photo credits: upper left and right, Paul J. Rrichards/Agence France-Presse; lower left, J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press; lower right, AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
“The man beholdeth himself in the glass and goeth his way, and straightway both the mirror and the mirrored forget what manner of man he was…”— Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1859
Before I post further on the Obama administration's use of and policy on imagery, I'd like to draw your attention to the January 25th entry on filmaker Errol Morris' blog Zoom at the New York Times. Here he compiles a fascinating last look at the course of the Bush presidency, in iconic photographs selected by the head photo editors from three news wire agencies: Vincent Amalvy (Agence France-Presse), Santiago Lyon (The Associated Press) and Jim Bourg (Thomson Reuters). Morris carries on a spirited discussion with the three editors about the dozens of photographs he features.
When one absorbs the legacy of these images, it is easier to understand why the same three agencies raised a ruckus last week and refused to distribute the official White House photographs of Obama's first day in the Oval Office: to be exluded from threshold moments of a presidency is to be denied the chance to be the candid "mirror with a memory," to quote O.W. Holmes (quotes courtesy of Morris' post). White House photographer Peter Souza will probably not be releasing any photographs equivalent to the Reuters series below, taken as Bush was about goodbye to his staff on January 15th:
Jim Bourg maintains that the look on Bush's face in these pictures "was like no look I’d ever seen on George Bush’s face in my life(...) Because he just looks absolutely devastated as he comes through this door after essentially ending his eight year presidency."
Contrast with these official images by Souza from President Obama's first day:
The White House/Peter Souza
Obama in these images exudes his now familiar calm and quiet authority. I for one have no reason to doubt the accuracy of this appearance; but I maintain that the job of journalistic photography is to capture the truth behind an intention. When Obama is tested, as he surely will be, Souza's skills as well as those of the wire photographers will be sorely needed and appreciated by the present and future observers of history. The quality of humanity at all levels of power, with all its glories and humilities, is crucial to preserve.