Everybody’s a critic. I mean, why shouldn’t there be a White House Official Photo of Obama in a subdued-heroic action pose during his 90-minute phone call with Vladimir Putin? Granted, it would have been more crudely evocative if he’d turned his back to the camera, worn a suit, hunched over a table, and been photographed in black and white. But this is a different time, and a different, photographically-aware president.
Taking a brief walk down memory lane, we discover that John F. Kennedy personally selected the famous photo of himself, lonely and in shadow, taken by photographer George Tames in 1961:
On February 10, 1961, photographer George Tames was allowed to spend the entire working day with the recently inaugurated Kennedy, and the best of the resulting pictures became a visual essay in the New York Times Magazine, titled “A Day in the Life of John F. Kennedy.” …
Kennedy had a shrewd sense for which imagery worked best with the public. Thus, when Tames let him preview the picture essay’s final layout, he recognized immediately that this faceless, shadowed portrait with its sense of quiet isolation conveyed the gravity of the presidency in a way that few other pictures could. Upon spotting it in its relatively unfeatured position, he declared that this was the image that, above all others, should have been carried on the magazine’s cover.
No prickly agitators for editorial independence they, at the New York Times Magazine.
So who knows what editorial prerogatives are being exercised in the Obama Oval Office? And, really, who cares? Some killjoys are focused on things like how denim-y the president’s attire is, but I don’t see how you can not admire the thoroughly premeditated composition of the shot.
It obviously took some work – and there was a serious image of lonely presidential grandeur to compete with, after all, given the White House commemoration last week of the 95th anniversary of the Grand Canyon National Park. That shot, as Grand Canyon shots tend to do, pretty much composed itself.