February 17, 2005

If You've Seen One Face


Sometimes photo analysis involves some detective work.

I was interested in this wire service image a few days ago, but I was hesitant to comment on it without knowing the origin of the graphic.  In cases like this, the caption usually provides adequate context. This one read:

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross met US President George W. Bush, seen here 11 February 2005 to discuss concerns about detainees held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Iraq, the ICRC said.

So, the image had to do with the Red Cross.  After searching, though, I couldn’t find any connection with the ICRC, or the facility at Guantanamo Bay.  A little confused, I decided to check George Bush’s schedule on February the 11th.

Bush had two high profile appearances that day.  Both were rallies for his Social Security initiative, one in North Carolina and the other in Pennsylvania.  I found images for both events, each with large banners in the background.  However, those shots didn’t matched the image either. 

Digging a little further, I then discovered that Bush had attended a swearing-in ceremony that morning.  The observance was for Mike Leavitt, the new head of the Health and Human Services department.  And that’s how I came up with this:


Whereas the media is subject to a lot of fact checking and parsing of text these days (What else is the blogosphere for anyway, some might ask?), there seems to be somewhat less scrutiny in the visual sphere.  From what I understand, it’s often left up to the photographer to supply captions for news wire photos.  Maybe this photographer was simply a little rushed.  That doesn’t explain the gap, however, between HHS, and the Red Cross and Guantanamo Bay. 

Still, what is really fascinating about these news images is how much they possess their own internal consistency.  In that case, maybe the photo and the caption really aren’t that far apart.  In other words, how much difference can there be between George Bush in the view of foreign prisoners held without access to to due process, and in the eyes of American’s dependent on HHS programs which are threatened by the President’s proposed cuts in education, youth programs, veterans affairs, nutrition, community development or neighborhood health clinics?

(images: photo 1: Paul J. Richards/AFP in YahooNews; photo 2: whitehouse.gov — unattributed)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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