September 21, 2004

Leading Photos: Looking Down On Kerry?

In keeping up my “highly graphic” standard, I like to keep an eye on editorial trends at the visual level.

Over the past few days, John Kerry has been hammering Bush on Iraq. Yesterday, the attacks assumed a new degree of ferocity. The impact was heightened because Kerry took his latest swing in New York, on the eve of W’s opening speech to the General Assembly. What’s interesting is to compare these two front page images of Kerry in the L.A. and New York Times. The L.A. image shows a dignified, literally expansive Kerry in an uncharacteristically animated pose, framed by American flags. Pretty straight-forward stuff.

If you’ve seen some of my “Leading Photo” posts, you know that I’m particularly interested in the NYTimes photo coverage. The Times rarely runs the conventional image. Their photos almost always seem to beg a question, or suggest some editorial comment. What is the metacommunication in this shot? Of course, you can argue the only vantage available was from a balcony. But out of a whole day’s worth of material, they went with this — from Kerry’s appearance at Lincoln Center. It’s not always the case that a straight read is so informative: We’re looking down on Kerry. He might look animated, but the stronger impression is how small he is, and distant. Also, the image exposes his backdrop as flimsy and staged, drawing your eye out the window in the direction of stronger, more certain structures.

How does one interpret such a shot? Are the editors expressing the popular “another day, another Kerry” meme? Are they intentionally discounting the candidate or his latest line of attack? Or are they possibly looking beyond him?

However you read it, it’s hard not to end up on the theme of minimization.


(Lead Photo: Today’s L.A. Times)


(Lead Photo: Today’s N.Y. Times)

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Michael Shaw
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