

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