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JANUARY 27, 2009 9:34AM

Images of Bush: "Mirror with a Memory"

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4photo 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:

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  REUTERS/Jason Reed

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:

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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.

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Thanks for the once-in-a-lifetime pictures.
Bush, in many ways, was indeed a once in a lifetime President. Let's hope Obama fulfills the promise he's shown to become a different kind of once in a lifetime President.
ugh, I am really glad we won't have to view that mug very much anymore.
Has anyone ever told you that you look disturbingly like Rahm Emanuel?

(thumbified for looking like Rahm Emanuel)
Well, Rahm's a good-looking guy... except with those dead eyes he kinda looks like one of those stealth villains at the state dept. who'd sell out Jack Bauer on "24"!
Why would there be an "except" there? Those dead-villain eyes are part of the allure.... LOL Of course, YOURS are not soulless. Have you considered applying at the State Department?
I think you are misrepresenting (unintentionally) here. How many bad pictures were taken of W in his first week in office? I don't think any of the pics you have up there are from his first week.

I have no doubt there will be bad pics of Obama (with eye rolling and face making), but your sense of scale is way off here.

Hell, he has at least 3 and 99/100 years to throw up on someone... give the man a chance!
I also hope that Obama's stated intention to open up government once again (after 8 years of extreme secrecy) is maintained. I think it is harder than it seems at first. You want most of the government to be open, but maybe not your doings!
The contrast between these two men are definitely shown in your pictures. Thanks for the renewal of hope.
The interesting question is where does it all intersect: the genuine character of a president; the controlled image; the candid image? Is it truth? A picture can reveal a truth or it can mislead. It's all so complex, and truly fascinating—to me anyway.

Traigus: I am admittedly dealing with narrow selections of images from both camps here. Go have a look at the Morris post: after seeing thirty pictures of W. it's kind of hard to escape the conclusion that he is one of the least (or most, depending on your point of view) photogenic presidents in memory. He mugged constantly, seemingly out of sheer discomfort from being in the media glare. And when he didn't mug, he could be read like a scoreboard. Obama is a cooler customer, a true poker face, though some claim to read arrogance in him a lot of the time. A candid shot of him won't be substantially different from a controlled shot, I think, at least in terms of his expression. Gmgaston is right: the contrast between the two men cannot be greater.

Susan: I truly think he is trying to strike a balance between drastically re-exposing the workings of the executive (given how drastically they were buried by his predecessor) and controlling the view so that it is focused. His administration seems to believe that the POV of the press is too chaotic, random. My own mantra will always be "let's have both, please."

Incidentally, I really feel that for the first time the OS editors did not accurately represent my post with their cover blurb. Don't wanna sound ungrateful by a long shot. But I don't think Obama's photographer is being too nice. He's doing his job, what he was hired to do. I've said it before: I admire the Souza project. And when he sells the coffee table book (which he undoubtedly will... he published one on Reagan, his last White House boss) I'll probably buy it.
I am amazed that I came to this site considering how much I
dislike W. But here I am. I once saw a photo of Bush listening
to a question he didn't like, similar to the middle photo of the
three above. The caption was "Monkey Tea Kettle Ready to
Explode" I still laugh at that.
Obama is ALL about managing his image. I am so not impressed
by the "calm and quiet authority" manipulation. I frankly
just hate it. I think he's doing a good job but am so tired of politicians, especially Obama, and their endless need to stage manage everything. Like the guy figures he just can't be himself. (I've seen several not so nice photos of Obama in his full haughty mode) It's like they think we are all sheep. Very disrespectful.
DakiniDancer-

Regarding our political "elites" (and I would add most political TV and print journalists and talking heads as well) thinking of the bulk of the American populace as sheep, I would tend to agree both with you that it's disrespectful and with them that it's an accurate description.

When your political and "professional" culture celebrates and rewards sycophantic behavior as ours does, sheepdom is not only natural it's the peanut butter mom's love most. Efforts to break up our media cartel and our absurd two party system depend on short-circuiting the corporate payola that animates the constitutional derelicts supposedly representing us in Congress; a feat not easily done with opposable thumbs let alone hooves.

Luckily we've already got a widely known, workable metaphor for action in the old 'wolves in sheep's clothing' bit. Our last Emporer wore no clothes, how long before we drop ours? Bahhhhaahhhhaahhhh.
I like the look of him behind that desk!!!

It's live & learn ... maybe Obama & staff just learned (from Bush) to always look cool and awesome when the cameras are around ... like Heidi Klum or Simon Baker ... ever see a bad picture of them??? NOPE ... and they get their pics taken coming out of the john.
I don't like Bush (that's an understatement) but I felt rather sorry for him in those last three photos from Jason Reed.